Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Nordica MacCarty conducts her research in the realm of humanitarian engineering. Through complex systems modeling, thermal fluid sciences, and engineering design, she seeks to understand the relationships between energy, society, and the environment. “In humanitarian engineering, we use tools to look at not only the technical aspects of a problem, but also the social, economic, and environmental components as well,” she said.

MacCarty’s research revolves around meeting global needs for household energy and clean water, with a focus on high-efficiency biomass cookstoves for developing countries. Currently, 40 percent of the world’s households burn open fires inside their dwellings to prepare food and heat water – a practice fraught with risks. Exposure to smoke from household air pollution is responsible for 4 million premature deaths each year, according to MacCarty. “The problem primarily affects women and children, because they are typically gathered around the fire during cooking,” she explained. In addition, the fires contribute an estimated 2 to 8 percent of total anthropogenic climate change, including 25 percent of global black carbon, a powerful greenhouse aerosol. “The impact is both local and global,” MacCarty added.

MacCarty joined Oregon State in 2015. After earning her B.S. in mechanical engineering from Iowa State University in 2000, she volunteered at the Aprovecho Research Center – a non-profit in Cottage Grove, Oregon that builds low-emission, high-efficiency biomass cookstoves and teaches organizations around the world about cookstove design and emissions testing. While at Aprovecho, she helped to optimize designs of small, inexpensive, and lightweight clean-combustion “rocket” cookstoves, which provide maximum heat transfer to the cooking pot with greatly decreased pollutant emissions. These designs are being implemented around the world. One widely available model that is currently produced at a family factory in China stands about a foot tall and weighs about 2 lbs.

Although she had planned to stay at Aprovecho for only a few months before starting graduate school, MacCarty ultimately stayed for 10 years as an international consultant before resuming her education, receiving a M.S. and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Iowa State in 2013 and 2015. Her work with Aprovecho not only set the stage for her Oregon State research, it also played a big role in her decision to pursue advanced engineering degrees. “Working on cookstoves was very satisfying, and it helped me to see engineering as a path I could follow to make meaningful contributions to help reduce suffering in the world,” said MacCarty.

Once at Oregon State, MacCarty’s interests expanded: “I had spent a lot of time looking at the technical aspects of cookstove performance, and now I am looking at the adoption and use of the stoves in homes.” It turns out that just putting a cookstove in a home does not mean that inhabitants will use it or stop burning open fires. “I’m trying to gain an understanding of what factors lead to the uptake of clean energy technologies and the impact they have on well-being, health, and the environment,” she said. Most of her field work is conducted in Honduras and Guatemala and includes opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student involvement.

In one project, funded by MIME, MacCarty is developing a usability protocol to determine the ease with which users learn how to operate cookstoves, if design flaws inhibit their use, and to gauge the stove’s efficacy for completing intended tasks. “A cookstove may be very efficient from a technical standpoint, but if it’s difficult to operate, people will not use it,” she said.

In a second project, MacCarty and her graduate students are developing systems to monitor cookstove usage, fuel consumption, and emissions to verify performance and to access funding on the global carbon offset markets. “We need robust quantitative data from large samples to really understand the impacts – something that has been historically difficult and costly to acquire,” she explained. One recent approach has been temperature loggers – small sensors that track temperatures near open fires and within cookstoves over several months. An algorithm records temperature spikes as usage events. But the system is prone to problems: sensors burn out or get cooked, and the algorithm’s parameters can produce inaccurate results. MacCarty’s alternative calls for an inexpensive low-power logger that monitors both stove use and fuel consumption – information that reveals usage patterns. “The sensor will tell us how often the stove is used and the time and fuel savings it generates relative to a traditional fire,” she said. Saving fuel is an important purpose of the stoves, and less fuel consumption translates to lower emissions and increased carbon revenue.

MacCarty and her students are also working on a water pasteurization system with the Cottage Grove manufacturer InStove. Typically, water is purified by boiling because it provides a visual confirmation of high temperature. But pasteurization requires water to reach only 65°C for less than a minute to kill pathogens. MacCarty’s team is evaluating an automated system that rapidly heats water to the required pasteurization temperature at a rate of about 10 liters per minute, then recuperates the heat as the water cools to a useable temperature, thereby saving a great deal of energy. The team has tested the system at a girls’ boarding school in Uganda with partners at the NGO Maple Microdevelopment.

MacCarty considers engineering a tool for finding simple and elegant solutions that can help many people. “I’ve read that 90 percent of engineering design benefits only 10 percent of the world’s population,” she said. “I want to address the needs of the other 90 percent. Her work has gone well beyond her research to achieve that goal. Each summer, she takes a group of students to Central America to work with Stove Team International, a non-profit that has established cookstove factories throughout the region. “What I find most exciting,” she added, “is that I’m able to give my students the opportunity to apply engineering and understand that they can make a difference in the world.”

