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

Bahman Abbasi, Ph.D. joins Oregon State University as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Before joining Oregon State he worked as a lead technologist at Booz Allen Hamilton and a technical advisor to U.S. Department of Energy with wide-ranging experience in power generation systems, solar-thermal energy, high-temperature materials, light metals production and recycling, and water-energy nexus, among other energy technologies. Prior to that he worked in various industries; including, natural gas pipes manufacturing, automotive, as well as a lead engineer at General Electric. He received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland in 2010 with focus on phase-change phenomena and heat transfer, and has authored 20 technical publications including five issued patents.

He is excited about mountaineering opportunities in the Cascades, and hopes for a strong basketball season.

 

 

Megumi Kawasaki, Ph.D. joins Oregon State as an associate professor of materials science. Previously, she was an associate professor at Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea, where she joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 2012. She also held an adjunct research associate professor in Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering at USC (2012-2017) and a visiting researcher position in materials science at the Osaka Prefecture University (2013-present). Kawasaki’s research interests lie in the area of synthesis and characterizing unique properties of hybrid ultrafine-grained metals and nanocomposites processed by severe plastic deformation (SPD). Her work includes processing of metals and alloys through the application of SPD techniques and characterizing the (bulk and micro) mechanical properties at both ambient and high temperature ranges.

She has received an Early Career Award from the Korean Institute of Metals and Materials in April 2016, and received a NanoSPD Young Researcher Award at the 7th International Conference on Nanomaterials by Severe Plastic Deformation (NanoSPD7) in July 2017.

She looks forward to living in an area with lots of trees and beautiful natural landscapes.

Assistant Professor Brian Fronk researches thermal energy systems and heat transfer in the domains of both applied and fundamental science. Among his primary aims is to develop technologies to make renewable energy economically competitive with fossil fuels. Fronk also conducts fundamental research in two-phase flow, phase change heat transfer, and supercritical heat transfer processes. He is the director of the Thermal Energy Systems and Transport (TEST) Lab, which is equipped to conduct coupled experimental and computational investigations, with an end goal of developing high-impact, economically feasible energy systems. Fronk calls sustainable energy and water systems among the most critical challenges of the 21st century.

“Ultimately, all the work we’re doing is to improve the efficiency of energy conversion processes, with the goal of saving energy and reducing emissions,” he said. One of the keys is reducing energy consumption in our everyday lives, such as the energy required to heat water and to heat and cool interior spaces, which account for a sizeable proportion of the country’s energy demands.

Fronk joined Oregon State in 2014. After receiving his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 2005 from Penn State University and his M.S. from the Georgia Institute of Technology, he joined Carrier Corporation, where he worked in areas of CO2 compression and transport refrigeration. After earning his master’s degree, Fronk had not seriously considered joining the ranks of academia, but after some time in industry he missed doing research, so he returned to Georgia Tech for his Ph.D., which led him to OSU.

In one of his current research projects, he is part of a multidisciplinary team, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve the efficiency of high-temperature solar thermal power. Typical rooftop solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity. But on a large scale, such systems are usable only during daylight, because storing the electrical energy generated by photovoltaic cells in batteries is still expensive. In a solar thermal power system, mirrors focus sunlight on fluids (such as molten salts) or gasses (such as carbon dioxide), heating them to extraordinarily high temperatures. That thermal energy can be stored more cost effectively than electric energy and tapped around the clock. But solar thermal power is not yet cost competitive with alternatives such as natural gas or coal, which is something Fronk hopes to change. “We’re looking at very small channels, or flow pathways, to get more efficient heat transfer, which means we could make solar receivers — where the sunlight is focused — smaller and more efficient, and that would mean significantly lower system costs,” he said. “That would directly decrease the cost of electricity associated with concentrated solar power. Once the price is on par with fossil fuel alternatives, it will make economic sense to start building these plants on a large scale.”

In other work funded by NW Natural and the DOE, Fronk is working to improve the efficiency of systems that heat water and which heat and cool interior spaces — all of which are enormous energy drains in the United States. “A lot of my work has applications in the building industry,” he said. “Reducing the energy demand related to heating and cooling by just a few percent will translate to huge energy savings nationally.”

