After an illustrious 30-year career at Oregon State University, R. Logen Logendran, professor of industrial engineering, is set to retire in September.Continue reading
The Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers has awarded Harriet B. Nembhard the title of fellow. Nembhard is the Eric R. Smith Professor of Engineering and head of the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering.
The award recognizes outstanding leaders in industrial engineering who have made significant, nationally recognized contributions to the profession.
“Becoming a part of the community of fellow is a tremendous honor,” Nembhard said. “In addition to being recognized by my colleagues for my IE accomplishments and contributions, it is a distinct opportunity to join with distinguished engineers to advance the profession and the discipline.”
She said she is excited for “opportunities for fellows to think about what the ‘digital industrial and systems engineer’ means as well as how we can lead in terms of research convergence, engineering for social justice, and shaping investments in our collective future.”
The award was presented at the IISE international conference in Orlando in May.
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
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
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 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
Professor McDowell’s research areas have included Statistical Process Control (SPC), Design of Experiments (DOE), Stochastic Optimization, Robust Design, Optimal Design of Sampling Control Strategies, and Human Factors. His publications have appeared in several journals, including IIE Transactions, Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Journal of Quality Technology, International Journal of Production Research, Journal of Computers and Industrial Engineering, and Journal of Manufacturing Systems. During the time Professor McDowell was at OSU, he taught a variety of courses both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, mainly in the areas of SPC, DOE, and Stochastic Optimization. He possessed such an in-depth knowledge and understanding of these three areas that he was the “go to” person for students, if they had a problem that needed to be resolved. His teaching and research was further complemented by research assignments that he held at the Air Force and the Navy during summer break. He had also taught at Kasetsart University in Thailand as a Visiting Professor. Professor McDowell was a senior member of IIE and a member of ASQC, ASEE, and Human Factors Society.
– R. Logen Logendran
“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
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
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
“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
“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
Students spent 30 consecutive hours of engineering design, teamwork, and development at HWeekend on October 8-9, sponsored by the College of Engineering. The theme was “Show’em What You Got!”, and participants did just that, creating some of the most complete projects of any HWeekend. The purpose of the theme was to encourage projects that could be submitted to national competitions.
It was the sixth iteration of the highly successful event that gives engineering and business students an entire weekend to develop an idea and prototype it. Forty-two students participated with majors in electrical and computer engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, and finance.
After some breakout brainstorming sessions and presentations of their ideas, participants split into 10 teams to work on their projects. The diverse ideas included a modified game of laser tag, a guitar that could tune itself, and a smart shin guard paired with a virtual reality environment.
One of the groups returned from the previous HWeekend held during Spring term. That group continued with their effort to build a ferrofluid display using individually wound electromagnets. The other groups were much newer to their projects, such as the mobile coffee heater group, which worked on finding components they could use to heat liquids in a drinking cup.
“The beautiful thing about this is that it’s fast paced and you really see results, even if they’re not exactly the results you hope for,” says Audrina Hahn, a mechanical engineering student, who worked on the Open Laser Tag project.
This event made use of the all-new Buxton Hall Makerspace, the Mastery Challenge lounge, and the Virtual Makerspace, which gave students access to 3D printing, soldering irons, a drill press, and laser cutting.
“It’s really amazing all the resources that we have available to us that are really simple to use and are things that are up-and-coming that we will probably continue to use into our careers,” Hahn says.
Mentors for this HWeekend included eight industry representatives. Martin Held from Microsemi returned to guide teams and answer hardware questions. Multiple mentors arrived from Intel in Hillsboro, including several recent graduates of Oregon State. These mentors split up to help on projects where their experience helped groups work with unfamiliar technologies. One group that benefitted was the motion tracking robot team, which received help with OpenCV from a mentor who revealed a personal interest in assembly programming.
Ben Buford was one of the recent graduates who came back from Intel to provide mentorship. He spent most of his time contributing to the ferrofluid display.
“I love seeing people come up with quick solutions that let them accomplish something and overcome obstacles that they didn’t know existed three hours prior,” Buford says.
Beyond the satisfaction of completing prototypes of their ideas, students at HWeekend compete for two group awards. The Executors award goes to the team that produces the best execution of their original idea to create the most polished final product and the Helping Hand is for the team that contributes the most to other teams. At this HWeekend, the Arbitrarily Tuned Stringed Instrument team was selected for both awards. The team included members Keaton Scheible, Youthamin “Bear” Philavastvanid, Elliot Highfill, and Savannah Loberger.
— Kyler Stole
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