An explosion hitting metal causes its temperature to spike by thousands of degrees. It happens so fast, blink and you’ll miss it. In fact, no existing camera can detect the dramatic temperature change, making research into how materials hold up in extreme environments difficult.
University of Rhode Island mechanical engineering Professor Arun Shukla plans to change that. Armed with a $75,000 grant from the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council awarded in July 2014, he’s sketching out a super high-speed imaging system. As envisioned, the device will rely on infrared to record the temperature of a surface at 10 million frames per second. By way of comparison, a mid-range digital camera records about 4 frames per second.
The device will also detect changes across an area of just 2 square millimeters, about the twice the size of a pinhead, with a spatial resolution of 10 millionth of a meter. Within that area, Shukla hopes to measure the temperature in five distinct regions.
“No one has measured these temperatures on this scale until now,” Shukla says. “If this works, we will open up avenues for us to do work where temperatures rise very, very fast.”
That’s of great interest to defense officials interested in understanding how armor holds up to explosions. Defense researchers could also utilize the equipment to precisely measure the heat spots in explosives to better understand their impact.
On an academic level, a high-speed imaging system opens the door to better understanding shear banding, an intense strain that can cause materials to buckle.
Shukla will use the funding from the council to work with Brown University to construct a prototype infrared imaging system. Shukla will bring his years of expertise in studying how materials behave in extreme conditions. Brown University, led by engineering Associate Professor Pradeep Guduru, will lend its experience in designing circuity and will fabricate the computer chips that will power the device.
The team says that the device would be unprecedented and attract further research to Rhode Island. Eventually the idea could be commercialized and sold to others.
“Most of the equipment that’s on the market doesn’t come close to making measurements this quickly,” Shukla says. “We could change that.”]]>
By the time you finish reading this sentence, people will upload more than 100 hours of video to YouTube, Facebook users will share 684,478 pieces of information, 350,000 or so tweets will enter the Twittersphere and some 104,000 photos will be swapped via Snapchat. Storing all that information is no easy task.
Internet behemoths spend billions of dollars annually on sprawling data centers packed with thousands of servers. To make those servers more efficient and cheaper to operate, a team of University of Rhode Island engineering professors is rethinking the humble computer hard drive.
In July 2014, electrical engineering Professors Qing Yang and Godi Fischer won a $75,000 grant from the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council to continue their work on a new data storage device that holds big promise for cloud computing storage.
Traditional computer hard drives contain a spinning disk and a head that reads and writes data using magnetism. The decades-old technology is proven, but spinning the disk and controlling the head requires significant energy and is slow – especially in an era when users expect lightning-fast speeds. Flash memory – often found in cellphones and thumb drives – draws less power but has a limited lifetime.
The URI team – which is collaborating with faculty at Brown University and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis – turned instead to magnetic ram. The system eliminates the need for a head and spinning by using voltage to manipulate the data on the drive. That speeds the time it takes to access data by six orders of magnitude and lowers energy consumption – one of the biggest expenses in data centers.
“Right now traditional hard drives are too slow,” Yang says. “There is a need for a new system and new storage technology that have potential for commercialization.”
The July grant will allow the team to construct a prototype that can process a few bytes. If it proves successful, researchers will scale up the system to hold hundreds of terabytes. To get there, physicists at IUPUI and Brown will develop new data-storage material. Fisher will design a circuit for control and Yang design the actual memory system. The researchers expect the project to take about a year.
Yang’s previous projects have become commercial blockbusters. The professor has founded four companies in the last 15 years and sold the latest one, which focused on accessing storage faster, to Western Digital. (Read related story.) The company rolled out the technology to commercial data centers worldwide.]]>
Patrick Brown always wanted to be an astronaut. He may never make it to space, but the technology he’s helping to develop just may help humans reach Mars.