— Steve Frandzel

Kagan Tumer’s research focuses on coordinating what he refers to as large, messy, complex systems. “Think air traffic, or sending a few dozen robots to Mars,” said Tumer, a professor of robotics in the School of MIME. “How do you coordinate all of that?” One of his current research projects is figuring out how to coordinate the air traffic of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. As more and more drones are used for everything from agriculture to package delivery to emergency services, keeping drone air traffic in the airspace just above our heads safe and efficient becomes critical. “What will the rules of the road look like for drones?” Tumer asked. “There’s been a lot of work done on making drones autonomous, but not much work on coordination, the rules of the road, or who ‘owns’ which airspace.” Tumer is also working on how robots can best coordinate when obtaining information from hard-to-access places such as ocean seafloors and far-away planets. He offers an example of 100 robots scouring Mars to gather as much interesting information as possible. “How can each robot most effectively contribute to the overall mission?” he asked. “You don’t want two robots gathering the same information, but instead have them look for things the other robots might not be finding. It’s an interesting problem and very different than just focusing on autonomy.”

Another research interest of Tumer’s is developing ways for robots to have just enough information to function, without having to access and process massive amounts of data. He compares it to humans walking down a hallway. Without thinking, we know how close we are to the wall, but we don’t need to calculate the exact distance to several decimal points and factor in our precise walking speed and other factors. “All you need to know is that you’re a safe distance from the wall,” he said. “In robots, this could eliminate a ton of sensing and computation.” In addition to multi-robot coordination, air traffic management and mobile robot navigation, Tumer and the 10 students who work in his Autonomous Agents and Distributed Intelligence (AADI) Lab are also conducting research with applications in distributed sensor coordination, wave energy converter optimization, transportation systems, and intelligent energy management.

Before joining OSU in 2006, Tumer worked for 10 years as a senior research scientist in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center. At OSU, he directs the Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems (CoRIS) Institute, which houses the Robotics Program, one of the top robotics programs in the U.S. In 2016, Tumer was awarded the College of Engineering’s Research Award, which is given to one faculty member a year, and recognizes sustained research efforts.

In the both the classroom and the lab, Tumer believes in giving his students the opportunity to choose projects and paper topics that interest them. “I’ve found that letting students pick something they want to explore – something they care about – means they are happier and more passionate about the work and the learning,” he said. Students are the reason Tumer left his NASA job for academia. “I worked with student interns during the summer at NASA, and I liked that,” he said. “So I liked the idea of interacting with students all the time, where the line between research and teaching is blurred. I really enjoy it here at the College of Engineering – it’s such a supportive and collaborative environment.”

— Gregg Kleiner

For assistant Professor Chinweike Eseonu, engineering is about people, which is why his research revolves around improving human experiences through processes improvement in healthcare, manufacturing, and new product design and development. More importantly, he strives to extend the land grant mission to engineering by transforming the traditional technology commercialization process to help improve rural economies. “I apply lean principles to complex social processes,” said Eseonu. Lean principles emphasize eliminating waste, streamlining flow, and maximizing value. For example, in healthcare Eseonu uses lean methodology to improve patient experiences by reducing wait times, reduce errors by improving care coordination, and reduce costs. He also investigates solutions to health care provider burnout and dissatisfaction by viewing providers as internal customers in the healthcare process.

Eseonu arrived at Oregon State in 2012, the same year that he earned his Ph.D. in systems and engineering management from Texas Tech. Originally from Nigeria, he attended high school in the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, then completed his B.S. in mechanical engineering at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and a M.Sc. in engineering management from the University of Minnesota – Duluth. In 2015, one of Eseonu’s research papers was chosen as one of the top four submissions in the Engineering Management Journal, the official journal of the American Society for Engineering Management.

Eseonu advocates technology-driven humanitarian engineering and social entrepreneurship, particularly in rural Oregon communities that are struggling economically. Among his long-term goals is to team up research labs at Oregon Stare with communities to develop technological solutions to their problems and help them build a flourishing economic base. The first such project is developed food processing machines for a group of three female entrepreneurs from Monroe, Oregon, where he and his students helped the women expand a start-up company that makes Sope, a traditional Mexican dish. Under his guidance, students developed a device that standardized production and increased output five-fold. “We took the commercialization process, which Oregon State already does so well with technology, and applied it to non-traditional research,” said Eseonu. “As a land grant university, I see our role as supporting the revitalization of communities in ways like this.”

