June 2011

From the Editor

Dear Readers,

June is graduation season—a time to honor our graduates. We're proud of every student who is culminating a program of undergraduate or graduate study this week. In addition to classroom work, each has invested hundreds of hours working in collaboration with peers, business experts, researchers, and/or members of local, regional, or international communities to complete their senior projects, theses, and dissertations.

This Saturday, June 11, the College of Engineering will be conferring 611 baccalaureate, 114 master's, and 39 doctorate degrees. Varying circumstances brought each of these engineering students to Oregon State. Different people and experiences shaped their time here, and uniquely individual passions will take them in the widely diverse directions they have chosen for the future.

In this issue of Momentum, you will read about some of the accomplishments of 14 men and women who are graduating this week. We wish we could tell everyone's story, but we cannot. These profiles are a mere sampling of the dazzling array of talents, interests, and achievements among our graduates.

To all of our graduates, congratulations! The College of Engineering experience forms the foundation for life beyond Oregon State. You are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and passion to advance innovative solutions. Go out there and make an impact. Love what you do and be great at it!

Sincerely,

Thuy T. Tran
Director of Marketing Communications
Oregon State University, College of Engineering

Mapping cities at night to Google Earth: Justin Close

Justin Close is earning an undergraduate degree from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. For his senior project, Close worked with peers to overlay onto Google Earth images of cities at night that were taken from the International Space Station by astronaut and Oregon State graduate Don Pettit.

Justin Close"The database of images we previously had of the Earth at night were mostly lower resolution, black-and-white images," said Close. Pettit developed a system for taking clear, full-color photos of Earth's cities, and Close's team mapped more than 6,000 of these new high-resolution color images.

The team selected the highest quality image of a given location, Close explained, and used the metadata in the photo to locate where the space station was when the image was taken. Landmarks in the photo had to be identified and matched to Google Earth. The mapping involved a tedious process of stretching and shaping the two-dimensional image to prepare it for Google Earth's three-dimensional rendering.

The Expedition 6 images of North America will soon be available for anyone to browse from NASA's servers.

To see Cities at Night photos, install Google Earth on your computer and use Google Earth to open http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Feeds/GoogleEarth/Cities/earth.kml.

 

Exploring nuclear reactor design: Jessica Comstock

Nuclear engineering graduate Jessica Comstock began her education in biological engineering, but soon realized that nuclear engineering was a better fit. "I've always liked the chemistry of particle interactions, and being able to work with that every day intrigued me," she said. Comstock hopes to join the Pharm.D. program at Oregon State and looks forward to a career in pharmaceutical engineering. "There is a lot of research now with radioisotopes in the treatment of cancer. Hopefully, I can work in one of those fields and combine the two degrees."

Jessica ComstockFor her senior project, Comstock teamed up with fellow students to determine exactly what neutrons will do inside a high-temperature gas reactor, said Comstock.

A modular high-temperature gas reactor core is one of many preliminary, theoretical and advanced reactor designs that is being considered for future use, she said. A test facility for the reactor core will be completed this year. "It is essential that a complete investigation of the core neutronic behavior be analyzed prior to widespread implementation of the reactor design," said Comstock, explaining that it is very different from reactors in use today. "The reactor operates at very high temperatures, and it uses helium instead of water as a coolant."

Comstock is grateful for the academic support she has received at Oregon State. "The best thing about studying engineering at OSU is the faculty," she said. "They have years of experience and connections around the world. Their experience working in the field and teaching provides many real-world examples in the classroom."

See http://ne.oregonstate.edu/research/ for more information about nuclear engineering and radiation health physics at Oregon State.

 

Keeping Willamette Falls Locks operational: Dominic Eason

Dominic Eason will receive an undergraduate degree in civil and construction engineering this year. He served as project manager for his senior project, which explored possible routes to fiscal and environmental sustainability for the Willamette Falls Locks on the Willamette River at Oregon City, Ore.

Dominic EasonEason said that the locks, which are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are dilapidated and in need of funding since they no longer receive federal dollars. "Without the locks, which allow boats traveling up and downstream to pass the falls, water crafts would have to portage out and around with trucks," Eason explained.