The University of Rhode Island chemical engineering student from Westerly, R.I. is interning at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. He serves as part of a team developing a new solid oxide fuel cell system lighter and more robust than anything in existence. Moreover, the system can take methane – which can be produced from natural resources on Mars – and convert it to hydrogen. That can power fuel cells that generate electricity. For it to work, the team must understand exactly how to extract hydrogen from methane and how to do it on a planet never closer than 34 million miles away.
“Sure, a chemist could explain how these reactions work,” Brown says. “But the engineering side tells you how these things fit together into a practical piece of technology you can bring into space.”
For Brown and the team, weight is number one. Today it costs NASA about $10,000 to place a single pound of material into space. That’s why hefty and limited power batteries are not an option for a Mars trip.
After weight comes sustainability and reliability. NASA cannot practically resupply a spacecraft hurling toward Mars. Using methane will eliminate the need for resupply trips. Meanwhile, a complex series of tests and prototypes will ensure the fuel cell and its attached systems can withstand the extreme temperatures and forces of space.
“I’ve learned it’s amazing how much work goes into making something that might not seem that complex,” Brown says. “You can’t just call AAA for a tow. It comes down to intensive testing and development to make sure it’s going to work.”
The preliminary work has yielded positive results and NASA asked Brown to stay an additional month in Houston. Plus, the team is vying for a spot on a Mars rover scheduled to be launched around 2020 and land on the Red Planet. Brown says if the team is selected, the fuel cell system will be loaded on the rover – sister to the Mars Curiosity – and receive the ultimate test of its abilities.
Even if the fuel cell never reaches Mars, Brown says the paid internship has been a field day for a space buff like him. In the office next door, researchers work on warp speed – travel faster than the speed of light. On the same campus, Mission Control keeps watch over the International Space Station.
To get to Houston, Brown applied for 15 internships at the space agency – the maximum number of applications allowed. NASA interviewed him for three positions and eventually selected him to intern within the Engineering Directorate in Texas. Brown brought a broad-based chemical engineering background – even if it did take him a while to settle on an academic career.
After high school Brown, now 27, joined the Air Force Academy, decided it wasn’t for him and enrolled at Colgate University. He drifted away from pursuing his passion for space and ultimately transferred to the University of Rhode Island, where he expects to graduate in December 2014.
Brown says he’s happy with his decision to attend URI and pleased it provided a foundation for him to intern at NASA, a place he hopes to work one day, exploring space, the final frontier.
“It’s the mystery of the unknown,” Brown says of his attraction to space. “We occupy the smallest piece of the physical universe and we’ve only been around the shortest time. The bulk of existence does not involve human beings.”]]>
June 30-July 25, 2014
9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Robotics and Programming Session
June 30-July 25, 2014
2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Academy is designed for high school students who want to explore the possibilities created by engineering and explore the subject in a hands-on, engaging fashion. The Academy is offered every July at the Kingston campus. You can learn more about this year’s sessions and the weekend program that offers students opportunities to see regional engineering and cultural landmarks. Students may also earn college credit, scholarships and be eligible for on-campus housing during the program.
Forge friendships and meet others while exploring engineering.
Hands on activities and road trips make this an action-packed experience.
The Academy attracts students from around the world, offering a unique international experience.
Sign up today
Wanting Engineering (WEGR) is not an engineering major code since it is not a degree. It is only available to students who are still in University College. This coding is used with students who are interested in engineering as a major, but do not have the background to begin as an engineering major (would not be admitted as an engineering major). It provides them with an opportunity to take courses that follow the freshman engineering degree pathway with the benefit of having an engineering advisor. Many WEGR students become engineering majors after successfully completing specific required courses (see below). The decision about if and when a student is ready to be changed to an engineering major is determined by the associate dean.
Note: A signed WEGR contract is required for this option. You must meet with the WEGR advisor regarding this contract.
Please review the items at each link shown below, which will provide you with important information that you need to be aware of. You also need to print out the curriculum and check sheets for your major and bring this information to all advising appointments.
