By Jess Clarke
One student studied phosphorus levels in Lake Champlain. Another researched the performance of traffic roundabouts. Others investigated a more efficient means to produce electricity with wind power or explored methods to improve aircraft design and hearing protection for military pilots.
Those were among the far-ranging undergraduate research projects that Norwich University engineering students completed over the summer. The projects show the depth of knowledge that students gain at Norwich, the hands-on learning opportunities that provide a bridge to a career, and the close student-faculty collaborations that are embedded in a Norwich education.
In all, eight engineering students were among 38 Norwich undergraduates across disciplines awarded Summer Research Fellowships administered by NU’s Office of Academic Research this year.
[Related news series: Focus on Research: Norwich University Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows]
“We’re instilling in the students the idea of doing research and encouraging them to go on to graduate school,” says Michael Prairie, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who mentored one student, Maggie Cross (pictured above), a fellow this summer. “This program is a big step in exposing students to that level of work.”
Students develop their own idea for a research project, sometimes inspired by a professor or class but usually exploring a new topic. They’re based on campus for the summer and receive campus lodging and stipends of $4,400 for a 10-week project and $2,600 for six weeks, which also covers travel and equipment. Students can also request up to $500 for expenses. Research fellows are matched with a faculty mentor, but are encouraged to work independently to solve research challenges themselves-to gain real-world research experience.
Of the eight student engineering research projects awarded summer research fellowships, two involved the field of civil and environmental engineering, two involved electrical and computer engineering, and four covered mechanical engineering.
One such mechanical engineering project was conceived by rising sophomore Celeste Robert and mentored by Prof. Karen Supan. Robert’s study investigated the degradation of plastics with nanoparticles in high-temperature applications. The research could be used to help reduce degradation in materials that heat up quickly, such as Army artillery.
That Robert’s study aligned with the research interests of Supan, her faculty advisor. was an added benefit, says Prairie, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering chair.
“It’s really cool in that it’s in support of [Supan’s] cutting-edge research, publishable stuff that will likely be in a journal article,” Prairie says.
The Norwich focus on experiential learning is part of the university’s mission. “That’s how you learn the practical ways of how things actually work,” Prairie says. “It gives students the skills and efficacy to see something through and make it work.”
The engineering students and projects awarded Summer Research Fellowships include:
- The Threat of Phosphorus Levels in Lake Champlain: Are Eco-Machines the Answer?-Maria Trejo: Civil and Environmental Engineering, Faculty mentor: Tara Kulkarni
- Roundabout Performance Evaluation-Kaitlyn R. Patterson: Civil and Environmental Engineering, Faculty mentor: Moses K. Tefe
- A Study of Thermal Degradation Kinetics of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWNT) Embedded in Polypropylene-Celeste Robert: Mechanical Engineering, Faculty mentor: Karen Supan
- An Investigation of the Combination of Wind Funneling and Wind Belts-Lucas Looman: Mechanical Engineering, Faculty mentor: Karen Supan
- Pilot Perception of Legacy versus Glass Displays in Aircraft Instrumentation-Timothy Smeddal: Mechanical Engineering, Faculty mentor: Brian Bradke
- Bone Conduction Technology for Aerospace Applications-Zack White: Mechanical Engineering, Faculty mentor: Brian Bradke
- Control of Collaborating Entities: An Introductory Approach to Target Location Systems-Ryan Whitell: Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty mentor: Ronald Lessard
- Haptic Guidance to Aid in the Learning of the Sign Language Alphabet-Maggie Cross, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty mentor: Michael Prairie