"Our task was to generate an innovative system and revenue plan that would reduce the monetary footprint to zero for the U.S. Army Corps," he said. Eason and his team will present their proposal to the corps alongside other college teams that have created proposals. "It is not so much an expectation that a specific project will be implemented, but the ideas will be pooled and considered for viability."

Eason's team proposed building a 20,000-square-foot facility that includes a visitor's center, museum, market, and available-to-lease office space in addition to a fish hatchery that will involve the community in educational opportunities. In addition to the locks themselves, Oregon City Bridge is among historical landmarks visible from the site. "We want to preserve the historic nature of the Willamette Falls Locks and also to bring people in," said Eason, "Our plan is estimated to generate $300,000 per year."

Eason praised Oregon State's engineering faculty. "They are genuinely concerned about getting you to the next level," said Eason. Among the reasons Eason was drawn to Oregon State after completing the core of his bachelor's degree elsewhere, was that while speaking with professionals and contractors, he had "an overwhelming feeling that students who come out of OSU are well prepared."

 

Characterizing nanoparticle toxicity: Lane Gray

Lane Gray, a 2011 graduate in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, expects to pursue a career in microelectronics and was endeared to his senior project by his concern for the environment.

Lane GrayGray and his team began developing a nanoscanner device as conceived by Stacey Harper, assistant professor of chemical engineering. The nanoscanner will inexpensively evaluate the toxicity of nanomaterials in line with an industrial process.

"The nanotechnology industry is booming right now," explained Gray. "The problem is that there is no quick and inexpensive way to characterize the toxicity of nanoparticles. The particles build up, but there is no way to determine the effect they will have in a situation of biological interaction."

The team's project involved separating nanoparticles by size in a microfluidic device, said Gray. "We started out with a chromatography setup in which we injected a sample of particles into a channel, and where the particles should eventually separate based on the channel dimension," he said. "However, mathematical modeling showed that no separation would occur, so we moved to something called pinch-flow fractionation, in which you flow a sample of nanoparticles down and flow water up, eventually coming into a pinch and driving the nanoparticles to the top of the pinch. Based on their size, the nanoparticles are separated into different flow regimes. Eventually smaller particles travel to channels closer to the top of the device, and larger particles move toward the bottom."

 

Upgrading NASA's Mars rover: Jesse Grimes

Jesse Grimes, a mechanical engineering graduate, was a member of Oregon State's 2011 Mars Rover project team, which was a collaborative effort among students in mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. The multidisciplinary team's goal was to develop a remote-controlled robot that enables humans to better avoid the cost, danger, and hassle of donning a spacesuit. They presented their innovation at the annual University Challenge competition hosted by the Mars Society on June 2-4, 2011. The team placed third at the international competition behind Poland and Canada and took special pride in the robot that they had designed and built completely themselves rather than using purchased components.

Jesse GrimesNASA's existing Mars rover was built for equipment servicing, site survey, and sample return, and the Mars Society encourages college students to develop terrestrial robots that incorporate innovations that could be useful to NASA when preparing future Mars rovers. The Oregon State team developed a removable robotic arm with interchangeable end effectors for the completion of specific tasks.

Solutions the team developed included shifting to a four-bar linkage design that provides an instantaneous center of rotation and makes it impossible for the rover to flip when negotiating an incline or other obstacles. The team also reduced the rover's weight and increased the robotic arm's range of motion while significantly increasing its lifting capacity. They added a mobile camera arm that allows the operator to change the point of view, thereby helping to overcome the limiting two-dimensional aspect operating the robot. In addition, they eliminated the line-of-sight limitation between the rover and antenna tower, which enables the unit to go behind large obstacles like hills or buildings and still receive a video signal.

Grimes earned a mechanical drafting degree from Lane Community College and worked at an engineering firm for a few years before deciding he wanted greater challenges. "Among the best things about studying engineering at OSU are opportunities to get your hands dirty on really cool projects," he said. "Any student with motivation can achieve so much with the research labs and clubs at OSU." He will begin his graduate education at Oregon State this year, working in the Dynamic Robotics Laboratory to develop bipedal walking robots.

