As an undergraduate student in Professor Raj Vaidyanathan’s Structures and Properties of Materials course, Othmane Benafan ‘08, ‘09MS, ‘12PhD became fascinated with the concept of metals with memory. The idea conjured up images of the shape-shifting T-1000 android assassin from Terminator. The intrigued mechanical engineering major had to learn more, so he joined Vaidyanathan’s research group.
More than 10 years and three degrees later, Benafan has been recognized for his research on metals with memory, known in the industry as shape memory alloys. ASM International, a global organization for materials scientists and engineers, has named him a member of its 2022 Class of Fellows. This distinction is given to ASM International members who have made outstanding contributions to the field. Twenty-two fellows were elected by their colleagues this year and they will be recognized at an ASM International conference in September.
“It is a great honor to be elected to the ASM International 2022 Class of Fellows,” said Benafan. “It’s also motivation to continue my humble contributions to materials science and engineering and further expand my passion for STEAM in our society.”
For more than a decade, Benafan has contributed to the field as a materials research engineer at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. In this role, he leads a team of scientists and engineers in developing a novel classes of shape memory alloys for aviation and space mechanical systems. This includes aircraft control systems with morphing capabilities as well as solar panels that can unfold in space. NASA Glenn recognized his work in 2019 with the Abe Silverstein Medal, which is given to employees with outstanding research that has practical applications in the field. Over the years, Benafan has garnered more than 120 awards for his research.
Benafan’s rising star is the result of a lot of hard work and effort that began in his early days as a Knight. He worked at a Disney hotel during the day to make ends meet and took classes at night. But with the support of UCF faculty and staff, he was able to complete his undergraduate degree.
“UCF programs and staff gave me some level of flexibility and cooperative understanding to pursue my education while still making ends meet,” he said. “To my fortune, I found the level of education at UCF to be splendid, from the professors to the quality of the labs.”
His experience and his newfound interest in shape memory alloys led him to continue his graduate education at UCF. His advice for current engineering students is to start planning for a career now. Ask professors for advice, and seek opportunities that can give experience and insight into potential career paths.
“Apply for internships to get some field experience and probe the path. Join a research group and see what goes on in the labs,” Benafan said. “Most importantly, follow your passion and not someone else’s path.