At the Oregon State Veterinary Hospital, Eseonu applies lean methodology to improve resilience and reduce delays in patient care. To define the problem, he surveyed employees and customers, and identified baseline measures, which he uses to show relative benefit in keeping with his focus on the conceptual shift needed within organizations for successful lean adaptation. Lean methods, he said, often fail because organizational culture is not prepared for such a large paradigm shift. His work at the hospital also addressees patient scheduling, how veterinarians and students interact with customers, and communication across the organization. Eseonu is also working with Samaritan Hospital System in Oregon to evaluate patient and employee experiences and to determine the causes of physician burnout. “We’re looking at what physicians face each day: what does their work flow look like, what are their pressure points, why do they feel overwhelmed? We plan to apply lean techniques and sort out the impact of social interactions to solve the problem,” he said.

Engineering was a big part of Eseonu’s life from an early age. Through his father, a mechanical engineer with Shell Petroleum, he witnessed the importance of engineering to his country and beyond. “I saw the impact and contributions that engineers could make to the community, and it became something of a passion for me,” he said. His degree in mechanical engineering, while versatile, didn’t satisfy his desire to address the human side of the equation, so he went on to study engineering management and industrial engineering.

In his teaching, Eseonu strives to relate classroom knowledge to the real world so that students appreciate its potential beyond the classroom. “Problem-based learning is one of my underlying themes,” he said. “I just provide information and then use activities to illustrate why that information is important. My goal is to create the conditions for students to create their own learning.” He believes also that by creating partnerships between Oregon State engineering and communities throughout Oregon – as he did with the Sope makers in Monroe – the college can attract a more diverse pool of students. “If we show what Oregon State engineering can do to revitalize communities, my hypothesis is that more students from different backgrounds will realize that they can make a big difference by becoming engineers.”

— Steve Frandzel

Before becoming an assistant professor of energy systems engineering at OSU-Cascades in 2012, Chris Hagen had logged a dozen years working in industry, including four years as a lead fuels research engineer with the Chevron Energy Technology Company in Richmond, CA.His current research and teaching focuses on energy conversion (primarily combustion), novel transportation fuels, and development of sensors for use in harsh environments. In 2013, Hagen founded and spun out his own startup company, Onboard Dynamics, Inc., which is developing an onboard fueling system that uses a vehicle’s internal combustion engine to compress natural gas, enabling refueling of natural gas vehicles from low-pressure natural gas sources found at homes and businesses. Hagen was the inventor of the technology, served at the company’s CTO, and previously sat on the Onboard Dynamics’ board of directors. At OSU-Cascades, Hagen established a world-class research operation that includes the OSU Energy Systems Laboratory, where he leads a team of 10 undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and technician researchers investigating clean, novel energy conversion technologies. “The program is turning out top-notch graduates who are as good as anybody in the country,” Hagen said. “They are very dedicated, and I’m very proud of them.”

To date, Hagen’s OSU research has attracted $3.2 million in funding. His current research projects include designing new types of gasoline that enable more efficient, cleaner-burning automotive engines. The project has been funded by a large private company for five years. For the past year, he’s also been developing a hybrid combustion-electric power train that will allow unmanned aerial vehicles to take off and land vertically. “Liquid fuel contains more energy than batteries, so a hybrid electric engine system allows us to achieve things you can’t do with just batteries, like flying greater distances,” Hagen said. “Small combustion engines are less efficient, but they make sense as you scale up, so we’re trying to hit a sweet spot in our work on a drone with a 6-ft. wingspan.” This project was funded by grants from the M.J. Murdoch Charitable Trust and the OSU Venture Fund. “It’s been a lot of fun, with the possibility of a spinout company there,” said Hagen, who is hoping the project might help reinvigorate the local aerospace industry in Central Oregon.

Another of Hagen’s recent research projects was exploring the use of internal combustion engines as chemical reactors to convert stranded gasses, like methane, that flare off of well sites and landfills into other types of fuels that are more valuable and can be sold. “Internal combustion engines are inexpensive, so if you can employ them to perform a chemical process that adds value to waste fuel, you have a technology with good business potential,” said Hagen, whose portion of the multi-institution research project was funded by $600,000 from the Dept. of Energy’s ARPA-E, by way of the Chicago-based Gas Technology Institute. “We conducted background calculations and experiments on a wide range of potential processes,” he said. “There is a rock star team on this in Chicago, so we feel privileged to be a part of what could be a real game-changer.” Hagen was recently recognized by the Society of Automotive Engineers, a global engineering organization, with the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award.  He also holds two prestigious awards from Oregon State, one for teaching and mentoring and one for innovation.  “I was given both the Excellence in Post-Doctoral Mentoring Award and the Faculty Innovator Award,” Hagen said. “It was an honor and very humbling to get those two awards during the same year.”