Fronk is also conducting fundamental science, funded by the NSF, in which he seeks to better understand the heat transfer mechanisms in supercritical fluids — fluids at such high temperatures and pressures that they exist as neither distinctly liquid nor distinctly gas. His particular interest in supercritical fluids is using them to support high-temperature solar power plants, and possibly for cooling high-power electronics.

In high school, Fronk thought he’d become an investment banker. But that changed for good when he worked with his father (an engineer) to restore a 1968 Pontiac GTO. “Seeing the engine in pieces and understanding how they all fit together to create something greater was intriguing and really got my interest.” he said.  Additional experiences as an intern with General Motors and at a Shell oil refinery offered him additional perspectives on engineering, and particularly about energy production and use, which helped to cement his desire to explore energy-related fields.

Some of Fronk’s greatest career satisfaction comes from working with his graduate students. He gets a particular boost from watching them publish papers and present them at conferences. “I enjoy watching the students grow,” he said. “My proudest moments come when sitting in the audience and seeing one of my students present their work well. That’s as good as it gets. I’ve also involved undergrads in our research, and it’s exciting to see them grow and take ownership of the projects.”

He encourages students at all levels to communicate their goals to faculty members and take advantage of their office hours. “They can benefit a lot by spending a little time getting to know their teachers,” Fronk said. “It helps to make a big place like this feel smaller and it can make their time here much more rewarding. I like to get to know my students — who they are and why they’re here. And if I know what a student’s ambitions are, I can keep my eye out for opportunities that come across my desk.

— Steve Frandzel

Assistant Professor Javier Calvo-Amodio is an industrial engineer who specializes in engineering management. As director of the Change and Reliable Systems Engineering and Management Research Group, he applies systems thinking and systems engineering methodologies to design reliable management processes that maintain robust organizational structures to meet the constantly shifting demands of globalization and other agents of change. “I want to create processes within organizations that allow them to face change comfortably and effectively,” he said, adding that systems thinking in engineering focuses on the interactions between human elements and technical and managerial systems.

Through his work, Calvo-Amodio aims to help organizations create working cultures that balance technical and human needs—a factor he thinks is often overlooked in engineering practice. From a practical standpoint, that means providing organizations a framework for success when they implement continuous process improvement methodologies. “The right conditions must be set up for such major changes to succeed,” Calvo-Amodio explained. His approach can be applied to any organization with complex management structures, whether they’re in manufacturing, healthcare, government, or other fields.

Calvo-Amodio joined Oregon State in 2012 after earning his Ph.D. in Systems and Engineering Management from Texas Tech University. He received his B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Tecnológico de Monterrey, Toluca, Mexico in 2000 and went to work in the private sector before continuing his education. In 2002, he earned a M.Sc. in business management from the University of Hull in the U.K., then served in several engineering management positions before starting his Ph.D. studies in 2007.

In current research, funded by the Oregon State Athletics Department, Calvo-Amodio is working with Ean Ng, research assistant professor and engineering management program director in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering, to streamline travel for the university’s intercollegiate athletic teams. “We have 18 official teams,” he said. “Each one arranges travel separately, sometimes even when they’re headed to the same place. That leads to higher expenses for transportation and lodging, and longer travel times.” By taking a systems approach, Calvo-Amodio intends to help the Athletic Department coordinate team travel more effectively and enable it to, for example, negotiate better rates with hotels and transportation services. Refining the current travel system also promises to improve student welfare by cutting down on overall travel time, which means improved class attendance and study time and more adequate sleep.

Calvo-Amodio is also working with Boeing Portland to develop a daily cadence production system to improve the company’s rate of production. By applying systems engineering and engineering management principles, Boeing Portland will be able to increase productivity without disrupting its existing manufacturing process or corporate culture. The project is so complex that Calvo-Amodio spent the first two years (of what will likely be a five-year process) to understand and quantify the dynamic behavior of the company’s manufacturing system— particularly worker expectations about their roles. Only then could he move on to developing solutions.