 

Increasing concrete chainsaw portability: Michael Hendricks

Michael Hendricks, a 2011 graduate in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, worked with a team of peers and industry representatives to increase the portability of a concrete cutting chainsaw currently in use. The manufacturer provided specifications and expects to produce and market a portable version of the chainsaw. The end product had to be under 45 pounds, which Hendricks noted is quite a challenge, in part because it uses water, which is heavy (8 pounds per gallon), and the saw itself weighs 28 pounds.

Michael Hendricks"The existing chainsaw uses a garden hose and so is basically tethered to a spigot," explained Hendricks at the 2011 Engineering Expo, "which is a hindrance when you are on a construction site and don't have one. The idea was to make a portable tank system."

The team decreased the amount of water necessary to operate the saw, which currently uses 30 gallons of water within a 15-minute time span. "That's a big mess, especially if you're working inside," said Hendricks. "Our system uses about a gallon and a half of water to do the same thing."

Hendricks' team modified the guide bar and developed a two-tank system, which the user wears like a backpack. "The water tank provides water to a misting nozzle that suppresses the dust," he said. "A cutting fluid helps lubricate the chain and cool it down." A battery-operated compressor provides air pressure and controls the release of fluids.

 

Designing a steel bridge: Jake Johnston

Jake JohnstonJake Johnston, who will graduate with a degree in civil engineering, is primarily interested in transportation surveying, so he was excited about the opportunity to take part in the Student Steel Bridge competition for a second year. Sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction and the American Society of Civil Engineers, the national competition requires a team of juniors and seniors to design a steel bridge after receiving rules for the contest. Team members designed the project during fall term and built the model during winter term.

The competition emphasizes innovation in steel design, with a focus on strength, resiliency, performance under difficult conditions, and aesthetics. This year's regional competition was held at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Points were awarded for economy, efficiency, weight, construction speed, and deflection. Oregon State's model was the lightest bridge in this year's competition. The team earned second place for deflection and sixth place overall.

"It's a great opportunity to get physical practice in designing and seeing the work realized," said Johnston, who transferred to Oregon State from Linn-Benton Community College and particularly enjoyed an internship at the City of Portland during his time at Oregon State.

 

Removing nitrate from wastewater: Nathan Kolibaba

For his senior project, Nathan Kolibaba, an environmental engineering 2011 graduate, worked with peers on a process to remove nitrate from a theoretical metal processing facility. The model uses nitric acid and creates a nitrogen-rich wastewater that would be discharged into a river, explained Kolibaba. "This poses a threat to aquatic life, because excess nitrogen in the river can lead to eutrophication, which leads to reduction in water quality and results in fish kills. The design goals included finding a sustainable solution."

Nathan KolibabaThe team developed a solution that removes nitrate by filtering wastewater through a constructed wetland. "Wastewater is sent from the wetland to an activated sludge system similar to that used by wastewater treatment plants in municipalities."

The only unsustainable aspect of the process, said Kolibaba, is the addition to the activated sludge basin of methanol as a carbon source. "Methanol is a good carbon source for bacteria in general; you can also add ethanol, sucrose, acetate—any kind of sugar—but methanol is the cheapest. It's added to create biomass, settle it out, recycle it back, and denitrify the nitrate," he said. The remaining sludge is recycled into the wetlands to begin the process again, which eventually totally eliminates waste.

Kolibaba hopes to find work as an environmental engineer. "That could mean working in environmental compliance at a metal processing facility, the oil industry, or the paper industry," he said. "All sorts of industries hire environmental engineers."

 

Competing in the Baja Challenge: Charley McGowan

Mechanical engineering 2011 graduate Charley McGowan was thrilled to take part in the Society of Automotive Engineer's Baja Challenge this year. Participants built an off-road vehicle that is capable of handling almost any terrain. The SAE Baja competition is being held June 8-11 in Peoria, Ill., pitting members of the SAE from across the country and beyond.

