Virginia Tech is establishing a new tire research center with the funding from the National Science Foundation. The Center for Tire Research will focus on developing new tire materials, in addition to manufacturing, modeling and simulation, and testing of tires.

The center will be based at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va., and will be directed by Saied Taheri, associate professor of mechanical engineering within Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. With an initial funding of $80,000 from the National Science Foundation’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program, Taheri says the research center will be a combined force of academic researchers and auto and tire industry leaders.

“Everything that tire manufacturers and car manufacturers do, anything they need to improve the performance of their cars or tires, as they relate to the tires, we will do,” said Taheri. “It has the capability and goal to develop leading edge polymer composite and nano-materials and processes to improve the technical base that is needed by the tire companies to compete successfully in the global marketplace.”

Virginia Tech has its first partner university with Ohio’s University of Akron. Some of the center's research facilities will be hosted in Akron, as well as at Virginia Tech’s main Blacksburg campus. During the next five years, Taheri said the center will bring in more university partners, all focusing on tire research. Universities already slated to join the center include Clemson University – Taheri’s three-time alma mater, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, and Germany’s Dresden University.

Taheri already has 12 tire and auto companies as members, including Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Michelin North America Inc., Bridgestone Firestone North American Holdings Ltd., Ford Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

The corporate members will form an Industry Advisory Board, to which Taheri and his academic colleagues will present multiple project proposals to each spring. The board will then select the projects which the researchers will focus on. The center will take on roughly 10 such projects per year, maybe more as additional partner universities join the center. All members will share any research findings.

Funding for the center will be based on a tier level, quite similar to a nonprofit agency that might have “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze” membership. Larger companies will provide more monetary support, followed by smaller businesses, such as auto-part suppliers and the like. University members will be in the lower tier. National Science Foundation will provide funding on an annual basis through at least 2017.

The members’ annual membership fee entitles them to all research results, patents, and any other research outcome from the projects. In addition, they have the opportunity to hire the graduate students that are involved in the center. Graduate students initially will come from Virginia Tech and University of Akron, and then the later universities. All students will be based at their home university, rather than Danville.

Taheri, also director of Virginia Tech’s Intelligent Transportation Laboratory, applied for the initial funding from National Science Foundation two years ago. Joining Taheri to head the center as program coordinators are Virginia Tech’s professor Mehdi Ahmadian, associate professor John Ferris, professor Tomonari Furukawa, associate professor Corina Sandu, and associate professor Bob West, all of mechanical engineering, and Don Baird, professor of chemical engineering.

In addition to mechanical engineering and chemical engineering, the center will also encompass the fields of civil engineering, industrial engineering, and electrical engineering in its research. 

The Center for Tire Research is the second initiative by Virginia Tech involved with the tire industry. The National Tire Research Center focuses on independent testing, research and assessments in conjunction with research and development performed by tire and auto manufacturers. Formed in 2010, it is located at the Virginia International Raceway grounds, near Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. Taheri also co-wrote the proposal that won the center its initial funding.

Taheri’s interest in automotive-related research dates back to his mid-1970s high school days in his native country Iran, where he built a go-kart on his own in the 10th grade – quite a feat in the country, where “it makes a little bit harder to build and design a go-kart to drive around.”

He came to America for his college education, earning his bachelor’s, master’s, and a doctoral degree, all in mechanical engineering, from Clemson University. During college, he interned at a local racing company before moving on to industry jobs at Ford and then at Goodyear.

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