He is also collaborating with colleagues in the College of Engineering to help the Oregon Department of Transportation calculate the agency’s return on investment for advanced engineering technology. ODOT will present the findings next year to the state legislature when it makes its annual case for funding.

Beyond his research, Calvo-Amodio develops lessons for Oregon State’s SMILE (Science Math Interactive Learning Experience) program, which exposes underserved Oregon middle school and high school students to STEM fields.

Calvo-Amodio grew up around engineers and recalls the thrill of visiting huge civil construction sites such as roads, bridges, and dams. Always mechanically inclined, he knew early on that engineering would be a good career fit. By adding a graduate business degree to his credentials, he created an ideal platform from which to address both the technical and managerial challenges of engineering. But he never expected to join the ranks of academia.

While pursuing his Ph.D., he learned (much to his surprise) that he enjoyed teaching and conducting research. “I once thought I would never become a professor, because I didn’t like teaching,” he said. “I was very wrong. I really enjoy the relationships that I build with students, and I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing them grow and watching them get back and keep going when they stumble.” He describes himself as a tough, but fair, teacher. “I’m a no-nonsense guy and I make my expectations clear at the start of a course, but I’m also very supportive,” he said. “If I see students learning, that’s what’s most important. Teaching the technical material in class is the easy part. The hard part is getting to know students personally and helping them develop as people and professionals.”

In 2016, Calvo-Amodio was named as the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)

representative to the International Council of Systems Engineers. He is also a member of the ISSS systems research team, which is currently working on the Systems Literacy Project to redefine what systems sciences and systems thinking is and where it’s headed. At Oregon State, his Capstone design team won the 2016 Student Learning and Success Teamwork Award.

— Steve Frandzel


Bryony DuPont joined the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering as an assistant professor in 2013. She is now one of seven faculty members who make up the largest academic mechanical engineering design research group in the nation.

It’s called the OSU Design Engineering Lab, and DuPont brings her computational expertise in design automation with a laser focus on the long-term environmental impacts of early design decisions. Although these impacts often don’t manifest until very late in a product’s lifecycle, early design decisions can play a critical role in everything from recyclability to water conservation to energy consumption.

DuPont and her students tap artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms to develop methods and computational tools for improving the design process so products are better for the planet – from cradle to grave.

“All our work is computational – system optimization, algorithm development, and machine learning, and the main focus is tackling green problems,” DuPont said. “We do a lot of work in renewable energy and energy systems and a lot on the environmental impact of consumer products – how people use and interact with consumer products and how this affects environmental sustainability.”

One of DuPont’s research projects is aimed at helping design engineers understand the long-term environmental implications stemming from the decisions they make very early on in the design process. This focus on early design decision-making for environmental impact is relatively new, for several reasons. Not only has environmental design often taken a back seat to profits, but reliable data has been lacking, or non-existent.

“Most engineers don’t know where to start when it comes to designing to reduce environmental impacts, because there are currently no methods to help you during the early design phase – right when you’re getting started,” DuPont said. “So we’re creating some of the first data sets and computational tools that will change that.”

One of the tools is a web-based, quiz-like decision engine that asks engineers a series of key questions early on – questions ranging from power supply to whether or not plastic parts can be made from materials that qualify for the most common recycling symbols (1 and 2).

“If you’re using 12 different materials but only some are recyclable, or you can’t disassemble the product to extract the recyclable materials, or if batteries will need replacement every few weeks, our system will call that out.,” DuPont said.

DuPont and her students are also developing a repository to address the lack of data available to design engineers.

“We’ve created a repository of 47 products with 26 different environmental impact metrics, and we’re adding to it all the time,” DuPont said. “It’s a component-by-component analysis of what products are made of, how they’re made, and the environmental impacts of each component.”

DuPont is using machine learning to find the correlation between the decisions a designer makes and the environmental impacts that result from those decisions.

She’s also applying her computational expertise to improve the ability of the power grid to more efficiently accommodate renewable energy and to determine if offshore energy systems, like floating wind farms, might work well on the Pacific coast.

