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Auburn to expand Industry 4.0 research, education, training and innovation capabilities with $7.2M DoD award

9/15/2021 9:52:09 AM      

The Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems (ICAMS) at Auburn University is the recipient of a $7.2 million award from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Office of Industrial Policy’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program to encourage small and medium-sized manufacturers to adopt the advanced technologies associated with Industry 4.0, or smart manufacturing. The award will allow the center to increase efforts to improve the skills of the next generation of engineers and the existing workforce to take full advantage of those technologies in their operations.

“With this award, we are building upon our original mission and expanding our research and services in key areas,” said Gregory Harris, ICAMS director and associate professor in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering's Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Gregory Purdy, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, is a co-principal investigator on the award and an ICAMS collaborating faculty member. He explained that one new focus of the funding will be devoted to the creation of the nation’s first cyber-physical manufacturing range (CpMR) housed on a university campus. The CpMR will provide a testbed to research, test, demonstrate and teach the technologies and processes to significantly improve technology adoption in small and medium-sized manufacturers and overcome the fear of malicious cyber activity in their systems.

“Industry 4.0 driven manufacturing environments are a collection of different equipment and technologies that increase the potential attack surface for malicious cyberattacks,” Purdy explained. “We are trying to understand what vulnerabilities exist in these systems and the potential impacts of a cyberattack on both the process and resulting part. However, it is not feasible to simulate attacks on a production resource that is used day-in and day-out.”

The CpMR solves this dilemma by incorporating modern manufacturing technologies in an Industry 4.0 ecosystem with current generation automation, thereby allowing a safe environment for testing and evaluating malicious cyber activity in an Industry 4.0 smart manufacturing platform.

“It allows students, researchers and other professionals to execute attacks and see what the outcome is in a state-of-the-art machining cell,” Purdy said. “I could unleash the most potent and sophisticated attack that I have and completely make everything go haywire, without endangering a key production resource.”

The new funding will also support the purchase of additional manufacturing equipment to further develop an Industry 4.0 manufacturing environment, including the creation of a digital manufacturing demonstration cell. The manufacturing and metrology cell will demonstrate the full digital manufacturing process flow starting by automatically scanning a subject and creating a point cloud from the 3D scan that is converted into a solid model. This model will be sent to a vertical machining center that will produce the part. A robotic arm will remove the part from the mill and deliver it to a coordinate measurement machine. The automated inspection process will then confirm the part matches the reference design. The digital manufacturing demonstration cell will be able to continuously run a product and show the capability of the connected enterprise.

“This additional equipment is going to make us more capable and allow us the ability to better showcase digital manufacturing demonstrations on site,” Harris explained. “We can show that this artifact can go all the way from design through production with little to no human intervention, really highlighting digital manufacturing capabilities. Manufacturers will be able to relate to that and say, ‘if they can do that with this artifact, I can envision what I’m trying to do using this technology.’”

According to Harris, another of those key areas of service is a “Path to the Plains” partnership with Southern Union State Community College (SU), where SU students can take Auburn University courses while completing their associate degree. The partnership also outlines a plan for a graduate certificate in advanced manufacturing and an advanced manufacturing minor. Additionally, any Auburn undergraduate student will be able to obtain a certificate in mechatronics through the partnership with SU. Participating students will be assisted by scholarships to support their educational success.

“The ability at ICAMS to create tailored programs upon request from industry allows local industries to adapt to changing industry trends much more easily using existing personnel,” said Lewis Payton, ICAMS associate director and professor of practice in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Auburn students in the new manufacturing minor will also be graduating with hands-on experience using industrial grade equipment. ICAMS is poised to become the premier fabrication and teaching laboratory in the Southeast, including future expansion into the area of die fabrication and repair.”

Other ICAMS services that will be introduced or enhanced with this recent award include:

  • An annual call for undergraduate and graduate research proposals to be evaluated and awarded to those that expand the demonstration, education training and research capabilities of ICAMS.
  • Research into inspection technologies to understand how to provide real-time quality data as feedback to adjust equipment controls to continuously improve control limits and reduce the possibility of a defective product.
  • The creation of a smart cyber-physical sensing, modeling and control digital twin infrastructure with augmented and mixed reality.
  • The extension of annual survey research for three additional years, for a total of a five-year study into technology adoption amid small and medium-sized manufacturers. 

“ICAMS represents a major, transformational change in the areas of outreach, innovation and education at Auburn University,” Payton said. “By early in 2022, ICAMS will be the most capable prototyping laboratory within the state of Alabama for innovation, creating a unique opportunity for companies and for student design teams across the campus.” 

Adele Ratcliff, director of the DoD IBAS program which is funding the effort, commended the ICAMS project’s goal of reducing the barriers against Industry 4.0 technologies being implemented in small and medium manufacturing company operations.

“The ICAMS comprehensive approach of providing technical support, project planning, skilled workers and a way to test new technology’s real-life impact on production flows is a forward-leaning model that has been proven to overcome technology-adoption hesitancy in companies of all sizes,” Ratcliff said. “Larger manufacturers have the resources to fund these risk reduction activities on their own. By partnering with small and medium manufacturers, ICAMS allows these companies to have confidence that their technology implementation projects will provide valuable process and capability improvements with limited operational risk.” 

ICAMS, which launched in 2018, has formed and strengthened relationships with the city of Auburn Industrial Development Board and the Alabama Community College System. Through these relationships, ICAMS has doubled its facility footprint from 10,000 square-feet to 20,000 square-feet, providing adequate space for its dedicated operations, and utilized the space to educate and train students and industry personnel to use the advanced manufacturing technologies and capabilities to benefit the DoD and its supporting manufacturing sector.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

BY CASSIE MONTGOMERY

ICAMS collaborating faculty members and graduate students in lab

ICAMS collaborating faculty members and graduate students.

Categories: Engineering, Manufacturing, Advanced Systems


Auburn-led research team develops biochemical breakthrough for renewable fatty acid ester production

9/15/2021 9:41:28 AM      

Ongoing, Auburn-led research into biofuel and biochemical production just got a lot more eyes on it.

Supported by a $2 million U.S. Department of Energy award issued in 2018, as well as funding from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, insights from the project led by PI Yi Wang, associate professor in Auburn's Department of Biosystems Engineering, were recently highlighted by the journal Nature Communications — for obvious reasons.

"Our findings represent a breakthrough," Wang said. "Production of biofuels and biochemicals from renewable resources through biological routes is environmentally sustainable and friendly, and is considered as a possible solution for the pressing issues related to energy crisis and environmental deterioration."

Despite tremendous investment over the past decades, developing viable efficient bioprocesses that can achieve high production has been much easier said than done.

Thanks to Wang's team, that's not as true as it once was.

"We have developed a potentially economically viable bioprocess that can produce fatty acid esters at unprecedented levels," Wang said.

Naturally occurring short-chain, fatty acid esters are the source of the sweet smell in fruits, such as apples, bananas, pineapples and strawberries. They typically find applications as artificial flavorings in food and cosmetics, as well as high-grade solvents used for manufacturing plastics and resins. In addition, esters could be a fuel of desirable properties which can serve as an additive to gasoline, diesel and even jet fuels.

"Conventionally, esters are produced from petrochemical-based fatty acids and alcohols through the chemical catalysis process called Fischer esterification," Wang said. "The reaction consumes a large amount of energy and generates tremendous wastes, and thus is not environmentally friendly.

"To avoid these problems, we chose to engineer non-pathogenic and safe Clostridium bacterial strains known for their natural ability to produce building blocks that could be used for ester synthesis. We envisage Clostridium as the ideal platform for ester production with such native genomic pathways.”

Clostridium strains, a group of bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen, are notoriously difficult to manipulate genetically. Wang’s group is pioneering versatile genome engineering tools for clostridia based on a new technology called CRISPR, putting his lab at the forefront of this particular research.

“To convert these building blocks into esters, we introduced genetic pathways from fruits or yeast responsible for ester synthesis,” Wang said. “With further systematic genome engineering, we were able to produce esters called butyl acetate and butyl butyrate at the highest bioproduction and lowest cost levels to date. And we did it using corn stover – a renewable product made from the stalk, leaves, husks and tassels that are left after corn is harvested – as the raw material."

According to Wang, a techno-economic analysis is essential to evaluate the economic practicality of a new bioprocess before it can be scaled up for commercialization.

“Our analysis suggested that butyl acetate production from corn stover through the developed bioprocess in this study could be competitive economically,” said Haibo Huang, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech, who led the techno-economic analysis in this study. “With further development, we anticipate economic feasibility of the process at commercial scale.”

The promise of Wang’s engineered strains for economic and environmental benefit have not gone unnoticed. Recently, a small Canadian biotech company engaged Wang to test drive the patent-pending strains. They plan to partner with larger companies to scale up production and advance the ester-based products to market.