Note: Advisor evaluation and monitoring of student progress is done every semester. Based on your performance and progress, and at the discretion of the COE Dean, you can lose your WEGR status at any time. If there is no evidence of satisfactory progress during any of the 3 (three) semesters as described above, you may lose your WEGR status, and will not be allowed to enroll in any engineering courses. It will then be necessary for you to choose a major other than engineering.]]>
A long shower in Jordan is a luxury. The arid country’s water shortage means that water flows to most homes once a week, twice in a good week. For residents without stored water or money to buy bottled water, baths, laundry and everything else requiring H2O must wait.
Jordanian researchers seeking new water sources have turned to desalination – the process of removing salt from saline water. And they’ve looked to University of Rhode Island engineering Assistant Professor Vinka Oyanedel-Craver to develop nanoparticles to improve desalination efficiency and reduce costs.
With the backing of a $314,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development and $100,000 from the National Science Foundation, the project launched in early 2014 as a collaboration among researchers in the United States and Jordan.
In the United States, Oyanedel-Craver’s silver nanoparticles will be embedded in membranes used in the process that eliminates salt from salt or brackish water. The nanoparticles slow the growth of bacteria on the membrane. And because the particles are infused into the membrane, there is no need to shut down operations to clean the membrane.
“We can reduce the amount of bacteria that starts growing so the membrane works longer,” Oyanedel-Craver says. “You make it way more efficient and less expensive.”
The team is also seeking environmentally friendly nanoparticles composed of materials readily available in Jordan and nearby countries. That will keep costs down and allow their widespread use by government water suppliers and private well owners alike. The project calls for URI to develop the nanoparticles, the University of Toledo to infuse them in the membrane and the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop the fabrication process. The project runs until July 2015.
Muna Abu-Dalo, an associate professor at the Jordan University of Science and Technology spearheading the project, says the global alliance offers a powerful combination of expertise unavailable at any single institution. Each school brings its own specialty and for URI, that’s a long history in developing nanoparticles that turn dirty water into potable water. Oyanedel-Craver has led those efforts and been a notable presence at water engineering conferences around the globe.
“She’s very unique in her research and she’s very good at her research,” says Abu-Dalo, who met Oyanedel-Craver at an engineering conference in 2011.
The duo have found more in common since their first meeting. They are discussing applying the lessons from the desalination project to Oyanedel-Craver’s ceramic filters in use in rural Latin America. Separately, Jordan, housing more than 613,000 refugees, could deploy the low-cost, low- maintenance ceramic filters in refugee camps.
“We’re not just hoping to do research, but to also build capacity to do more,” Abu-Dalo says.
Working toward that goal, URI civil and environmental graduate engineering student Colleen Grinham, of Middleboro, Mass., spent July 2014 in Jordan working with Abu-Dalo and her students. Grinham taught Jordan researchers how to make the nanoparticles.
It was not be her first time abroad. As an undergraduate in the University’s International Engineering Program, she spent a year in Germany studying at the Technical University of Braunschweig and interning at Bayer. In all, she’s been to 29 countries through her studies and personal travel. Jordan marked her 30th nation and first time in the region.
“Going places with a purpose is really important to me,” Grinham says. “With the Syrian refugees Jordan’s infrastructure and water resources are taking a toll. This work is especially important now.”]]>
Whether it’s keeping airplanes safe or keeping homes cool, University of Rhode Island students are on it. In late April, about a dozen student teams demonstrated their senior capstone design projects. Most teams partnered with industry and delivered real solutions to real-world problems.
Take, for example, Hope Global. The industrial textiles company wants to fit more spools that wind its finished material in its Cumberland, R.I. plant. Four mechanical engineering students studied the existing system and designed a new, skinner spool. The new model means Hope Global can fit three spools in an area where currently just two fit.
“By giving them an extra spool, the payback is less than a year,” says student Tim Johnson, who adds that the company plans to test the system in the coming months.