During a $160,000 research project sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s National Energy Technology Lab, DuPont optimized the Oregon and Washington power grid and pointed out ways of managing the power that have the potential to cut the cost of energy by almost 18 percent.

Some of her students are working on another research project that is simulating floating wind systems off the coast in order to analyze the cost and biological impacts of floating wind turbines and the potential impact on energy costs in Oregon.

“That one is a fun and very, very challenging problem, but these students are at the forefront of it,” said DuPont, who is seeing an uptick in interest from women in this area of engineering. “I have so many great students exited to do this work, in part because they can see how they can apply the work to big, save-the-world issues.”

— Gregg Kleiner

Julie TuckerAfter completing her Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Julie Tucker worked in industry for five years as a lead scientist, helping design nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers at a government-owned, contractor-operated power lab in Schenectady, New York.

As time went by, however, Tucker realized the work she was doing wasn’t as fulfilling as she wanted.

She had taught a course or two at her workplace, and she enjoyed research, so she decided to send her CV to a number of universities, knowing the competition for tenure-track faculty positions was fierce.

“I figured if I got lucky, I might get one interview, learn some things, and then apply again in the future,” Tucker said.

It turns out Tucker got four interviews and a few job offers. She selected the College of Engineering at Oregon State, in part for the sense of community she found among the faculty and staff of its School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering (MIME).

“Now I absolutely love my job,” said Tucker, who has been at Oregon State three years. “It’s definitely my calling, and the great culture and community here in the school really helps, too.”

The 50-plus MIME faculty — half of whom are new assistant professors — have a weekly happy hour and other ways to connect so that Tucker has felt connected and well supported from day one.

“As new faculty, we’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support, and I’m passing that on to the new people coming in,” she said.

Instead of working on submarines and aircraft carriers, Tucker’s research now impacts everything from CO2 emissions to the materials used in Leatherman multi-tools.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said.

At the heart of Tucker’s research interest is the study of metals and other materials that can survive in extreme environments. “If we can understand why they break down, we can design materials that don’t,” she said.

For the Leatherman project, Tucker and her students are testing a range of new alloys that offer both corrosion resistance and strength for tools used in harsh marine environments and exposed to seawater. Her research for this project is funded by Leatherman Tool Group Inc. and the Oregon Metals Initiative.

“My students love applied research like this,” Tucker said. “It’s super sexy and they dream about working at a company like Leatherman.”

Another research project has Tucker and her students figuring out the best materials to use in the high-temperature, high-pressure environments of next-generation power plants that will use CO2 to drive turbines instead of steam.

These plants will cost less to construct because the turbines can be an order of magnitude smaller in size, requiring less energy input to produce the same amount of power. But researchers don’t yet know for sure how the CO2 will react with the material containing it.

“We’re basically helping figure out what you make the new power plants out of,” Tucker said. “Fossil fuel plants are interested, because they can also sequester their CO2 emissions.”

Total funding for this project is close to a million dollars, coming from the U.S. Department of Energy, Idaho National Laboratory, and a private company in Turkey.

Tucker also has a research project focused on improving the materials used to hold uranium fuel pellets at nuclear power plants. During the Fukushima power plant accident, the zirconium metal that holds the fuel became so hot it triggered a chemical reaction, which lead to a hydrogen explosion that released radiation. Tucker and her team are exploring silicon carbide, a ceramic, as an alternative to zirconium-based fuel cladding.

Tucker recently won a prestigious NSF CAREER Award, accompanied by $522,000 in funding, for her proposal to study alloys kept in service for many years at temperatures from 200-500 degrees Celsius – a range where temperature effects are very low in the short run but become significant over time. Knowledge of how alloys behave in this middle range of temperatures are essential in many important industries, including the aerospace, energy production, and petrochemical industries. As the materials degrade, their ability to perform as designed is compromised, which can lead to safety hazards. But because degradation can take decades, laboratory studies are impractical because they could last years. Tucker proposes to use radiation to accelerate the alloy degradation process, thus making laboratory evaluation feasible.

“We expect to be able to use this knowledge to design new alloys that are better suited to resist long-term thermal degradation,” said Tucker.  The award goes into effect in June 2017.