“Dr. Wang put a lot of elegant genetic engineering into boosting ester production and that investment of time and talent is starting to pay off.” said Troy Brady, senior licensing officer at Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization. “The expectation is that with additional improvements to the strain and the economies of industry-scale production, the process will be more environmentally friendly and less expensive compared to current fossil fuel-derived processes. That translates to a win for everyone.”

Wang’s work has also been featured and highlighted by the editor of Nature Communications as one of the 50 best papers recently published in "Biotechnology and methods." 

“We presented a concept of producing high-value and easy-separable end products — esters, like oil, don’t mix well with water and thus can be easily separated from the fermentation broth — as a strategy to improve bioproduction efficiency and economic viability,” Wang said. “Our principle of selecting the most appropriate microbial host for specific bioproduction is also inspiring.”    

“I should also emphasize the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration on this work,” Wang said.

In addition to Auburn and Virginia Tech researchers, collaborators from Iowa State University, Tel Aviv University in Israel, Shandong University in China, and University of Science and Technology of China also contributed to the project.

The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy through the Co-Optima initiative, through which Wang and collaborators produce bio-based esters to be blended into diesel fuel to reduce soot and greenhouse gas emissions, and to yield cleaner engine operation in cold-weather conditions. The work was also partially supported by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture for bioprocessing organic waste streams into valuable bio-based products to enhance bioeconomy.

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

BY JEREMY HENDERSON

Yi Wang (left), associate professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering, works with post-doc Yuechao Ma in the lab.

Yi Wang (left), associate professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering, works with post-doc Yuechao Ma in the lab. The research from Wang’s lab for renewable fatty acid ester production has been recently published and highlighted by the journal of Nature Communications.

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Research to revolutionize wireless engineering earns $320,000 grant

8/27/2021 4:27:05 PM      

Recent advances in deep learning stimulated a wave of research that were applied to various problems within wireless communications and networking.

However, the wireless research community has not addressed one of the critical challenges in this arena – how to facilitate the acquisition of sufficient data in order to train and validate complex learning models.

Shiwen Mao, professor and Earl C. Williams Eminent Scholar in Electrical and Computer Engineering, hopes to bridge this gap.

Mao’s work, “Data Augmentation and Adaptive Learning for Next Generation Wireless Spectrum Systems,” was awarded $320,000 by the National Science Foundation in hopes of devising innovative approaches that enable wireless researchers and practitioners to acquire data more efficiently, at a reduced cost and utilize existing data more effectively.

Mao is the principal investigator on a team that includes researchers from Temple University and California State University-Sacramento with total funding of $1.2 million.

Findings from this project are expected to fuel future breakthroughs in wireless technology research by making deep learning models more widely applicable.

“Machine learning has been very successful in many disciplines, but as wireless engineers, we want to bring machine learning in to address problems,” Mao said. “For example, how do you use the spectrum? How do you design wireless protocols for your cell phone, or home Wi-Fi, and make them more efficient? What we want to do is apply deep learning and artificial intelligence to address these spectrum-related problems.”

But for machines to learn, ever-elusive data must be captured. Preliminary investigations are making progress, however. The team used conditional generative adversarial network (CGAN) to augment the originally small dataset with new labeled data of the same distribution for automatic modulation recognition with a focus on real features on hardware and the impact of channels.

“Our preliminary study verifies that our proposed approach can effectively generate synthesized in-phase and quadrature (I/Q) data with the same distribution of the original data,” Mao added. “More importantly, our findings validate that the conditional generative adversarial network-based approach can generate high-quality and high-delivery data sets for different modulation schemes at different signal-to-noise levels.”

Mao, who has served at Auburn since 2006, is also director of the Wireless Engineering Research and Education Center.

“Earning an NSF medium grant is a very competitive process,” he added. “This award is a great recognition of our track record and past contributions.”

BY JOE McADORY

Media Contact: Joe McAdory, jem0040@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447

Shiwen Mao

Shiwen Mao

Categories: Engineering, Advanced Systems


New Auburn University internal awards programs name winners for 2021

7/22/2021 10:10:04 AM      

Auburn University launched two new pilot internal awards programs in 2021 and has named the program’s first recipients.

The Research Support Program, or RSP, and the Creative Work and Social Impact Scholarship Funding Program, or CWSI, were established by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Both programs provide a competitive internal funding source to support faculty and to provide an opportunity for them to experience a small-scale pilot and refine their projects before competing for larger awards.

“This is a pilot version of a larger intramural award program,” said Bob Holm, associate director of Proposal Services and Faculty Support, the unit that administers the programs. “It enables faculty to participate in a competitive funding program and make improvements to their projects before a commitment to a long-term award program is made. The pilot provides a platform to test what works and what does not.”

The RSP is intended to be an annual cycle funding program to foster the development and growth of innovative and transformational research activities. It builds on faculty expertise, stimulates interdisciplinary collaborations and strengthens seed research activities. It is a strategically focused Auburn investment that promotes promising and impactful new lines of research as well as the growth of collaborative and interdisciplinary teams to build the foundations of science, to overcome scientific and societal challenges and to promote and enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of individuals, groups and communities.

The CWSIS funding program fosters innovation and discovery and builds faculty reputation and competitiveness. Examples of prestigious recognition for CWSIS include: the McArthur Genius Award, the Gates Foundation Award, appointment to the National Council on the Humanities or the National Council on the Arts and an NSF Senior Advisor for Public Access. Disciplines associated with CWSIS include design and the arts, humanities and applicable areas within business, education, social sciences and health and well-being.

As a form of research, creative work poses questions and searches for the answers through iterative processes that demand intellectual rigor and hard work. Related scholarship narrates, analyzes and evaluates the production and products of creative work, or proposes new and innovative approaches to that work, including interdisciplinary collaborations and explorations. The goals of creative work and scholarship are ultimately tied to making significant contributions to a meaningful and dignified quality of life.

Social impact scholarship involves research that is specifically aimed at societal challenges and values both theoretical and applied domains to produce core knowledge and address persistent and complex issues to create a better world and improve the lives of all individuals. Research in this domain often engages a diversity of stakeholders with the goal of bringing beneficial effects and valuable changes to the economy, society, education, public policy, health and quality of life.

This year’s recipients are:

Research Support Program

Brian Albanese, College of Liberal Arts, $24,999.34; “Neurobehavioral sensitivity to negative reinforcement in suicide”;

Benjamin Bush, College of Architecture, Design and Construction, $24,987; “EX4C: Next Generation Blood and Vaccine Transport for Combat, Austere and Challenging Environments”; co-investigators: Lorenzo Cremaschi, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering; Joellen Sefton, College of Education; David Crumbley, School of Nursing;

Nathaniel Hardy, College of Agriculture, $25,000, “The Evolution of Virulence in Xylella fastidiosa”; co-investigator: Leonardo De La Fuente, College of Agriculture;

Amal Khalil Kaddoumi, Harrison School of Pharmacy, $25,000; “Amylin role in Alzheimer’s disease”; Co-Investigator: Ahmed Hamid, College of Sciences and Mathematics;

Peng Li, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, $25,000, “Probing Novel Quantum Phases in van der Waals Magnet Fe5GeTe2”; co-investigators: Masoud Mahjouri-Samani, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering; Wencan Jin, College of Sciences and Mathematics;

Panagiotis Mistriotis, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, $25,000; “Bioengineering tools to uncover the mechanisms of human mesenchymal stem cell migration”;

Kristina Neely, College of Education, $25,000; “Inhibitory Motor Control in Adults with ADHD,” co-investigator: William Murrah, College of Education;

Janna Willoughby, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, $24,998; “How do environmental and genetic effects interact to determine individual fitness?”; co-investigators: Avril Harder, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences; Lana Narine, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences; Kelly Dunning, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

Creative Work and Social Impact Scholarship Funding Program 

Junshan Liu, College of Architecture, Design and Construction, $20,000; “Digitally Preserving and Re-presenting Alabama’s Rosenwald Schools”; co-investigators: Gorham Bird, College of Architecture, Design and Construction; Richard Burt, College of Architecture, Design and Construction;

Alicia Powers, College of Human Sciences, $19,191.92; “A clinical-community pediatric wellness initiative to manage and prevent cardiometabolic diseases in children with limited resources in Alabama”; co-investigators: Jeanna Sewell, Harrison School of Pharmacy; Felicia Tuggle, College of Liberal Arts, Sarah Watts, School of Nursing.

More information about these and other funding support programs supported by the AU Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development can be found by clicking here.

BY MITCH EMMONS

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment, Health Sciences, Food Systems, External Engagement, OVPRED, Creative Scholarship, Life Sciences, Agriculture


Biosystems faculty to train undergraduate researchers in bioprocessing with NSF award

7/20/2021 2:22:56 PM      

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Especially if you can research cool, new ways to do it. 