Charley McGowanThe Oregon State team has placed first in previous years and last year placed fourth. "This car is faster and more stable than previous years," said McGowan.

The competition includes several events. "There is a static event—we take the car to a showroom and give a marketing presentation on how to sell the car to someone if it were put into production," said McGowan. "It also involves a cost report and manufacturing specification. The idea is to imitate a real business. The dynamic events include a rock crawl, endurance race, and acceleration event. They add up all points from each category, and whoever has the most is the victor."

McGowan said he always knew he had the brains for engineering and was attracted to Oregon State's engineering discipline because it is one of the top rated programs in the country. "I really love engineering," he said. "I've had a lot of fun getting to know fellow students and working on the car. I've had a blast."

McGowan has accepted a position building lasers with nLIGHT, a leading supplier of innovative high-powered semiconductor lasers for industrial, medical, defense, and consumer applications, based in Vancouver, Wash.

 

Testing a long-term storage technique for red blood cells: Mary McLean

Mary McLean is following in her father's footsteps as she graduates this week from the College of Engineering. She also chose Oregon State because it offered an opportunity to study bioengineering alongside chemical engineering. "Bioengineering provides a bridge between engineering and medicine, among many other applications," she said. "This matters to me because although I have an engineering mind, I want to go to medical school and become a clinical psychiatrist."

Mary McLeanFor her senior project, McLean teamed up with peers in chemical engineering and bioengineering to perfect a spray-dry technique for long-term storage of red blood cells.

"Human red blood cells for transfusion have a 30-day shelf life in the refrigerator," explained McLean. "Spray-dry technology could be used to dehydrate these cells, resulting in long-term storage possibilities, among other perks. Because no refrigeration would be needed, spray-drying would save on energy costs for storage. Shipping would be easier, too, because the water weight would be removed. Red blood cell powder could be shipped to disaster areas and war zones, easily reconstituted with sterile water, and transfused into patients. It could also be stored long-term in hospitals with fewer expiration concerns."

One goal of the project was to characterize and optimize the spray-drying efficiency of an existing nozzle. "This was done by constructing a system and spray-testing saline with varied liquid viscosity, air and gas flow rates, and gas temperature," said McLean, "It took two months to construct the spray system, but it was completed for less than $40."

Obstacles encountered in spray testing included pressure buildup, heat loss from gas, and humidity accumulation, which limited mass transfer of water out of the sprayed droplets. The team concluded that future research should attempt to overcome these restraints and perform spray testing with human blood, which McLean noted requires legal approval.

 

Using a robot to detect radiation: Megan Mittleider

Radiation health physics graduate Megan Mittleider is on active duty in the U.S. Navy and will soon be working on a nuclear submarine, which makes her studies in nuclear engineering and radiation health physics relevant to her work. For her senior project, Mittleider and her team modified a Roomba, a robotic vacuum, to detect radiation.

Megan Mittleider"Our Roomba is meant to replace the person who would have to go through the hallways of the radiation center building to search, scan, and swipe while looking for contamination," explained Mittleider. "This robot will do it all on its own." The team built their model from scratch, except for the chassis. The project involved developing a computer with custom-coded software, electronics, and a power supply. The unit has a Geiger counter attached to the bottom, which detects sources of contamination.

Mittleider said that last year's group of seniors laid the groundwork for the project. "We took the theoretical ideas of last year's senior project and built it," said Mittleider.

The Roomba is programmed to automatically and methodically search the hallways of a building. "When it finds something that shouldn't be there, such as high counts, it will stop and (send an) alarm," said Mittleider. "Future iterations will be able to notify operators of its exact location via text or email, alerting them to what is going on."

The Roomba also has a webcam that enables an operator to "see what it is seeing." If it gets lost, an operator can log on to see where it is.

 

Teaching computers to recognize objects: Nadia Payet

Nadia Payet is graduating with a PhD in computer science. Her latest research helps computers identify objects in images—something that is natural for humans, but not so easy for computers. Object recognition allows computers to localize objects, label them, and "understand" what they look like in three dimensions (for example, that the side view looks different from the front view).