Not far away, two loadmasters from the Rhode Island National Guard 143rd Airlift Wing reviewed a student-designed proximity warning system for aircraft. As aircraft taxi on the ground, the system monitors the surrounding area. When the plane approaches a nearby object, the system emits a series of lights and sounds. The closer the object, the more intense the sound and light.
The students submitted the project as part of a competition held by the Federal Aviation Administration. The device took first place in the nation with FAA and industry officials saying it had market potential and was economical to install. (See full story.)
Separately during a presentation on campus, visitor and National Guard Master Sgt. Chad Gurnon called the device a long overdue idea. Airplanes navigating congested airports are prone to clipping their wings against other aircraft or structures. More than a scratch, such collisions cost millions of dollars in damage to military equipment.
“This is an awesome idea,” Gurnon says. “For what it would cost, it would save so much money.”
Industrial and systems engineering student Lawrence Higgins pointed out another positive. The device could allow planes to park closer together and save space in hangers, which are expensive to build and maintain.
Keeping large structures such as hangers the right temperature was the charge of another team. Amtrol executives asked students to invent a better way to filter out air and debris from water-based heating systems. The oxygen in the air lowers efficiency and dirt clogs pumps and values.
Amtrol also asked students to invent a system that would not infringe on any existing patents. And, of course, it had to be affordable.
Students developed a stainless steel mesh wound around a pipe. The mesh forms a layered grid that filters the water. To prove it worked, students built a model and printed two of its components on the college’s 3-D printer.
Mechanical engineering student Chris Shillings said the project put him and his peers closer to industry than ever. The group visited Amtrol’s Rhode Island testing and manufacturing facility and worked closely with company engineers.
“It was definitely a tough assignment but it was a great experience to really step into industry and see their process,” Shillings says.]]>
The car, standing about a foot tall, relied on a camera and software programmed by students to zip along a racetrack without human intervention. The car completed the course in 17.7 seconds, faster than 27 other teams at the annual Freescale Cup in Rochester, N.Y. on April 19. The team now heads to South Korea in August to compete against 19 teams from around the globe.
“It’s amazing,” team member Geoffrey Mcelroy, of Lincoln, R.I., said. “I was so excited when we won. I can’t believe I’m going to Korea. It is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”
Mcelroy will be joined by teammates Cory Jalbert of Coventry, R.I., and David Cipoletta of Chepachet, R.I. The three were classmates in a senior computer engineering course taught by computer engineering Professor Qing Yang. The professor offered students a choice for grading: take a series of traditional exams or design a robotic car and take one exam. Six students opted for the later, fielding two teams that competed in Rochester.
“This is a good opportunity to inspire students to do real design,” Yang said. “The best way to learn is by doing something.”
The students programmed a 32-bit microprocessor to interface with the camera, motor, battery, wheels and sensors. They added intelligence by creating algorithms that learned from previous mistakes and kept the car on the curving and hilly 100-foot track.
“Even if the track had been constantly changing, the car would have been able to adapt and handle it,” said Jalbert, who served as the team captain.
The students also learned from last year’s team that placed second. They worked long hours to ensure this year’s intelligent car was faster than last year’s car, which clocked in at 19.5 seconds on a test track. When trial runs came in faster, the team pushed for even faster speeds, at one point working more than 16 hours straight to finalize the design.
The teammates will continue to tweak this year’s car ahead of the world championships even as two of them graduate. Fittingly, both are pursuing careers in the automation industry. Jalbert has accepted a software engineering position at Vecna Technologies in Massachusetts with hopes of moving to its competitive robotics division. Cipoletta, currently working part time at Eagle Electric in Rhode Island, is weighing two offers, both from engineering companies involved with automation and machine intelligence. And it’s very possible the students may find themselves designing the next autonomous vehicle.
“This was essentially a kit version of the future car or robot that can drive itself,” Cipoletta said. “We learned a lot.”]]>