A team of Auburn faculty recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to host a research experiences for undergraduates (REU) site, a program in which a university hosts 10 undergraduate students to do scientific research each summer. The project will focus on ways to convert waste into new and useful products through bioprocessing.

Led by Brendan Higgins, assistant professor of biosystems engineering and Sushil Adhikari, Alumni Professor of biosystems engineering and director of the Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts, the 10-week program will be offered to a selection of students from a pool of undergraduate applicants studying at universities around the nation, who will each be paired to work directly with an Auburn University faculty member. 

“The purpose of our site is to train them in research focused on converting waste materials and waste products back into products of value,” Higgins said. “So we have a team of faculty across the university who do research in this area, and we have four projects that the students will engage in.”

The program received $391,099 from NSF, with a focus on giving opportunities to underrepresented students. Students from around the country who go to universities that do not have research programs will have priority when it comes to this program, Higgins said. 

“NSF’s goal when they created this program was to maximize the diversity of students that are able to experience research,” Higgins said. “We’re particularly targeting students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to do this.”

Students will do research either in a lab or in the field, depending on what kind of work is necessary for the individual project, Higgins said. Most of the 10-week period will be dedicated to research. A smaller amount of time, however, will be dedicated to professional development. 

“The students are going to be learning how to become a researcher,” Higgins said. “Another theme of our site is teamwork. The communication aspect of science is also a big component.” 

To do that, students will be encouraged to co-author a paper about their research with their faculty mentor, Higgins said.

“I kind of have this viewpoint that if you didn’t tell someone you did something, you didn’t do it,” Higgins said. “Also, publishing is really part of the scientific process. Telling people what you’ve discovered is really important.”

Some of the projects that the students will be working on include: making sensors for disease detection out of waste biomass, making adhesive out of discarded plant matter and upgrading agricultural waste water into protein. All of these projects will be significant in helping convert waste into useful products, which will help our planet long-term, Higgins said.

“The most impactful outcome we want from an REU site is a change in perception among the students,” Higgins said. “We want to know how the attitudes of our students changed throughout the program, and if they began to see themselves as a researcher during this program. Our hope is that this will reinforce and strengthen the desire in our students to continue their research career.” 

The application for this REU site will open in September.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

BY VIRGINIA SPEIRS

Sushil Adhikari and Brendan Higgins

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment, Food Systems, Undergraduate Research, Agriculture


Auburn’s pathogen detection technology may improve food, water safety applications

5/24/2021 3:42:06 PM      

A pathogen detection system that rapidly isolates contaminants in large liquid volumes may enable improvements for food and water safety applications.

Developed by researchers in the Department of Materials Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn University, the technology uses magnetoelastic sensors that, when placed in a magnetic field, resonate to indicate the presence of a pathogen. Professor Emeritus Bryan Chin and McWane Professor ZhongYang “ZY” Cheng have been developing the technology for some 15 years, according to Brian Wright with Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization, or IAC.

“This technology has been proven in the laboratory prototype, and the university is seeking a development partner to take this forward through commercialization,” Wright said.

Current pathogen detection methods may take hours, or even require overnight shipping or incubation steps to obtain results, according to the IAC. This magnetic system allows for rapid, specific detection of target pathogens in large volumes of fluid, such as wash water, irrigation water, food effluent and beverages such as milk or fruit juices.

“For example, an entire tank of produce wash water could be examined for salmonella, with results provided in a matter of minutes,” Wright said.

Chin and Cheng have worked together for nearly 20 years at Auburn, but not all of their research and development has been in the realm of detection technology.

“We also have worked on specialized polymer development and in developing actuators that can serve as artificial muscle,” Cheng said.

“We began working on this pathogen detection technology because we were looking for a way to detect a small number of bacteria in a large volume of liquid,” Chin said. “In the food industry, this would enable the examination of large quantities of food for very small numbers of pathogens.”

IAC describes the development: Auburn’s base technology uses magnetoelastic sensors. When placed in a magnetic field, these inexpensive sensors change their resonance frequency based on their mass. Thus, when coated with a bio-recognition element such as phage or antibodies, a binding event can be easily detected based on a change in resonance frequency.

“It is kind of like a sound produced when someone wets the edge of a glass containing an amount of liquid and rubs the edge with their finger,” Wright said. “Changing the amount of liquid in the glass can change the pitch of the sound produced by that rubbing. These magnetoelastic sensors can be coated with a pathogen-specific antibody and tailored to detect a specific pathogen by producing a specific alarm sound.”

The sensors are arranged inside a pipe or other vessel that carries the fluid to be tested. Because they are magnetic and can be arranged in various arrays, they monitor in real time as the flow passes through.

“This system has the advantages of being rapid, highly sensitive and non-clogging, and it is able to be applied to large-volume testing. It also is recoverable, meaning that bound pathogens can be recovered for further analysis,” Wright said.

According to the IAC, this technology has demonstrated its effectiveness for multiple pathogens in multiple sample fluids. The technology also has application for other detection methods, including with smaller samples and on surfaces.

BY MITCH EMMONS

from left: Dr. Bryan Chin, Dr. ZhongYang Cheng

Auburn University Professor Emeritus Bryan Chin (left) is partnering with McWane Professor ZhongYang "ZY" Cheng to develop a pathogen detection system that rapidly isolates contaminants in large liquid volumes and may enable improvements for food and water safety applications.

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment, Food Systems


Fired up: Auburn University researchers studying how controlled burns could help mitigate effects of wildfires

4/28/2021 10:42:57 AM      

The news is often filled with stories about wildfires and the widespread damage caused when they burn out of control. A combustion expert in Auburn University’s Department of Aerospace Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering is studying how the absence of managed control burns could be a significant contributor to this problem.

Assistant Professor David Scarborough and his graduate research assistant, Daniel Stubbs, are conducting studies on the characteristics of wildfire burning and the ways that naturally occurring fuels—largely ground litter vegetation—interact. Their objectives include, among other things, collecting data to support the use of prescribed—or controlled—burning as a means for mitigating the devastation caused by wildland fires. John Kush, a research fellow and forest ecology expert in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, has also contributed to the ongoing project.

“We are seeking to learn more about how wildfires and the fuels that feed them interact,” Scarborough said. “Forestry researchers are not usually focused on combustion research, so we joined with forestry in this study. We are trying to use our expertise in combustion and fluid dynamics to serve and contribute to a large, important state and regional industry. This project gives us a platform to conduct relevant research and compile valuable data.”

Using their laboratory apparatus—dubbed the Wildland Fire Integrated Research Experiment, or WildFIRE—Scarborough and his team simulate wildland fires under a variety of conditions and fuel compositions. WildFIRE is a laboratory-scale experiment that incorporates high-speed, high-resolution optical diagnostics along with more traditional diagnostics, such as fuel mass consumption, temperature and emissions measurements, to investigate the effects of fuel composition and moisture content, terrain slope and wind speed on the combustion of wildland fuels. WildFIRE is used to obtain important data on such factors as flame height, flame propagation speed, fuel consumption rate, harmful emissions and residual fuel mass to compare with and improve modeling tools that are used to simulate wildfires.

“Our primary focus is on combustion of loblolly pine needles, because this is widespread in Southeastern forests,” Scarborough said. “We are trying to better understand how pine needles burn under a variety of natural conditions. We also employ optical diagnostics to observe flames to visually measure various flame characteristics. By studying these situations under controlled conditions, we are able to gather very accurate data and make predictions about how a wildfire will react under specific situations and conditions.”

Their study has been underway for a number of years. It began around the time of the huge Smoky Mountains wildfire in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area in 2016. More recent wildfires in the western United States have spawned further interest within the forestry and fire safety communities, according to Scarborough.

Scarborough noted the economic impact of the forestry industry as the catalyst behind this research: “Forestry is a major part of the Alabama, United States and world economies.”

According to the Alabama Forestry Commission, Alabama forests generate more than $21 billion in revenue annually and provide 122,000 jobs. There are 23 million acres of timberland in Alabama, accounting for 69 percent of the total land area in the state.

Alabama has the third most timberland acreage in the 48 contiguous states, behind only Georgia and Oregon. Wildfire poses significant risks to wildlife, forests, human life and property, not to mention the potential environmental impact in both smoke and harmful, gaseous pollutants, he explained.

“Wildfire was once a common, frequently occurring, natural disturbance initiated most commonly by lightning in numerous ecologically important ecosystems,” Scarborough added. “However, across much of the modern landscape, the fire process has been significantly altered and sometimes eliminated through human intervention. In the absence of fire, leaves, evergreen needles and small sticks accumulate on the forest floor over the period of many years. Furthermore, many invasive woody species such as wax myrtle and yaupon holly grow uncontrolled under the tree canopy.