Nadia PayetTraditionally, object recognition has been done by having computers analyze the colors in an image: a basketball, for example, is easy to recognize by its color. Payet's research gets computers to look at the shape of objects.

"The contour of a car tells you that it's a car; color isn't important in that situation," explains Sinisa Todorovic, Payet's graduate professor. "Nadia's research helped us show that if you use shape as well as color in recognizing objects, the results are much better."

Many cameras already have face recognition capabilities built into them so that the image focuses on people, rather than something in the background. In the near future, more detailed face recognition capabilities could be used, for example, at airports to identify individuals.

In each of the three years she has worked under Todorovic, Payet's research has been widely recognized by the computer vision research community, resulting in several publications in high-profile journals. Payet was also recently chosen as one of approximately 20 students nationwide to present her work to senior members of the research community at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition.

Payet will take both the academic and life lessons she has learned during her adventures at Oregon State, to her job at Amazon in Seattle, Wash., where she will be working on the Kindle e-reader.

 

Making motorcycles safer: Timmy Perston

Timmy PerstonTimmy Perston rides motorcycles and was intrigued by the opportunity to work with his senior design team to develop a heads-up display that will make operating a motorcycle easier and safer. Heads-up display systems provide a transparent visual representation of data, such as speed and gas levels, that have become common in car windshields, but have not yet become available to motorcycle riders.

The team worked from the ground up. After brainstorming possibilities, Perston and his senior design team discarded the idea of an LED screen on the visor, because test subjects weren't comfortable with the information presented that close to the face. Eventually, they attached a tiny projector inside the helmet and fitted a mounted transparent Plexiglas screen to the front and left of the visor. The speed and gas level are projected within the rider's line-of-sight.

"Among the challenges is getting information from the bike to your head, so we provided wireless communication," explained Perston. "It has to work for a number of hours, so it has a high-capacity battery with an independent charging station." He said he wouldn't be surprised if new teams improve upon the technology in the coming years.

Perston said he was attracted to engineering at Oregon State because the program allows flexibility to incoming students who haven't yet determined a specialization. "You can come in and take a bunch of general engineering courses, which will give you a taste of all the different types of engineering OSU offers," he said. He is still undecided on a career direction, but plans to continue learning, whatever he does. "I'm hoping even engineering firms need ditch diggers, because I just want to get out there and get my hands dirty. I will still be a student even though I'm graduating."

 

Helping others gain access to water: Aparna Shrivastava

When declaring her mechanical engineering major as a first year student, Aparna Shrivastava anticipated a career in the automotive industry. But a question on the application for a 2007 Engineers Without Borders trip to El Salvador—"What do you want to do with your life?"—gave her pause.

Aparna ShrivastavaConsidering the question in the context of the Engineers Without Borders project—designing and implementing a rain harvesting system in a rural Salvadoran community—made her reconsider her longstanding plans to become an automotive engineer. "I suddenly realized: cars are great, but there are people who don't have water," she said.

Shrivastava led the El Salvador rain harvesting project during her sophomore year. "It transformed me," she said. "It opened my eyes to the disparities worldwide in access to basic things like water and sanitation."

Her experience in El Salvador was only the beginning of her involvement with the Engineers Without Borders program. In 2009, as president of Oregon State's student chapter, she helped initiate another potable water project, this time in rural Kenya, and served as the project's coordinator. She also has contributed to the design efforts of organizations doing development work in countries such as Haiti and India.

Helping to improve the quality of life for people around the world has convinced Shrivastava that a career in international development is what she most wants to do with her life.

"As engineers, we have the knowledge to do a lot of good for humanity," she said. "I don't want to retire someday and give back—I want to do it all along." After graduating this week, she will take a yearlong break to work with organizations in Nepal, India, and Kenya on water access for villages before pursuing graduate school.

 

Questions or comments about Momentum? E-mail Editor@engr.oregonstate.edu

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