Contact resistance, sensitivity analysis, genetic algorithm, boundary element method, thermal, inverse algorithm


Thermal systems often feature composite regions that are mechanically mated. In general, there exists a significant temperature drop across the interface between such regions which may be composed of similar or different materials. The parameter characterizing this temperature drop is the thermal contact resistance, which is defined as the ratio of the temperature drop to the heat flux normal to the interface. The thermal contact resistance is due to roughness effects between mating surfaces which cause certain regions of the mating surfaces to loose contact thereby creating gaps. In these gap regions, the principal modes of heat transfer are conduction across the contacting regions of the interface, conduction or natural convection in the fluid filling the gap regions of the interface, and radiation across the gap surfaces. Moreover, the contact resistance is a function of contact pressure as this can significantly alter the topology of the contact region. The thermal contact resistance is a phenomenologically complex function and can significantly alter prediction of thermal models of complex multi-component structures. Accurate estimates of thermal contact resistances are important in engineering calculations and find application in thermal analysis ranging from relatively simple layered and composite materials to more complex biomaterials. There have been many studies devoted to the theoretical predictions of thermal contact resistance and although general theories have been somewhat successful in predicting thermal contact resistances, most reliable results have been obtained experimentally. This is due to the fact that the nature of thermal contact resistance is quite complex and depends on many parameters including types of mating materials, surface characteristics of the interfacial region such as roughness and hardness, and contact pressure distribution. In experiments, temperatures are measured at a certain number of locations, usually close to the contact surface, and these measurements are used as inputs to a parameter estimation procedure to arrive at the sought-after thermal contact resistance. Most studies seek a single value for the contact resistance, while the resistance may in fact also vary spatially. In this thesis, an inverse problem (IP) is formulated to estimate the spatial variation of the thermal contact resistance along an interface in a two-dimensional configuration. Temperatures measured at discrete locations using embedded sensors appropriately placed in proximity to the interface provide the additional information required to solve the inverse problem. A superposition method serves to determine sensitivity coefficients and provides guidance in the location of the measuring points. Temperature measurements are then used to define a regularized quadratic functional that is minimized to yield the contact resistance between the two mating surfaces. A boundary element method analysis (BEM) provides the temperature field under current estimates of the contact resistance in the solution of the inverse problem when the geometry of interest is not regular, while an analytical solution can be used for regular geometries. Minimization of the IP functional is carried out by the Levenberg-Marquadt method or by a Genetic Algorithm depending on the problem under consideration. The L-curve method of Hansen is used to choose the optimal regularization parameter. A series of numerical examples are provided to demonstrate and validate the approach.


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Graduation Date





Kassab, Alain


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering

Degree Program

Mechanical Engineering








Release Date

January 2006

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)