Smart Materials and Structures

Smart Materials and Structures Collaborative Research Laboratory


The mission of the GM/UM SMS CRL is to exploit the emerging capabilities of smart materials and structures to create and support innovative advanced device technologies for automotive applications of value and interest to GM and extension to dual technologies for strategic partners through:

  • Science: Conduct theoretical and experimental research to expand the knowledge base of smart materials to facilitate the development of new technologies for automotive applications.
  • Tools: Develop design methodologies and tools to support smart material technologies, quicken the development cycle and successfully progress them to marketable automotive products.
  • Invention: Utilize emerging smart materials to invent embryonic leap-frog device technologies with potential to transform the marketplace.
  • Application: Foster a collaborative and synergistic environment between researchers and engineers at GM, UM and their strategic partners, bringing together a breadth and depth of expertise to improve the progression from basic materials research to innovative technology development and ultimately its inclusion in successful, marketable products.
  • Education: Provide research and classroom educational opportunities to train the engineering workforce in smart materials and structures and all its nuances.


Co-Directors, Nancy Johnson, GMR&D and Diann Brei, Associate Professor,  Mechanical Engineering.

The field of Smart Materials and Structures is evolving from high-end, one-of-a-kind products for medical, military and aerospace applications to the point of viability for mainstream, high volume/low cost products for automotive applications with significant benefits including high energy/power density, reduction in vehicle mass, added functionality and design flexibility and decrease in component size and cost. To further accelerate the path from basic research and development to launched competitive products, General Motors (GM) teamed with the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan (UM) in 2005 to establish a unique Collaborative Research Laboratory (CRL) in Smart Materials and Structures. The CRL intends to push the field into “Frontier” markets, where ideas and products prevail that are truly revolutionary and have the ability to disrupt and redefine the market place. This requires a completely different research/development paradigm – bridging the gaps, which traditionally exist in most industries, between basic research, innovative technology development and production. Thus, the focus of the CRL is upon the whole path. Researchers at both GM and UM have developed a close, truly collaborative relationship between those responsible for each aspect from basic research to product production. Through the CRL, researchers are establishing the needed knowledge base on material response, including modeling and design tools, as well as development of the processes and methodologies necessary for the field to prosper and accelerate into complete acceptance and integration within acceptable and common engineering practice, i.e. the engineering psyche. All of this cumulates in the creation of leap-frog smart material based technologies, which start at conceptualization and proceed all the way through demonstration and handoff to product teams.