Tucker won the Young Leaders Professional Development Award from the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society in 2016 and the Young Scientist Award from the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in 2010.

She sums up both her research and teaching philosophy in two succinct sentences: “I bring real life examples into the classroom and lab so my students see why this might matter. And I try to create a supportive, caring environment in which students can thrive.”

— Gregg Kleiner

Kyle NiemeyerKyle Niemeyer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, develops advanced numerical methods for computational modeling of combustion and reactive flows. Recent research includes the advancement of tools and algorithms for graphics processing units that increase the accuracy and detail of chemical models in combustion simulations. Other research interests include computational modeling of multi-physics flows for applications in aerospace, transportation, and energy systems. Niemeyer’s research group develops numerical methods that researchers can use to better simulate important physical phenomena, including combustion, turbulence-chemistry interactions, and the interaction of fluids with solid structures.

“In the big picture, I look at computational modeling of combustion and fluid flows, mostly for gaseous states,” said Niemeyer. “I also investigate situations in which moving flows interact with a moving object.” A flag flapping in the wind is an everyday example of such an interface.

His work holds the potential to increase the efficiency of combustion technology, which translates into lower pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and conservation of scarce resources. Niemeyer estimates that 85% of the world’s power is generated by combustion, so anything that decreases its negative impact on the environment will have long-lasting climate and health implications. “I’d like to see the world move away from combustion for generating power, but for the near future we will still be burning things to convert energy, whether it’s for transportation or electrical power. We should try to do it in a way that minimizes harm,” he said. “My work doesn’t directly lead to cleaner energy, but my hope is that it provides either the tools or the understanding that results in that endpoint.”

Niemeyer joined Oregon State in 2014 as research faculty and became an assistant professor in 2015. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 2013. Case Western also conferred his B.S. in aerospace engineering in 2009 and his M.S. in aerospace engineering in 2010.

Among his primary objectives is to create faster computer-based tools for simulating combustion and power generation, allowing engineers and designers to solve problems more quickly and more accurately. “Computational modeling drives design these days,” he said. “The old model of building multiple prototypes is too slow and expensive.” Niemeyer also strives to increase understanding of phenomena that are central to power generation, whether it occurs in an aircraft’s gas turbine engines or a natural gas power plant.

In one study, funded by the NSF and done with collaborators at the University of Connecticut, Niemeyer is designing combustion simulation software that meshes more effectively with advanced microprocessors. Computer codes that have been used for years are not always compatible with updated processor architectures. “The goal is to advance simulation algorithms so they can run on the newest processors,” he explained. Ultimately, he wants to build a library of code that is freely available to other researchers. Niemeyer strongly advocates conducting science openly and sharing results. “If we develop software or come up with useful data, we put them on a widely used website so anyone can download them,” he said.

A related project, funded by NASA and conducted jointly with MIT and Purdue, involves speeding up computer simulations of fluid flow performed by high-speed computing clusters. Each node in the cluster calculates part of the problem at hand, but communication between nodes often cannot keep up with processing speeds. The result is an information bottleneck and delayed results, Niemeyer explained. “We’re working toward reducing that communication time to get faster simulations,” he explained. One potential application area for such simulations is studying the aerodynamics of NASA vehicles, such as the Space Launch System.

Niemeyer also studies smoldering combustion — slow burning that occurs without a visible flame. Smoldering produces higher levels of carbon monoxide and other pollutants compared with flames and can be difficult to contain, making it a serious health and environmental threat. It is particularly relevant in wildfire management. His research, funded by the EPA and the Department of Defense and in partnership with David Blunck, also an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State, aims for a better understanding of the causes and underlying conditions of smoldering events. “We want to know the physics of ignition and propagation of smoldering,” said Niemeyer.

Niemeyer also investigates pulse detonation engines, which have no moving parts and rely on continuous explosions to generate thrust for locomotion and, possibly, electricity generation.

When mapping out the direction of his research, Niemeyer is mindful of choosing avenues that hold the potential for strong contributions to his field. “I don’t want to work in a vacuum, and I don’t want to conduct research that doesn’t make an impact,” he said. Additional funding sources for his research include Chevron and Oregon BEST.