— Gregg Kleiner

Yiğit Mengüç, assistant professor of robotics and mechanical engineering, works at the interface of mechanical science and robotics to design deformable “smart” materials for building soft-bodied devices and robots. Among his goals are to design and manufacture soft, bioinspired robots for tasks such as deep-sea exploration and to augment human capabilities in everyday life.

“The last five decades have been dominated by rigid robots, but the future will be characterized by soft robotic devices that are physically compliant, exceptionally dynamic, and ever-present in our daily lives,” said Mengüç who is the director of mLab (for mechanics, materials, and manufacturing). Inspired by nature – particularly the octopus – Mengüç is designing and creating mechanisms that are as soft as skin and muscle. One such material, for example, changes from a liquid to a pliant soft solid when subject to high voltage, then reverts to a liquid when the charge is turned off. That ability to control the phase transition has enabled him to create tiny arteries inside of soft bodies that can be opened and closed using electric fields.

Mengüç joined Oregon State in 2014 after his postdoctoral fellowship at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. He received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Rice University in 2006 and earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 and 2011. His work on soft marine robotics earned him the prestigious Young Investigator Program Award from the Office of Naval Research in 2016.

In one project, funded by DARPA, Mengüç used a 3D printer to extrude inexpensive, off-the-shelf silicon rubber fluid into seamless soft bodies with complex geometries and internal voids. Previously, achieving that result would have required molding two halves of a device, then joining the parts together to create a finished assembly with empty space sealed inside. “This is a very exciting development, because we’re a step closer to printing soft-bodied robots with gaps of any shape and dimension that we want on the inside,” Mengüç said, adding that the finished pieces can stretch to almost 900% of their initial dimensions.

“Soft robots essentially work by pumping air or liquid into voids inside their bodies to create the kind of motion you want,” Mengüç explained. “We can dictate the shapes it takes by restricting and guiding how it inflates, so we can make a soft body curl or perform other motions.” With the initial phase of the project work complete, Mengüç has moved on to experimenting with new production techniques, such as combining the rubber with liquid metal or printing it directly into a water bath to create even more complex shapes.

He noted that building parts for soft-bodied devices requires entirely new approaches to manufacturing. “To build rigid robots, we can buy parts or make them in a machine shop,” Mengüç stated. “That’s not an option with soft-bodied robots, which is why we have to come up with these new manufacturing techniques to make them, and 3D printing is one of the most promising.”

In a second project, funded by the Office of Naval Research, Mengüç is using 3D printing to build soft arms that can perform the complex motions of octopus tentacles. In humans, antagonistic muscles – biceps and triceps – define the arm’s movement up and down. But boneless octopus tentacles are equipped also with longitudinal, circumferential, and oblique muscles that allow a great deal of flexibility and range of motion. “It’s a level of complexity that’s completely absent in human architecture,” said Mengüç. “We want to build a robot arm that has some aspects of the octopus’s architecture. To control movement, we’ll pump liquid into internal spaces whose size and shape are controlled by electrical fields. Ultimately, we want a robotic arm that can twist, reach, grasp and do other complex motions.” He envisions a role for such robots in deep sea exploration, where a soft-bodied device can withstand the crushing weight of the water column. “It would be much less expensive and more versatile than using submersibles,” he said, “and being able to directly print them is critically important to their future viability.” Additional funding sources for his work include Intel and Hewlett Packard.

In the classroom, Mengüç endeavors to help his students make connections between abstract engineering principles and real-world applications and problem solving. When working with his graduate students, he emphasizes the importance of considering why the work they’re doing is important. “That starts at the beginning of a project and asking, ‘Okay, what’s the problem and why should we bother to solve it?’ Then I want them to break the problem down into smaller, more manageable chunks,” said Mengüç.

Throughout his work, Mengüç holds a deep appreciation for data that’s not only presented efficiently and effectively, but that is visually pleasing. “When our results communicate a clear message yet are esthetically compelling, that means we’re reducing the data’s noise and baggage and showing the results clearly,” he said. “That’s an important part of both scientific understanding and scientific communication.”

— Steve Frandzel

Onan Demirel, assistant professor of engineering, focuses his research on how to incorporate human needs, abilities, and limitations into the product design process. As the newest member of the Engineering Design Laboratory, he enables visualization of human-product interactions by creating digital representations of humans that designers can use to evaluate human well-being and overall system performance. With seven active faculty, the Design Engineering Lab is the largest academic mechanical engineering design research lab in the United States.