“Therefore, fire, when it does finally occur, as it most assuredly will, often rages out of control, propagating rapidly with high-heat intensity and long flames as it consumes many years’ worth of accumulated fuel and woody plants.”

Foresters have long known that a practice known as prescribed burning is a valuable and effective fire control application, according to Scarborough, but this practice is not applied as frequently for a number of reasons.

“Prescribed, or controlled, burning is a type of intervention that seeks to provide the benefits of natural wildland fires while minimizing the potential threats to property and other anthropogenic concerns,” Scarborough said. “These prescribed burns, when repeated at frequent intervals, serve to consume the fuel materials on the forest floor while managing invasive species. This, in turn, reduces the amount of potential fuels accumulated on the forest floor.”

Although prescribed fire reduces the risk of damaging wildfire and promotes forest restoration and wildlife habitat, significant regulatory restrictions and public perception pose hurdles to the use of prescribed fire. But better data could help change that.

“The primary reason is that data on wildfire and prescribed burns are difficult to obtain due to the cost and risks posed from fire on the scale at which wildland fires occur,” Scarborough said. “On the opposite end of this spectrum, small-scale laboratory studies fail to include many relevant factors.”

This is where the work of Scarborough and his team is making a valuable contribution. The Wildland Fire Integrated Research Experiment is a wildland fire combustion research facility capable of simulating burn areas up to several square meters, located at Auburn University’s Combustion Physics Laboratory, or AUCPLAB.

“WildFIRE is a unique facility among universities in that it is an intermediate-scale facility bridging the gap between traditional university bench-scale experiments, which are typically within the centimeter scale, and full-scale research fires conducted by governmental laboratories,” Scarborough said.

Burn experiments are conducted by simulating a variety of environmental conditions and incorporating different types of fuel source combinations, he explained.

“Our research provides an intermediate-scale facility designed to obtain data on the combustion and emissions properties of wildland fuels under field-relevant conditions that can be used to validate computer simulations of wildland fires and compare with field wildfire and controlled burn observations,” Scarborough said.

Scarborough noted the ultimate goal of the lab’s research is to develop optical diagnostics that are useful in the study of wildland fires in the field and to provide data that help to validate existing wildfire data on combustion, controlled burning and other characteristics surrounding the nature of wildfires.

Also, their hope is that, by better understanding how wildfires interact with the fuel sources and environmental conditions feeding them, they can help in the development of better ways to mitigate the damage caused by out-of-control wildfires by providing a deeper understanding about the combustion properties of fire and fuels.

BY MITCH EMMONS

flames and pine needles in wildfire research apparatusUsing their laboratory apparatus—dubbed the Wildland Fire Integrated Research Experiment (WildFIRE)—David Scarborough and research team simulate wildland fires under a variety of conditions and fuel compositions.

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment, Advanced Systems


Auburn University senior named Barry M. Goldwater Scholar

4/20/2021 3:34:59 PM      

Auburn University senior Shelby Wales is now a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, an honor bestowed on only 410 students nationwide this year. The scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the United States for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Wales, originally from Sylacauga, Alabama, is majoring in chemical engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and minoring in supply chain management in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business. Wales was chosen from a field of more than 5,000 college students.

Her research investigates different pathways of implementing 3D printing to investigate geochemical reactions. Wales hopes that, by producing 3D printing models of real rock structures that possess the same reactive properties, further insight may be obtained about the geochemical reactions that occur in conjunction with carbon capture and sequestration.

“I think the community of Goldwater Scholars I have already been connected to will be immensely helpful as I continue learning and begin my career,” Wales said. “I am incredibly honored to have been selected for this scholarship, and I hope it will put me in a position to continue doing work I enjoy with incredible people.”

While Wales spends multiple hours in the lab, she also finds time to participate in a variety of campus organizations, as well as win numerous accolades for her academic success. She was awarded the 2020-21 Undergraduate Research Fellowship; is a member of Alpha Omega Epsilon, Omega Chi Epsilon and Tau Beta Pi honors societies; and has made the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering Dean’s List multiple times.

“I feel so fortunate for the support of peers, mentors and family that surround me,” Wales said. “The Goldwater Scholarship is an individual award, but I have not been alone throughout my undergraduate and research experience.”

Wales noted that Assistant Professor Lauren Beckingham in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has supported her research interests and personal academic journey from the time Wales joined Beckingham’s research group in spring 2019.

“The open, collaborative environment fostered in our research group has been formative toward my perception of the value of scientific research,” Wales said.

During Wales’ internship with Southern Company, Nick Irvin, director of research and development, strategy, advanced nuclear and crosscutting technology, and Lauren Lathem, principal research engineer, continuously prompted her to be intentional and objective when conducting research.

“Their guidance has allowed me to think creatively about the way research is conducted, so that the best solution, or the right solution, can be found,” Wales said.

Alex Sauer, fellowship advisor for Auburn’s National Prestigious Scholarships Program and the Goldwater campus representative, said, “The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. We look forward to great things from Shelby and commend her faculty mentors for the pivotal role they have played in her success.”

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Program was established to provide scholarships to outstanding students who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Each scholarship covers eligible expenses up to a maximum of $7,500 annually for undergraduate tuition, fees, books and housing.

In awarding scholarships, the foundation considers the nominee's field of study and career objectives, along with the extent to which that individual has the commitment and potential to make a significant contribution to the field of science or engineering.

The National Prestigious Scholarship office at Auburn University, located in the Honors College, works closely with students to identify and help them pursue prestigious scholarships and other national and international awards through informational sessions and one-on-one support during the application process. For more information, contact Alex Sauer at ras0046@auburn.edu.

BY WADE BERRY

Shelby Wales

Auburn University senior Shelby Wales is now a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, an honor bestowed on only 410 students nationwide this year.

Categories: Engineering, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Auburn In the News, Undergraduate Research


NSF grant to allow Auburn professors to study how nanomaterials disperse in liquids

3/25/2021 2:01:32 PM      

As consumer electronics get smaller, the need for smaller parts, such as batteries, grows. Researchers are actively exploring additive manufacturing techniques to create the necessary smaller parts, but they first need to establish a fundamental understanding of the nanomaterial known as MXenes. 

Virginia Davis, the Dr. Daniel F. and Josephine Breeden Professor of chemical engineering, and Majid Beidaghi, associate professor of materials engineering, are working to evaluate the properties of MXenes with a $328,420 National Science Foundation award for their project “Understanding the Effects of Sheet Size and Salt Addition on Aqueous MXene Dispersions: Phase Behavior, Rheological Properties and Printability.” 

“MXenes are a new material and they have a lot of amazing properties and potential in applications such as batteries, supercapacitors and things that power our everyday devices,” Davis said. “However, in order to enable them to be used in these applications, we have to understand how to process them into different structures.” 

MXenes are a family of 2D crystalline nanomaterials composed of transition metal carbides, nitrides or carbonitrides. One advantage of MXenes is that they can be dispersed in water and processed into devices and structures using fluid phase processing techniques such as direct ink writing, a specialized 3D printing technique. To date, advances in MXene processing have required time-consuming and expensive trial-and-error approaches. 

“Our grant is looking at using fundamental tools for understanding how solids disperse in liquids and to gain new insight as to the behavior of (MXenes) to enable them to be printed into small devices using additive manufacturing,” Davis said. “In this grant we’re particularly looking at MXenes in the context of other 2D or sheet-like nanomaterials. If we can understand those fundamental principles that govern these sheet-like materials, then we can apply it to other new materials that we may discover or make materials we already know about, such as nanoclays, work even better.” 

This topic represents a natural cross-section of Davis’ and Beidaghi’s specialized research areas. Beidaghi has studied MXenes and their potential since he was a post-doctoral research fellow at Drexel University. Davis is interested in understanding how to effectively process nanomaterials and how they flow in liquids. 

“Really it was both of us coming together at Auburn that allowed us to tackle both parts of the problem, the materials chemistry part and the phase behavior part,” Davis said. 

The two plan to collaborate with other researchers to advance the experimental and theoretical methods to study dispersions of nanomaterials.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

BY CASSIE MONTGOMERY

From the left: Virginia Davis (in lab) and Majid Beidaghi (outdoors)

From the left: Virginia Davis and Majid Beidaghi

Categories: Engineering, Manufacturing, Advanced Systems


Auburn faculty members to research lead-free defense electronics as part of $7M award

2/24/2021 7:03:12 AM      

Auburn University will soon help strengthen the economic and force posture of the United States’ lead-free defense electronics industrial base through participation in the newly-launched Defense Electronics Consortium (DEC). 

The DEC was established by the U.S. Partnership for Assured Electronics through an award from the U.S. Department of Defense. The total award amount is expected to exceed $42 million – $7 million of which is expected to come to Auburn – and will be distributed during a period of five to seven years. 