In high school, Niemeyer played with the idea of becoming an architect. But, inspired by space travel and science fiction, he decided to study aerospace engineering. From there, curiosity about aircraft and spacecraft engines led him to advanced degrees in mechanical engineering.

When working with undergraduates, Niemeyer takes great pleasure from shepherding students through difficult academic work. “I really enjoy it when a student who didn’t understand something finally figures out the problem,” he said. “What I teach is not easy, and some students understandably feel insecure. By the time they leave, however, many have ‘gotten it.’ Niemeyer appreciates similar growth among his graduate students. “Seeing their progression and watching them produce work that others in the field take interest in is truly gratifying,” he said.

— Steve Frandzel

Ravi BalasubrahmanianAssistant Professor Ravi Balasubramanian specializes in robotics and human control systems. His primary research goals are twofold: 1) make robots operate robustly in unstructured settings, (such as outdoors) and in built environments not specifically designed to accommodate robotic operations, and 2) develop a deeper understanding of the neural control and biomechanics of the human body. He integrates fundamental control and design techniques as well as human-subject experiments to study human performance. Application areas include robotic grasping and manipulation, mobile robotics, human-robot interaction, and rehabilitation.

“My research blends robotic and human functions. I draw inspiration from humans to improve robots, and from robots to enhance human capabilities and improve quality of life, especially for people with disabilities,” said Balasubramanian, who directs the Robotics and Human Control Systems Laboratory. For instance, he envisions robots tasked with picking up and manipulating heavy objects in warehouses or factories, thereby reducing workplace injuries. “I want to enable robots to do that work reliably with partial information in an unstructured, fluid setting,” he said. In addition, seniors or people with disabilities might use robots to assist them with daily activities. In the context of robotic inspiration for human systems, he is developing implantable mechanisms, such as pulleys and linkages, which integrate with tendon networks to enhance orthopedic surgery.

Balasubramanian joined Oregon State in 2011. He received his B.Eng. in mechanical engineering from the National University of Singapore in 2000, and earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

Robo-inspiration for improving human capabilities drives one of his primary research projects, which is funded by a National Science Foundation CAREER grant and a Department of Defense congressionally directed medical research program. The work involves designing implantable passive mechanisms for orthopedic surgery to correct high median-ulnar nerve palsy. Patients afflicted with the debilitating condition cannot contract the muscles that flex the fingers and lose the ability to grasp objects. To correct the problem, surgeons transplant tendons from the fingers and connect them to the wrist extensor muscle. If the procedure is successful, patients regain the ability to curl all their fingers simultaneously, but they still can’t flex them individually or adapt to objects of different shapes and sizes.

Balasubramanian proposes re-attaching the relocated tendons using artificial linkages that allow greater freedom of motion. “We’re constructing triangular, differential mechanisms between the muscle and the fingers. As the wrist extensor muscle contracts, the triangles rotate and allow each finger to adapt as needed to objects they’re grasping,” he explained.

Throughout his life, Balasubramanian has nurtured an abiding interest in the physics of movement, which led him to study mechanical engineering. “I realized I could study the physics of movement of a car or some other device like a robot, or I could study the physics of movement of the human body,” he said. “I’ve done both because the physics of movement, whether it’s of a person or a machine, is all related.”

Balasubramanian thrives on the inherent challenges of research, which force him to test his intellectual boundaries. “It allows us to really find out who we are and what our limits are, and that fascinates me,” he said. When it comes to teaching, he believes that sparking student enthusiasm is essential to learning. In addition to ensuring that his students grasp the core concepts of their class work, he also focuses on how to identify and tackle problems, emphasizing that various approaches to problem solving are available. “There’s probably an optimal way to solve a given problem, but one must be tireless in exploring the possibilities,” he said. “The important thing is that there are no boundaries to knowledge, and lots of interesting stuff comes up when you start putting multiple disciplines together.” For his own inspiration, Balasubramanian turns to an ancient Indian saying: Let noble thoughts come from all directions.

