Computational Analysis of Structural Defects in Silica Aerogels


Technological advances in synthesis and preparation of aerogels have resulted in formulations that have the mechanical integrity (while retaining flexibility) to be utilized in a broad range of applications and have overcome the initial brittleness that this class of materials was once known for. Both structural and functional aerogels show a drop in performance when subjected to certain cyclic thermal or impact loading due to the wear and formation of cracks, which reduces their lifespan. Here we present the proof-of-concept of a computational toolset that connects the change in thermal profile to structural failure and degradation. In combination with an appropriate finite element (FEM) solver, we have developed a genetic algorithm that can reconstruct the size and shape of the defective region in silica aerogels given the temperatures from a sensor grid. Results show that a heatmap can be used as the foundation for reconstructing faults and defects in thermally insulating materials. Furthermore, the model developed in this study can be expanded to accommodate other material types. Experimental setup can used to benchmark and refine the computational toolset.

Publication Title

MRS Advances