The first year of the project was funded at $3.9 million, with $830,000 awarded to Auburn Engineering. Auburn faculty will partner with researchers from Purdue University and the University of Maryland to focus on the Lead-Free Defense Electronics Project, the first initiative to flow through the DEC. 

When compared to consumer electronics, defense electronics are subjected to harsher environments and are often designed for a much longer lifespan. Auburn faculty, led by principal investigator Sa’d Hamasha, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, will develop a comprehensive evaluation system for solder selection to meet specific defense-related requirements. 

“The outcome of this research is a lead-free Solder Users Handbook to ensure a safe transition of aerospace and defense electronics to lead-free technology,” he said. “The lead-free project includes a plan for developing a comprehensive solder agnostic evaluation system for defense lead-free technology. The goal is to enable future new solders and electronics packaging technologies and processes for specific defense use cases.” 

The interdisciplinary project is a collaboration between faculty in Auburn’s industrial and systems engineering and mechanical engineering departments. From the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Hamasha will direct the research program, department chair John L. Evans is a co-principal investigator and will manage the USPAE consortium interface, and assistant professors Daniel Silva and Peter Liu are also co-principal investigators. Participating faculty from the Department of Mechanical Engineering include department chair and Quina Professor Jeffrey Suhling and professor George Flowers, Graduate School dean, as co-principal investigators. Emeritus professors Wayne Johnson from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Michael Bozack from the Department of Physics will also contribute. 

“Auburn’s involvement comes after 25 years of excellence in electronics packaging, manufacturing and reliability and one of the largest research efforts in lead-free solder in the United States,” said Evans, the Charles D. Miller Chair Professor. 

Hamasha explained that in addition to the Auburn team’s wealth of research experience, Auburn’s state-of-the-art facilities will be used to fill the gaps in thermal cycling, drop shock and vibration testing, all important factors to determining military suitability. 

“Our team has experience investigating mechanical properties, failure and fatigue behavior and reliability of more than 50 standard and enhanced lead-free solder alloys, as well as the manufacturability of these materials,” Suhling said. “And our research has targeted mission critical electronic products for military, automotive, aerospace and industrial applications that are exposed to harsh environments.” 

Overall, the work produced by the DEC has the potential to make a great impact in the defense industry.

“The DEC work will accelerate the use of advanced electronics technology for the defense industry, while also improving product quality, reliability, performance and reducing product costs,” Evans said.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

BY CASSIE MONTGOMERY

From left, Sa'd Hamasha, John L. Evans, Jeffrey Suhling and George FlowersFrom left, Sa'd Hamasha, John L. Evans, Jeffrey Suhling and George Flowers

Categories: Engineering, Transportation, Manufacturing


Auburn debuts sophisticated new autonomous vehicle research facility

2/17/2021 7:51:35 AM      

Auburn University recently opened the doors to a sophisticated new autonomous vehicle research facility at Auburn’s National Center for Asphalt Technology test track — one of the few facilities of its kind in the nation attached to a test track.

The addition will aid researchers in Auburn University’s GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, whose work is frequently conducted outdoors.

The facility provides a garage with multiple bays and lifts for commercial trucks and passenger vehicles, office space for researchers, a conference room and an observation area overlooking NCAT’s 1.7-mile oval test track.

“The fact that we have our own test track where we can run autonomous vehicles and autonomous testing attached to this facility I think is an unbelievably unique asset,” said David Bevly, the Bill and Lana McNair Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the GAVLAB along with assistant research professor Scott Martin.

Since Bevly joined the Auburn Engineering faculty in 2001, the GAVLAB has built a strong reputation in autonomous vehicle navigation and developed a broad sponsored research portfolio, with projects ranging from the Department of Defense and the Federal Highway Administration to many private industry partners.

With various sponsors visiting each month, the facility’s planned observation area gives the GAVLAB team a high-quality space to demonstrate its research. Bevly’s group has also conducted demonstrations for legislators and the Alabama Department of Transportation.

“It’s a great facility for us as a team, but also allows us to showcase our work,” Bevly said.

With a growing research thrust in transportation engineering, the autonomous research facility also demonstrates Auburn’s commitment to supporting these research initiatives.

“Auburn is a major player in transportation engineering research in the nation,” said Steve Taylor, associate dean for research. “The GAVLAB and our other transportation engineering researchers have brought in nearly $50 million in sponsored research awards over the past three years. This new facility is an exciting development for Auburn and there will be much more to come.”

BY CHRIS ANTHONY

 Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

Auburn University Autonomous Vehicle Research Facility at the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) test track

Auburn University's new autonomous vehicle research facility

Categories: Engineering, Transportation, Advanced Systems


Assistant civil and environmental engineering professor receives NSF Early Career award

2/4/2021 11:00:51 AM      

Assistant civil and environmental engineering professor Jack Montgomery has been selected for the prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.

Montgomery, whose focus is geotechnical engineering, was awarded $531,818 to explore the relationship between soil piping and rainfall-induced landslides in unsaturated soils. 

"The recognition from my colleagues feels great and this award lets me expand my research and teaching into new areas," Montgomery said. "Most people are familiar with surface erosion caused by flowing water, but a similar process can take place below the surface as well. Soil piping can lead to sinkholes and failures of dams and levees. We have methods to assess how likely it is for piping to start, but once the erosion begins we don't have many ways to predict how it will progress. This project is specifically focused on piping in slopes, but the findings will apply to many different areas, including dam safety."

Much of Montgomery's previous research has focused on field work or computational analyses. 

"But this grant will allow me to build some really unique experimental capabilities at Auburn," he said. 

Specifically, he plans to take advantage of the 4,700-cubic-foot geotechnical test chamber — one of the few test chambers in the nation included in a university laboratory — inside Auburn's new $22 million Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory.

"We'll be using the geotechnical test chamber to build some near full-scale slope models," he said.

The award also involves integrating Montgomery's research into an outreach program geared toward increasing interest and retention among traditionally underrepresented students in civil engineering. 

"We'll be creating formal and informal educational activities, including educational modules for undergraduate and 7th-12th grade students, and a citizen science-driven database of sinkholes and piping features," Montgomery said. "We want to better connect to the life experiences of the audience, and I think improving the way engineers and scientists communicate their work will help us recruit and retain the next generation of diverse Auburn Engineers." 

Montgomery, who came to Auburn in 2015, is the fifth Auburn Engineering faculty member — and the third in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering — to earn the Early CAREER Award in 16 months, a fact that Andy Nowak, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, feels reflects the college’s commitment to hiring and retaining the best engineering minds in the country.

“Jack has already received plenty of professional accolades,” Nowak said. “But it’s always rewarding when the NSF recognizes the same promise in a researcher that you saw in them.”

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

BY JEREMY HENDERSON

Jack Montgomery in classroom

Jack Montgomery

Categories: Engineering


Auburn-developed disinfectant technology finds new potential during COVID-19 pandemic

2/1/2021 10:32:37 AM      

An Auburn University-developed disinfectant technology—related to one that had early commercial success as a water purification and filtration product during the 1990s and early 2000s—has advanced to achieve new patent-protected licensing potential in the battle against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Medesol LLC, a medical technology firm in Bellevue, Washington, has entered into a technology licensing agreement with Auburn to commercialize an N-halamine-based technology developed by S.D. “Dave” Worley, a professor emeritus in Auburn’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Roy Broughton, a professor emeritus in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tung-Shi Huang, a professor of microbiology in the Department of Poultry Science, and others.

Following the success of their initial N-halamine-based technology, Worley’s research team has since reformulated it to have effective antimicrobial applications in textile products.

The technology is based on chlorine as an N-halamine. N-halamines have been used in various applications for years with no bacterial resistance mechanism yet identified. But the chlorine base that enables its disinfecting properties is slowly lost once the formula comes into contact with water. By combining the chlorine base with various polymers, the Auburn research team developed a solid that proved effective as a water treatment and filtration product.

“This worked very well,” said Worley, “but we found by further work that we could make a similar N-halamine into an antimicrobial formulation that is effective when incorporated into non-woven textiles.”

By exposing the chlorine N-halamine to an alcohol solution instead of water, Worley explained, the formulation forms a solid bond with the fabric.

“The alcohol evaporates, leaving the N-halamine bonded solidly to the fabric,” Worley said. “Thus, it has great potential for being applied as an antimicrobial to such things as wound bandages, surgical materials and other garments—particularly, medical protection masks. The idea is that these products are one-time use and disposable.”

“We have worked with Dr. Worley and Auburn for more than 20 years,” said Simon Johnston, chief executive officer for Medesol. “When we learned about this new potential for the technology, we jumped to enter a licensing agreement with Auburn.”

“We are very excited to be working with Medesol to commercially develop and market this technology,” said Jan Dowdle Thornton, executive director of Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization.