In 2016, Balasubramanian received the prestigious NSF CAREER Grant, which recognizes junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research, education, and the integration of the two to forward the mission of their organization. He also received the Outstanding Researcher Award from the National Institutes of Health National Center for Simulation in Rehabilitation Research in 2012. Other funding sources include the Oregon State University Venture Development Fund, the Department of Defense DARPA Robotics Challenge, and several businesses.

— Steve Frandzel

David Blunck

Welty Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor David Blunck’s research focuses on four domains: combustion, ignition, radiation, and energy. In his Combustion, Ignition, Radiation, and Energy Laboratory and Propulsion Laboratory, he and his team study practical energy conversion (such as jet engine combustion and propulsion) and natural energy conversion (such as forest fires). His research has applications in fields as diverse as aviation and wildfire management.

Blunck hopes to establish a multidisciplinary fire center to contribute to fire management understanding and help communities prepare for and increase their resilience to wildfires. He also envisions Oregon State’s combustion research program becoming one of the strongest on the West Coast—for good reason, he believes, given the extraordinary level of expertise within his own lab and among his colleagues in the College of Engineering.

Before joining Oregon State in 2013, Blunck earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in 2010, then worked at the Turbine Engine Division of the Air Force Research Laboratory, where he was the lead investigator for fundamental combustion research related to gas turbine combustors and pollutant formation. He co-led a team of engineers in designing and testing the world’s smallest combustor for use in advanced gas turbine engines. He completed his B.S. in mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University in 2005 and his M.S. in mechanical Engineering at Purdue in 2008.

In one of his current research projects — an international collaboration funded by the Federal Aviation Administration — Blunck is seeking to help streamline the costly and cumbersome process for screening alternative aviation fuels, such as biofuels or coal-based fuel. “Currently, the lengthy process costs millions of dollars and requires the manufacturer to produce large amounts of the new fuel, which then undergoes testing in airplanes on the ground,” said Blunck. Fuels that make the cut are then tested in flight — another costly step that still may not result in a viable fuel. But Blunck, using a relatively simple burner and small volumes of fuel, hopes to help determine more quickly and inexpensively which fuels to weed out early in the process and do not warrant full-scale testing. “By eliminating unsuitable fuels early on, the successful ones will become a reality sooner,” he said.

In another study, funded by the Joint Fire Science Program and conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Blunck is investigating the rate of ember generation during forest fires. During large burns, embers can be lofted high into the air, travel miles on the wind and drop to earth to ignite new fires. “Our biggest concern is at wild/urban interfaces where civilization is surrounded by wilderness,” he said. “A rain of embers can threaten homes and other property, even if they’re miles from the main fire,” The work involves, in part, lab studies in which various forest materials are burned in a wind tunnel to quantify how pieces break off to generate embers, and how different parameters — moisture content, size, material, shape — change their behavior. The research will proceed to controlled burns and measurements of ember production rates in the wild. Such knowledge about the physics and chemistry of ember production could lead to predictive tools that enable incident commanders to dispatch resources more effectively to protect lives and property.

In a third study, funded by the U.S. Navy, Blunck is seeking to advance the technology used in pulse detonation engines — a ground-breaking evolution of gas turbine engines used for propulsion and energy production. In a pulse-detonation engine, the energy from rapidly repeating detonations is incorporated into the process to produce additional power and efficiency. “We’re studying how combustion products change the character of the detonation process,” said Blunck. “That information will help us better design devices that use detonations.”

In 2016, Blunck was awarded the prestigious Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award for his research entitled “Ignition, Deflagration, and Detonation Behavior of Fuel and Oxidizer Mixed with Combustion Products.” He also was named the 2014-2015 AIAA Pacific Northwest Section Young Engineer of the Year. His groundbreaking research has attracted significant external funding from numerous sources, including the FAA, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the American Chemical Society, the Office of Naval Research, the National Energy and Technology Laboratory, and the Joint Fire Science Program.

Of all his many achievements, Blunck is most proud of his students. “At the end of the day, they’re the ones who will go out in the world and make a difference,” he said. “My own research will have an impact to some extent, but I think my influence on the world for the better will be greatest through my students and who they become.”

— Steve Frandzel