“Most products have a human interaction component, whether it’s operating computers, cars, or airplanes, or even repairing them,” Demirel said. “Often, these human elements are not given adequate attention. I explore how we can represent the interaction between humans and products digitally. When the time comes for physical prototyping, the product will already be more refined and require fewer changes, which reduces costs, decreases the design cycle time, and shortens time to market.” The approach also reduces errors and safety concerns while improving overall product performance. Driving all of Demirel’s work is a lifelong desire to help people: “I want to make an impact, and I perceive my career in engineering as a way to change people’s lives.”

Demirel joined the Oregon State faculty in 2016 after earning his Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Purdue University the previous year. He also received his B.S. in industrial engineering in 2006 and his M.S. in industrial engineering in 2009, both from Purdue.

Typically, products are designed without a full understanding of end-user needs, according to Demirel. “Designers come up with ideas and create a physical prototype, and at the very end of the process they present it to small test groups to find out what changes are needed,” he explained. “But for large products like automobiles or naval vessels, that’s impractical and expensive. Digital models of humans allow designers to generate multiple alternatives and explore, virtually, how each one fits the needs of potential users.”

He likened his work to building virtual versions of the crash test dummies used in auto safety tests. Ideally, crash tests could be done entirely with computer modeling rather than by destroying real cars. The same idea could apply to other scenarios that are too costly or complex to conduct in the physical world (such as an emergency evacuation drill at a nuclear power plant), and where digital representations of people and their environments provide unparalleled flexibility.

Demirel is currently working on a study to assess roof support pillar systems across a range of vehicles, particularly SUVs. The research augments his doctoral thesis. As automobiles have grown larger, so have their roof support pillars, which can block a driver’s vision. Wider pillars have been linked to accidents. Changing the geometry of pillars is one possible solution that Demirel is considering. He plans to use virtual reality to allow subjects to experience driving with different pillar configurations and determine how various designs affect driver decisions and, ultimately, safety.

He’s also conducting health-related research to track medical implants, such as hip and knee replacement joints. The system he envisions would make every implant trackable so that health care professionals and implant manufacturers know when a patient received a particular implant and where the procedure was done. “My focus is to create a framework so that manufacturers, doctors, and patients are in one communication loop,” said Demirel. “Eventually, I’d like to be able to capture the data in real time.” For example, implants may bend or develop a tiny crack if a patient falls, which may not cause any immediate signs or symptoms but could lead to implant failure. Demirel would like to create a system using sensors embedded in implants that collects data about such events and warn of impending failures.

By the time he was just five or six years old, Demirel knew he would become an engineer. “I never went through that period of wondering what I would do in life,” he said. Experiencing the work environment of his father, a civil engineer, made a big impression. “Just looking at how complex infrastructure is built in harmony with humans and by large-scale machinery was inspiring,” he said, adding that he routinely questioned how the natural and human-built worlds worked and had an innate inclination for making things. In elementary school, he built toy boats and tested their seaworthiness in the Mediterranean.

Demirel describes his approach to teaching as highly interactive. He endeavors to create a lively give-and-take that elicits questions. “I want students to think” he said. “I don’t want them to have this notion that because I’m the professor whatever I say is the ultimate truth.” Instead, he encourages scientific curiosity, engagement, continuous improvement, and holistic understanding — an approach founded on the principles of life-long learning and that focuses on fostering future engineers. “I become a student too,” he added. While pursuing his Ph.D. at Purdue, Demirel won the Teaching Academy Graduate Teaching Award. “That showed me that what I did in class made a difference to my students.”

— Steve Frandzel

The varied research interests of Ross Hatton, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, converge at the intersection of robotics, mechanics, and biology. His work includes the development of motion models for robotic snakes and fundamental mathematical models for the study of locomotion. Hatton looks to the natural world to find mathematical principles of animal motion and behavior, then translates them into engineered systems. “If we build a robotic leg, for example, rather than trying to build one that mimics an animal or human leg, we look for some underlying physical principle that the leg projects and build a robot inspired by that truth,” said Hatton, who directs the Laboratory for Robotics and Applied Mechanics. “We don’t want a robotic leg that looks and moves exactly like an animal or a person, but one that is bio-inspired and can accomplish the same interesting and complex things.”

Hatton joined Oregon State in 2012. He earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005, followed by an M.S. in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2007. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon in 2011. Hatton was recently selected to receive a prestigious NSF CAREER Award for 2017.

One goal of his work is to design and build robots that can perform complex, difficult, and potentially hazardous tasks. “These are interesting jobs that can, for now, be done only by a person, but they can be physically harmful,” he said. “Can we design systems that make it possible for people to complete these tasks more safely? That’s what we’re working toward.”