“Auburn’s N-halamine-based system is very inexpensive as compared to existing current alternatives, such as silver or biguanide-based systems. Moreover, it has been proven effective against bacteria and viruses and is biodegradable. This should be a significant improvement for disposable non-woven products to help prevent the spread of infection.”

Medesol presently is pursuing FDA approval to market the Auburn development in the United States as a more effective medical face mask and other forms of protective medical clothing, according to Johnston. The firm hopes to gain FDA approval within the next six to nine months. Meanwhile, Johnston believes they will find quicker marketing success internationally.

“We firmly believe that this technology can be a significant factor in providing better protection against infections and the spread of diseases,” Johnston said. “We know from its earlier applications that it is a very effective antimicrobial medium. We believe that we are very close to proving its worth in the efforts to battle COVID-19 and future disease outbreaks.”

BY MITCH EMMONS

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences


Auburn debuts $22 million state-of-the-art structural engineering laboratory

12/10/2020 1:56:55 PM      

Auburn University strengthened its reputation as the premier destination for structural engineering research on Monday by opening the doors on a $22 million state-of-the-art laboratory that will provide solutions to the nation’s growing infrastructure issues for years to come.

“The new Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory is a revolution in structural engineering,” said Andy Nowak, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “What was impossible is now possible.”

Located at the corner of West Samford Avenue and Shug Jordan Parkway, the 42,000-square-foot Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory, or ASEL, includes a high bay laboratory with a strong wall and strong floor specially engineered to handle extreme structural testing loads; a geotechnical chamber within the strong floor; a concrete materials research and testing laboratory; wind testing capabilities that can replicate hurricane-level loads; and faculty and graduate student spaces. 

Another attractive aspect? Ease of access. Due to its location, the university’s previous structural testing laboratory in the Harbert Center could only accommodate elements up to 40 feet in length. The new facility allows for elements up to 140 feet long.

Additionally, the new lab’s floor is twice as large and features anchor points that hold more than 10 times the load as the floor in the previous lab. The former structural laboratory in the Harbert Center will be repurposed for other academic and research use.

But the ASEL’s most unique feature may be the 4,700-cubic-foot geotechnical test chamber within the strong floor footprint—one of the few test chambers in the nation included in a university laboratory—that will allow the department’s geotechnical researchers to conduct testing on foundations, anchorages and towers previously only possible in the field.

“In addition to helping us secure research grants and projects, the ASEL will help us to recruit the best faculty and the best students,” Nowak said.

Steve Taylor, Engineering’s associate dean for research, agrees.

“We now offer one of the best laboratories in the country—if not the best,” Taylor said. “If I’m a student who wants to be a structural engineer, this is the best place to go to school in the nation.”

Hi-resolution photos of the ASEL can be found here: https://aub.ie/w2nsfD.

BY JEREMY HENDERSON

Students stand before a towering concrete structure bearing Auburn University logos at the Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory.

Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory

Categories: Engineering


Auburn University research projects among recipients of $2.57 million state award

12/9/2020 1:59:57 PM      

Two Auburn University research projects are among the recipients of a $2.57 million award by the Alabama governor’s office to five of the state’s research institutions, Gov. Kay Ivey announced recently.

Brian Via and Beatriz Erramuspe, director and research fellow, respectively, of the Forest Products Development Center in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, were awarded $247,142 to research development of a paper-based device for a cost-effective method to detect dangerous formaldehyde emissions in wood panels.

Sabit Adanur, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, was awarded $75,374 to conduct research relating to the design, fabrication and testing of novel medical face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or future contagious viruses.

The grants are from the Alabama Research and Development Enhancement Fund, or ARDEF, a state-funded program created in 2019 under the Alabama Innovation Act and administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, or ADECA.

The funding provides support and encourages new and continuing research that will result in products and services to improve the lives of Alabamians either from the products themselves or from new job opportunities.

“This funding from the Alabama Research and Development Enhancement Fund will help Auburn researchers continue to solve real-world problems through discovery and innovation,” said James Weyhenmeyer, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development.

“The research being performed at our universities and institutions offers strong evidence that innovation is alive and well in Alabama," Ivey said when making the announcement. “These grants will help provide the needed resources to bring even more ideas and research to light, eventually resulting in new products and new job opportunities.”

Other institutions named in the award announcement include the Basham Institute of Science in Dadeville, Alabama, and various campuses of the University of Alabama. This is the second round of ARDEF funds awarded in this program in 2020.

Ivey earlier this year awarded $2.27 million in grants to state research institutions and programs. Three Auburn research projects were recipients in that earlier announcement.​

BY MITCH EMMONS

from the left: Brian Via, Beatriz Erramuspe, and Sabit Adanur

From the left: Brian Via, Beatriz Erramuspe and Sabit Adanur 

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences, Auburn In the News, Manufacturing


Civil and environmental engineering professor receives $1.3 million Department of Defense grant

11/9/2020 11:01:19 AM      

Natalie Cápiro, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been awarded a $1.3 million grant by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) for her project “Development of Predictive Tools for Assessment of Natural Attenuation Capacity and Treatment Transition at Chlorinated Solvent Sites.” 

SERDP is an environmental science and technology program for Department of Defense (DoD), that is planned and executed in partnership with Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with participation by numerous other federal and non-federal organizations. 

Cápiro’s project aims to develop a quantitative understanding of the relationships between the processes that govern long-term attenuation at contaminated sites that are characterized by complex hydrogeology and failure of prior remediation efforts.

According to Cápiro, current nationwide estimates of costs and predicted cleanup times required for the restoration of federal and state hazardous waste-impacted groundwater sites are underestimated. The cleanup timeframe for sites with complex hydrogeology can exceed acceptable timeframes, which are typically considered to be 30-50 years.

“Particularly difficult are sites contaminated with highly toxic chlorinated solvents that have been widely used as degreasers at military bases, dry cleaners and in other industries,” Cápiro explained. “Groundwater resources at more than 126,000 known contaminated federal and state hazardous waste sites are estimated to require more than $100 billion to achieve cleanup goals.”

Cápiro’s work aims to develop a holistic remediation approach accounting for natural attenuation processes that control chlorinated solvent contaminant persistence in groundwater, while providing long-term cost-saving measures and safeguarding drinking-water supplies.

The research will establish a more complete understanding of the relationships between the coupled processes that govern long-term natural attenuation of chlorinated solvent groundwater plumes. Also, it will provide site managers, regulatory officials and the scientific community with mathematical models and predictive tools that are capable of estimating the capacity of an aquifer to naturally attenuate chlorinated solvents in complex hydrogeological settings.

The outcomes of the project will aid in the selection of scientifically sound strategies for sustainable long-term management of complex, contaminated sites and support the recommendations on when the transition from active to passive treatment is justified.

Cápiro’s co-PIs are Kurt Pennell (Brown University) and Mark Widdowson (Virginia Tech), as well as Michael Kavanaugh and Eric Suchomel, both with Geosyntec Consultants.

BY ALYSSA TURNER

Media Contact: Jeremy Hendersonjdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

Natalie CápiroNatalie Cápiro

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


AU awarded $1.21 million by Department of Energy to develop nuclear energy technology

10/16/2020 1:21:26 PM      

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded Auburn University a combined $1.21 million to develop advanced manufacturing technology for next-generation reactor designs and expand the university’s existing nuclear research infrastructure. The two awards are among the DOE’s $65 million research investment to domestic universities and national laboratories for 93 advanced nuclear technology projects across 28 states.

“In the United States, nuclear power represents approximately 20% of the electricity consumed without greenhouse gas emission,” said Xiaoyuan Lou, principal investigator of both awards and associate professor of materials engineering. “Innovative manufacturing technologies and advanced materials are both crucial to the future economic outlook of nuclear power and the development of next-generation reactor designs such as small modular reactor (SMR) and GEN IV advanced reactors.” 

Through the first award of $1 million funded by the DOE's Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) program, Auburn will lead a joint university-industry team to develop and demonstrate the powder metallurgy-hot isostatic pressing (PM-HIP) cladding and joining strategies to manufacture dissimilar metal pressure retaining components. 
Nuclear reactors and many other energy infrastructures are formed by large-size and thick-section metal structures.

The traditional approach to manufacture these structures often involves multiple lengthy and costly fabrication steps and requires vastly different expertise, resulting in high manufacturing cost and delayed deployment schedule. The performance demands and compactness of future reactor designs require the complex construction of dissimilar metal structures, which further increase the manufacturing complexity and cost. PM-HIP can be an alternative solution to handle the design complexity, reduce the manufacturing cost and time, and eliminate the burden of in-service inspection. 

