CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: June 12, 2000
UI engineer receives NATO grant to internationalize auto airbag study
IOWA CITY, Iowa --- A University of Iowa engineer has received a $23,500
grant from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that may add international
expertise to his efforts to design safer airbags for cars and trucks.
P. Barry Butler, professor and chair of mechanical engineering in the UI
College of Engineering, says that the goal of the two-year grant is to provide
funding for international collaboration in the fields of ignition and combustion
of solid-fuel propellants. So far, plans call for a June 24-27 meeting in
Karlsruhe, Germany. Future meetings will be held in Iowa City and Novosibirisk,
Russia among seven researchers -- four from Russia, one from Italy, one from
Germany and one (Butler) from the United States. Butler says that he expects
his research into airbags, which inflate by burning solid-fuel propellants,
will benefit from the exchange.
"The Russians, especially, are very good scientists with 20-30 years
experience in working on combustion of solid propellants," says Butler,
himself an expert in solid rocket propellants. "From their work on solid-fuel
rockets, they have knowledge that other Western countries don't have."
Butler noted that NATO has a secondary purpose, in addition to research,
in enlisting the expertise of Russian scientists. "NATO wants to link
scientists and engineers from the former Soviet Union with Western countries
in order to expose them to research and business opportunities. It's a chance
to get them connected to competitive markets, rather than military applications,
which will make for a healthier environment," he says.
Butler, along with UI mechanical engineering professor and colleague L.D.
Chen, has studied passenger-side airbags for much of the past decade under
a General Motors grant funded through the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration. One of the main goals of their work is to better understand
the physics of how auto airbags inflate so that they can help other researchers
design safer airbags for new cars and trucks. Although passenger-side airbags
have saved many lives, they have also been involved in the injury and death
of some infants, children and small adults. Preliminary findings by Butler
and Chen have shown that reducing the amount of propellant used and installing
an aspirator behind the dashboard to add air to the bag and compensate for
the reduced propellant may provide protection for a wider range of occupant
size and seating positions.