Hatton’s intent is to design robots that can learn such physically and mentally demanding tasks in an unstructured manufacturing environment. “To do this,” he explained, “we need to get inside the head of the person working the grinder and use that information to teach the robot ‘this is what I would do if I was to hold the grinder for hours.’” Workers, he emphasized, would remain involved but in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their health. Funding for the project comes from the manufacturer and from State of Oregon matching funds.

Another project, funded by the NSF and done in conjunction with biologists at Berkeley, seeks to understand how spider webs allow their inhabitants to find food and learn about the world around them. Using a giant model of a spider web, Hatton’s team is applying its knowledge of engineered structures and vibrations to understand what’s happening inside the web. “Hundreds of vibrations pass through the web, which the spider feels through its feet,” he said. “We want to know how that happens.” Possible practical applications include determining how best to arrange motion sensors in buildings to monitor foot traffic and establish efficient emergency evacuation routes.

Hatton also plans to incorporate the mechanics of spider and snake locomotion into robotics. Robot spiders and snakes, equipped with cameras, could be sent into collapsed buildings or other disaster sites, slithering or climbing over rubble piles to reach areas that humans can’t and transmit images back to rescuers. The robots might even be able to carry rescue tethers for hauling victims to safety.

Finding definitive answers as to why things work the way they do is a constant motivator in Hatton’s research. He sometimes postulates theoretical underpinnings to applied work that colleagues are doing. “My education is in mechanical engineering, but I often function as more of an applied mathematician,” he said. “When given a set of observations from another researcher, I might come in to look for a structure that explains their underlying principles. That’s very satisfying.” He also delves into advanced mathematics for solutions to practical engineering problems in robotics and other engineering disciplines. “I’m trying to bring fire back down from the gods and apply it to something that, historically, has been a difficult engineering problem,” he said.

His teaching, too, shades toward the mathematical side of engineering, both for undergraduate and graduate students, and he emphasizes the importance of considering problems in different ways. “I want students to see the process by which I approach a problem,” Hatton said, “and I want them to be able to adjust their thinking if the parameters of a problem shift.” Most gratifying of all is seeing his students hit ‘Aha!’ moments after they’ve solved a very difficult problem and realize they have the tools to move on to even more challenging and interesting work.

Throughout his life, Hatton has been drawn to discovering how the world works. When faced with the decision to study computer science or engineering, he chose engineering figuring he could apply his programming skills to new areas of interest. “That’s consistent with decisions I’ve made: strengthen skills in one area and go into new territory where I can use the skills I’ve already built up behind me, then apply them in the new and different work.”

— Steve Frandzel

Assistant Professor Joshua Gess studies the fundamental science of heat transfer and thermal management systems. Combining his knowledge of heat transfer with novel experimental methods, such as two-phase cooling using di-electric coolant and high-speed image capture, Gess, a co-principal investigator at the Enhanced Heat Transfer Laboratory, seeks to develop methods that ensure reliable and efficient thermal management solutions for cooling high-performance electronics systems. The demand for smaller electronic technology has driven the need for more robust and effective cooling systems. “Two-phase cooling is uniquely equipped to address that challenge,” he said.

Gess joined Oregon State in 2015. After earning his B.E. in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt University in 2005, he worked as a mechanical engineer at SSOE Group, which included an engineering consulting assignment for Johns Manville. He moved on to Northrop Grumman in 2008, where he worked on mobile communication equipment for the military. His next stop was Auburn University in 2012 to pursue advanced degrees. He received his M.S. in mechanical engineering in 2012 and his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 2015.

To illustrate the potential impact of his work, Gess points to the enormous energy consumption and resulting heat created by the world’s massive data centers that serve “cloud” computing. “The amount of energy they use is astounding, and if we could make those systems just a little bit more efficient with better cooling systems, we could save an enormous amount of energy and put it back onto the grid,” he explained.

In one study, Gess is investigating the boiling heat transfer efficiency on the surface of electronic components that are immersed in non-conductive di-electric coolant fluid. The coolant removes heat from the surfaces as it boils. He likens the process to waves repeatedly washing onto a beach to cool the sand underneath — but which happens at 30 times per second. Using successive camera images, Gess is measuring how quickly the coolant moves back in to fill the void created by bubbles that form on the surface of electronic chips during the boiling process. “We want a system that uses as little coolant or generates as little vapor as possible. Maximizing the convective heat transfer occurring during bubble formation versus the latent energy removed by vapor generation is the key to increasing the surface’s efficiency.”

In other research, Gess visualizes how liquid coolant departs from the main flow to reach the surface of electronic components and determines the efficiency of that mechanism to quench the boiling process. “Every bit of liquid that comes out of the flow to reach the surface of what it’s meant to cool needs energy to get there,” he said. “We want to look at what kinds of surfaces optimize that process.”