“Tens of millions of dollars have been invested by government and industry to mature PM-HIP for manufacturing nuclear reactor structures," Lou said. "With these efforts, PM-HIP was recently approved by ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. By working with key nuclear technology providers, we will demonstrate PM-HIP can produce nuclear-grade multi-material reactor components with one shot.” 

The second infrastructure award of $210,000 supports Lou to enhance the advanced mechanical testing capabilities at Auburn University. Bart Prorok, interim program chair for materials engineering, is the co-PI on the project.
Lou said the new equipment acquisitions would boost the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s nuclear research and training opportunities and expand the existing nuclear research programs.

“Nuclear power not only ensures reliable and clean electricity for the American people but also supplies propulsion energy to Navy operation and NASA’s space exploration,” Lou said. “These awards provide us opportunities to work closely with the major nuclear technology providers at the forefront of technological innovation.”

BY VIRGINIA SPEIRS

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

Xiaoyuan Lou

Xiaoyuan Lou

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Auburn University industry-academic technology commercialization venture sparked by student job search

10/9/2020 2:37:14 PM      

Researchers develop small-volume diagnostic assays that could be useful for variety of diseases, conditions

We often hear the stories about industry joining with academia to turn research developments into commercially viable and marketable products. Most of those relationships develop through the promotional efforts of the university’s technology and intellectual property advancement program. Sometimes, though, they can happen when companies become interested in a graduate’s qualifications for employment.

Such is the story behind a partnership formed between Auburn University and a Philadelphia-based biotech firm to commercialize technologies developed by Christopher Easley, the C. Harry Knowles Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Sciences and Mathematics.

InnaMed, based in Philadelphia, is a new firm devoted to the development of easy-to-use, fast-and-accurate home blood testing and health monitoring systems for the individual patient. Alongside their work applying microfluidic methods to help understand diabetes and obesity, Easley’s research team also develops small-volume diagnostic assays that could be useful for a variety of diseases and conditions. When InnaMed learned about Easley’s research in electrochemical assay development through the interview process with one of his graduate students, the company not only wanted to hire the student, but also acquire the technology for commercial development.

InnaMed was started in 2016 by co-founders Anup Singh and Eshwar Inapuri.

“We met while students at the University of Pennsylvania,” said Inapuri, who serves as the CEO. “Anup was pursuing a degree in biophysics, and I in bioengineering. We became friends while working in the Issadore Lab on technologies to advance diagnostics and enable early detection of diseases like traumatic brain injury and pancreatic cancer in a non-resource intensive manner.”

The two formed InnaMed with the goal to bridge the clinical communication gap between health systems and their patients, and, in 2017, learned of Easley’s research in microanalytical sensing techniques while conducting a job interview with one of Easley’s graduate students, Subramaniam “Mani” Somasundaram.

InnaMed optioned the Auburn technology to test it out and visited Easley’s lab to learn how to use it. They soon decided to license the technology and found the expertise that Mani gained while at Auburn to be a great asset to the company.

“After visiting with Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization, we entered into a licensing agreement on Dr. Easley’s technology and ultimately hired Mani shortly afterwards,” Inapuri said.

Easley describes his research as developing super-sensitive, very small instruments capable of detecting and measuring many types of biomarkers.

“Electrochemistry can be used to make very small instruments,” Easley said. “One of our inventions is a generalized assay that can work for small-, medium- or large-sized molecules, giving us the possibility for rapid ‘dip and read’ methods that are attractive for point-of-care settings. However, for some clinically relevant analytes at low concentrations, background interferences can be an issue, so we also invented a modified electrochemical instrument that removes background and increases sensitivity. These unique measurements not only help my laboratory with sensing on microfluidic devices, but they also are well-suited for InnaMed’s realm, clinical readouts in human blood.”

“The pharma industry has indicated a keen interest in commercial products that can do what Dr. Easley’s technology has made possible,” Inapuri said.

The company is in the process of taking Easley’s technology from the laboratory to a marketable product that can simplify the individual patient’s health journey for a variety of conditions that require frequent, rapid and accurate testing of various types of biomarkers in the blood. Inapuri says they hope to have the product ready to seek FDA approval within the next nine months.

“This is an example of a very good industry-academia commercialization partnership,” said Troy Brady, licensing officer in Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization. “It not only shows how the commercialization process evolves and develops, but it also is a great example of how student involvement can lead to solid, real-world partnerships.”

BY MITCH EMMONS

Christopher Easley

Auburn Professor Christopher Easley and his research team have developed super-sensitive, very small instruments capable of detecting and measuring many types of biomarkers.

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences


Auburn, UCLA faculty teaming up to develop micro-scale magnetic shields

9/30/2020 6:43:08 AM      

An Auburn Engineering faculty member recently received a United States Office of Naval Research subcontract to work on a new technology that will use custom additively manufactured micro-scale shields to help protect electronics from magnetic fields, while also allowing integration of fiber optics for optical communication.

Michael Hamilton, the James B. Davis Professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Alabama Micro/Nano Science and Technology Center, will work with Systems Visions, a local company that provides engineering principles to design and develop structures, systems and processes, on new technologies to help shield sensitive superconducting electronic chips from magnetic fields while still allowing for signals to be sent and received through integrated fiber optics.

Hamilton will collaborate on this project with Robert Candler, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. Hamilton and Candler graduated in the same class from Auburn University with bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering in 2000.

“Interestingly enough, Rob is not just my colleague, but my friend who also went to Auburn at the same time I did,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been looking for a project to work on together for a while, so it was nice to find something that lined up both with what he’s working on and with what I’m working on.”

Hamilton said the duo are in phase one of the project with multiple challenges to overcome before a working prototype can be developed. Some challenges include engineering the technology to withstand ultra-cold temperatures around 4 Kelvin (-452 degrees Fahrenheit) and scaling down the integration of the fiber optics to about 10 millionths of a meter in diameter ­ – 10 times smaller than a strand of hair.

“We’re characterizing these magnetic shields and making big strides in the steps toward building those little photonic structures,” Hamilton said. “Another piece of this project is observing how these micro-scale structures behave when we cool them down to a very low temperature and seeing if there’s a way we can engineer the interfaces and materials to perform better when you make it cold.”

Hamilton said he is confident that he and his team will work through the challenges of social distancing in the new normal with COVID-19 and that he is eager to contribute to the advancement of this technology under this subcontract. 

“We’ve actually been really fortunate at Auburn where research can continue,” Hamilton said. “I know there are some places that had to just shut everything down, but we’ve been able to keep things going at a pretty good pace.”

BY VIRGINIA SPEIRS

Media Contact: Chris Anthony, chris.anthony@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447

 

Michael HamiltonMichael Hamilton

Categories: Engineering, Manufacturing, Advanced Systems


FAA invests $3 million in Auburn University additive manufacturing research

8/18/2020 9:32:30 AM      

Thanks to a recent $3 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME) at Auburn University will soon initiate a two-year project focused on improving commercial air travel through the use of 3D-printed (or additively manufactured) metal components. 

The project involves fabricating metal parts from multiple industrial-scale metal 3D printers. It aims to specifically address issues related to understanding the variability in performance of the same parts made on different machines, as well as issues related to understanding how microscopic features in the 3D-printed metal affect overall fatigue and fracture properties. Both are key areas in the development of additive manufacturing (AM) specifications that the FAA wants to eventually apply in commercial airlines.  

“This is what I call the ‘Achilles heel’ of additive manufacturing,” said NCAME director Nima Shamsaei, Philpott-WestPoint Stevens Distinguished Associate Professor of mechanical engineering. “Such variations make the qualification and certification of AM materials and parts challenging.”

The FAA said the partnership is ultimately intended to improve safety by standardizing certification of existing and emerging structural applications of advanced materials, a research area in which NCAME quickly emerged as an international leader, especially in the area of materials used for spaceflight. 

Established in 2017 through a public-private partnership between Auburn and NASA, NCAME is also one of the founding partners of the ASTM International Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence, which aims to close AM standards and workforce gaps.

“By understanding the sources of variability, controlling them, or accounting for them, we can generate more reliable materials data, and more reliable AM products,” said Shamsaei, who serves as co-principle investigator (PI) on the project.

Co-PI Steve Taylor, associate dean for research, agrees.

“By teaming our faculty, who are global leaders in research on additively manufactured metal components, with the top engineers and scientists at FAA, we are confident that we can develop new knowledge that will help engineers design safer, more efficient aircraft,” Taylor said. “Auburn University is honored to be collaborating with the FAA." 

Other investigators on the project include Shuai Shao, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Hareesh Tippur, McWane Professor of mechanical engineering; Nick Tsolas, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Jeff Suhling, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; Masoud Mahjouri-Samani, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Alex Vinel, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering; Daniel Silva, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering; and Jia (Peter) Liu, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering. Mike Ogles, director of NASA Programs, serves as project manager.