He attributes his childhood interest in engineering to the movie Robocop and the TV series MacGyver. “When I asked my grandfather how I could be like MacGyver, he said ‘become and engineer,’” said Gess. He finds the reality of the work just as gratifying as he’d imagined. “It’s challenging from day to day and I never know what new things will arise. My students ask me questions about things I’ve never even thought about. Everything is so open ended, and I love that part of it.”

Gess also relishes the moments of enlightenment when his graduate students “get it,” and watching them grow with each new accomplishment. “The work is difficult, and I want to be there for them when they need me,” he said. “The decision to get a Ph.D. shouldn’t be taken lightly, but once they’re here, we should provide all the support we can to help students succeed.” To undergraduates, he emphasizes that their studies will have practical use on the job. “Sometimes, students feel they’ll never use what they’re learning, but I’ve been out there and I assure them absolutely they will draw on many of the of the principles we deal with.”

Among Gess’ longer-term goals is to establish a more robust support system for people with disabilities at Oregon State. “As a person with a disability, being able to return to school to get advanced degrees was a blessing, and I want to extend that blessing to others who may be intimidated by the thought of being on a big college campus where they worry about fitting in,” he said. “Let’s build an infrastructure so that anyone can come in and feel welcome.” Gess is working with the School of Public Health to start an adaptive sports program. “I’d like to get to the point where OSU can accommodate anyone who wants to get an advanced degree. I think adaptive sports is an excellent place to start.”

—Steve Frandzel

Burak Sencer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, researches at the intersection of precision engineering and advanced manufacturing. He seeks to improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of manufacturing equipment such as CNC machine tools and industrial manufacturing robots, as well as the manufacturing process itself. On the process side, his work focuses on metal cutting and shaping operations for producing complex parts composed of titanium and hardened steel and other metals that are difficult to machine at high efficiency.

“I want to improve the precision and speed of CNC machine tools and industrial robots,” said Sencer, who directs the Manufacturing Process Control Laboratory. “I also want to improve the manufacturing process through computer modeling that simulates the physics of the manufacturing process.” Such modeling, he added, enables manufacturers to improve the throughput and efficiency of production while avoiding costly mistakes. “This is called the digital manufacturing. When producing complex, expensive parts, such as a jet engine impeller, it’s far better to make a mistake in a computer model – which can be fixed easily – than during production.”

Sencer joined Oregon State in 2015. He earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering at Istanbul Technical University, Turkey, in 2003 and his M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia, Canada, in 2005 and 2009. After receiving his doctorate, Sencer pursued post-doctoral work at Nagoya University in Japan, where he was also appointed assistant professor of mechanical engineering in 2012.

In addition to his fundamental research projects that are federally funded, Dr. Sencer also collaborates with industries for rapid impact projects. In one project where he is collaborating with a Japanese machine tool builder, Sencer developed a novel motion control technique enabling modern CNC machine tools to produce high volume IT products such as tablets, smartphones and laptops at significantly greater speeds and accuracy. The shell of each IT product starts out as an aluminum block from which numerous features must be cut out one by one – in about fractions of a second. Consider that the cutting tool follows the complex geometry of a product such as an iPhone. When the cutting tool approaches edges, it has to decelerate to make a gentle turn, then accelerate to cut straight sections. “If the change in velocity is too sudden, actually the machine vibrates, which translates to wavy imprints on the finished piece,” said Sencer. “But if the speed change is too slow, the production rate suffers!” He likens the situation to uneven slowing and accelerating in a turning automobile: hit the brakes too hard and passengers feel the discomfort of swaying and jerking forward. Push them too softly and the car slows too much and requires extra energy to regain speed. Just the right amount of brake pressure results in a smooth and efficient ride. It is like a Formula 1 race! “We developed a control algorithm that strikes a balance point for just the right rate of acceleration and deceleration, which allowed the company to improve productivity by 20 to 25 percent,” Sencer said.

In another project, Sencer is developing a new process to remove the shavings – called chips – that peel off metal parts during the turning process. Chips flow onto the cutting edge, creating friction that acts against the sheering force of the operation and causes excess heat and decreased efficiency, Sencer explained. His solution is an assistive device that pulls the chips away from the blade as it comes off the metal and creates less friction. “That makes a big difference in terms of the cutting forces that are applied,” he said. “It could allow for a less powerful knife that requires less energy to operate, which decreases operational costs.” Preliminary results have shown that the device measurably improves process efficiency. In keeping with his aim to create generalized manufacturing solutions, Sencer has designed the tool to be used on a variety of cutting machines.

Sencer also works with aerospace manufacturers such as the Boeing company to develop robots that are capable of deburring large complex metal parts. As of now, deburring to remove rough edges from machined metal is best accomplished by humans. “It’s difficult to automate because humans have a certain feeling and sensitivity necessary to do the work properly,” said Sencer. “Robots don’t yet have that level of sensitivity, and when you’re making parts for the aerospace industry, there’s no margin for error.” To find an automated deburring solution, Sencer has attached sensors to people to record their motions and measure the pressure they apply when deburring. “Then we develop algorithms to direct the robot to apply the same forces so they can deburr as well as humans,” he explained, noting that his lab has built a small robot to test his ideas and continue the research.

Sencer is highly motivated by projects that hold the promise of making a major impact quickly. “I like working with industry because there’s often an immediate affect,” he said. “Long-term research that looks 15 or 20 years down the road can be amazing, but I prefer projects where we can apply the results applied in a relatively short time and I can see their impact on people’s lives.”

In his teaching, Sencer enjoys the intellectual give and take with students. “I sometimes learn from them,” he said, “which is something that happens more frequently as my graduate students evolve toward their later stages of their Ph.D.s and start to challenge what I’ve written on the white board.” It is a great feeling!

— Steve Frandzel

Assistant Professor Geoffrey Hollinger conducts fundamental research in the quickly growing area of robotic systems. Among the major goals of his Robotic Decision Making Laboratory is formulating more effective ways for networks of autonomous robotic systems to work together to plan and coordinate their actions and learn how to make optimal decisions during complex data-gathering missions.

Hollinger is particularly interested in robots that operate in the field under challenging conditions rather than in the controlled confines of a lab. He envisions a world where networks of highly mobile robots work with humans to provide real-time information about any physical location—on land, under water, and in the sky—that is difficult or impossible for humans to reach.

“I’d like to see a big increase in the number of robots that are capable of working in harsh, unstructured field environments, such as the ocean, on farms, or flying through difficult, cluttered environments such as dense forests,” he said. Such networks of robot-borne sensors will be capable of making intelligent, independent decisions about where, when, and how far they travel and what information they collect and report. They will communicate and cooperate with other networked robots to learn from each other and adjust their plans in real time.

Hollinger joined Oregon State in September 2013 after earning his Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2010 and completing postdoctoral work in computer science at the University of Southern California. He completed his bachelor’s degrees in general engineering and philosophy at Swarthmore College in 2005. Hollinger credits several important people who influenced and guided his career, including his mentor at Swarthmore, Bruce Maxwell (now at Colby College), Sanjiv Singh, his Ph.D. advisor at Carnegie Mellon, and Gaurav Sukhatme, his postdoctoral advisor at USC, as well as mentors at his undergraduate NASA internship. “I’m grateful to these people who instilled in me a lasting interest in technology, robotics, and research, and who showed me the excitement and challenge of publishing high-impact research papers.”

In one of his current research projects, funded by the Office of Naval Research, Hollinger is working on adaptive decision making for naval systems used to collect information with cameras, sonar, and other types of sensors. His work aims to enhance the way robots make decisions to adjust to changing environments and enable them to optimize data collection to complete their missions more efficiently and effectively.

In another research undertaking, sponsored by the W.M. Keck Foundation and in collaboration with the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS), Hollinger and his colleagues are mounting bioacoustic sensors on ocean-going underwater gliders to detect fish, diving seabirds, marine mammals, and other ocean life. “I’m working on developing the motion planning and control to track and monitor biological hotspots in the ocean effectively,” he said.

He’s also working with the company Near Earth Autonomy, Inc. to map tunnels and other enclosed spaces using unmanned aerial vehicles. The research is funded by the U.S. Air Force through the Small Business Innovation Research program. The idea, he explains, is to send a team of robotic aerial vehicles into a building or mine to create a comprehensive map of the enclosure. “They have limited communication with each other, and they need to coordinate their movements to build a map quickly while faced with constraints such as battery life and limited speed,” Hollinger explained. The application could help rescuers map collapsed mines during search and rescue operations or prove invaluable for urban search and rescue and military reconnaissance.

Hollinger teaches Systems Dynamics and Control to undergraduate engineering students, and a graduate course, Sequential Decision Making in Robotics. He mentors students with the same enthusiasm that inspired his own academic and professional careers. “I encourage undergraduates in particular to get involved outside of classes with clubs, like the robotics club, AIAA, or the formula racing team,” he said. “Look into MECOP and internships or research labs on campus. Do something you’re excited and enthusiastic about outside of class. Those are the kinds of experiences that people are really going to consider when they’re evaluating you for jobs, fellowships, or graduate school.”

— Steve Frandzel