BY JEREMY HENDERSON

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

Nima Shamsaei and Steve Taylor with airplaneNima Shamsaei and Steve Taylor

Categories: Engineering, Transportation


Waste Not, Feed Fish: USDA funds biosystems professor's alternative use for farm wastewater

7/29/2020 6:44:12 AM      

Brendan Higgins is doing his part to make sure nothing in this world goes to waste. Not even waste. 

The USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently funded the assistant professor of biosystems engineering's four-year project aimed at developing a three-step process that will transform nutrients found in dairy and swine industry manure wastewater into protein-rich fish feed.

The total value of the project, titled "Development of a bacterial-algal-zooplankton process for conversion of agricultural waste into aquaculture feed," is $434,659.

"I've been working on this research topic in one form or another since spring of 2017," Higgins said, "so it feels great to get external funding to really grow this project."

And he does mean grow. 

"The first step is to grow a mixture of bacteria on the manure wastewater, which is essential because it removes chemical inhibitors found in the water that harm algae growth," Higgins said. "We then grow algae on the water and these organisms use photosynthesis to convert the nutrient pollutants in the water into protein. We then feed the algae to Daphnia zooplankton." 

Daphnia are well-known in biology as indicators of aquatic toxicity.

"We are using special strains of Daphnia that grow very well on our wastewater-grown algae," he said. "In fact, we have found that they grow better on our wastewater algae than they do on their normal algae feed, and Daphnia are valuable as a protein-rich fish feed."

But Higgins' research isn't just good news for fish. It's also good news for the environment. 

"The U.S. dairy and swine industries produce huge amounts of liquid manure and they usually store it in large open pits or lagoons," Higgins said. "The storage lagoons smell awesome, of course, and nearby communities complain about them all the time. They're also a big problem when hurricanes hit because the lagoons overflow and spill into rivers and creeks and ultimately flow into the ocean.

"It is a huge public health and environmental problem and our system provides a possible solution."

Two professors within the Auburn University College of Agriculture — Alan Wilson, a professor in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, and Rishi Prasad, assistant professor in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences — are co-PIs (principal investigators) on the project. 

BY JEREMY HENDERSON

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

 

Brendan Higgins examines Chlorella algae in his lab.

Brendan Higgins, assistant professor of biosystems engineering, examines Chlorella algae in his lab.

Categories: Engineering, Food Systems, Life Sciences


Assistant professor aims to improve fuel cell efficiency with NSF award

6/23/2020 10:52:25 AM      

Ion-containing polymer membranes are found in many energy generation and storage devices. Using artificial photosynthesis, these devices convert water, sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy in an electrochemical cell, such as a solar fuel cell. Maximizing the efficiency of solar fuel cells requires understanding the relationships between polymer membrane structure and the transport of ions and molecules.

Chemical engineering assistant professor Bryan Beckingham will explore the relationships between ion-containing polymer membrane structure, membrane physiochemical properties and membrane-transport behavior with a $259,036 award from the National Science Foundation. The project, “Cooperative Transport in Ion-Conducting Membranes,” seeks to provide guidance for the future design of ion-containing polymer membranes to improve the efficiency of solar fuel cell devices. 

Through lab experiments, Beckingham will examine transport properties such as permeability, solubility and diffusivity for a neutral solute (methanol), an ionic solute (acetate) and complex mixtures of the two.

“This project is going to investigate the transport behavior of different product species across these polymer membranes which can play a big role in reducing device performance,” he explained. “The particular focus is on how the presence of more than one of these species can change the diffusion behavior of the other species.”

Beckingham, with his graduate students, will be utilizing infrared spectroscopy in a novel way that will allow them to examine the diffusion behavior of multiple species at once. The technique, first developed in Beckingham’s post-doctoral research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as part of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis and refined in his lab at Auburn University, allows him to streamline the characterization process.

“In traditional experiments, you can really only look at one species at a time,” he said. “With our method, we will be using an in situ probe fiber optic cable that we can stick into our diffusion cell and it allows us to look at multiple species concentrations at the same time. With the probe taking measurements every minute, we get really high-fidelity data.”

Preliminary experiments using commercial materials have shown that when going from having a single solute to two solutes, the diffusion behavior changes in ways that the researchers cannot yet predict.

“So far what we’ve found is that neutral molecules such as methanol tend to be affected less but this matters a lot for charged molecules. The permeability of the charged molecule can increase a lot in the presence of methanol. This new project will build off of and attempt to understand these results,” he explained.

BY CASSIE MONTGOMERY

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

Bryan Beckingham and graduate students

Bryan Beckingham (center) with graduate students

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Auburn University building new autonomous vehicle research facility

6/23/2020 6:48:54 AM      

For researchers in Auburn University’s GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, prepping autonomous vehicles outside in Alabama’s elements—from the sweltering summer sun to pop-up thunderstorms—has become a near daily occurrence.

Whether researchers are debugging algorithms, installing sensors or running data analyses, much of the work from the GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, or GAVLAB, is done outdoors—and easily impacted by changes in the weather.

That is about to change with the planned addition of a sophisticated new autonomous vehicle research facility at Auburn’s National Center for Asphalt Technology test track. The facility is expected to provide a garage with multiple bays and lifts for commercial trucks and passenger vehicles, office space for researchers, a conference room and an observation area overlooking NCAT’s 1.7-mile oval test track.

The building, estimated to cost approximately $800,000, will be one of the few autonomous research facilities in the nation attached to a test track.

“The fact that we’ll have our own test track where we can run autonomous vehicles and autonomous testing attached to this facility I think will be an unbelievably unique asset,” said David Bevly, the Bill and Lana McNair Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the GAVLAB, along with assistant research professor Scott Martin.

Since Bevly joined the Auburn engineering faculty in 2001, the GAVLAB has built a strong reputation in autonomous vehicle navigation and developed a broad sponsored research portfolio, with projects ranging from the Department of Defense and the Federal Highway Administration to many private industry partners.

With various sponsors visiting each month, the facility’s planned observation area will give the GAVLAB team a high-quality space to demonstrate its research. Bevly’s group has also conducted demonstrations for legislators and the Alabama Department of Transportation.

“I think it will be a great facility for us as a team, but also to showcase our work,” Bevly said.

With a growing research thrust in transportation engineering, the autonomous research facility also demonstrates Auburn’s commitment to supporting these research initiatives.

“Dave and his GAVLAB team are one of our top research groups on campus, and their work has elevated Auburn to an internationally prominent position in navigation and vehicle dynamics for autonomous vehicles,” said Jeff Suhling, the Quina Professor and department chair for mechanical engineering. “Our department is proud to commit resources, along with the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, to support high-impact researchers. We think this facility will really help set us apart from other universities in autonomous vehicle research.”

BY CHRIS ANTHONY

test track at Auburn University's National Center for Asphalt Technology

The Auburn University Samuel Ginn College of Engineering is building a new autonomous vehicle research facility at Auburn’s National Center for Asphalt Technology test track, making it one of the few such facilities in the nation attached to a test track.

Categories: Engineering, Transportation


Auburn University awards two research projects with LAUNCH grant funding

5/28/2020 1:44:00 PM      

In an effort to advance research ideas that benefit society and the economy, Auburn University recently awarded two faculty research projects $100,000 in LAUNCH funding support.

Established in 2015 by the Auburn University Research and Economic Development Advisory Board, the LAUNCH Fund for Research and Innovation involves an associated competition designed to bridge the gap between innovative research and the marketplace. The fund was created with the support of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. This year’s annual pitch competition was held virtually through Zoom, the online meeting platform, with Auburn’s top entrepreneurial faculty pitching ideas for research projects with potential to impact the economy of the state and region. 

This year’s recipients, both from the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, will receive cash stipends from a pool of approximately $100,000 toward the commercialization of their work. The recipients are Zhihua Jiang, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and director of the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering, and Majid Beidaghi, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. 

Jiang’s winning project was titled “Novel and Sustainable Feed Binder from Soy Hulls.” Feed binders are widely used to hold or bind different feed components together for increasing the water stability of aquaculture diets and the durability of feedstuffs. Jiang and his team—Burak Aksoy of Chemical Engineering and Mediha Aksoy and Benjamin Beck of the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services–are developing a compound feed binder made of soybean hulls, an agricultural waste product. This novel feed binder product made 100 percent from soy hulls has a great potential to penetrate the existing and growing global animal feed market valued at more than $400 billion in the U.S.

Beidaghi’s winning project was titled “Development of Inks and Printing Technology for 3D Printing of Batteries.” Beidaghi’s research focuses on the development and formulation of inks, or filament, for the fabrication of batteries, including Li-ion batteries, or LIBs, through a simple extrusion-based 3D printing process. 3D printing will allow fabrication of batteries with complex designs and form factors for both conventional and advanced applications. 3D printed batteries will show an excellent performance in small footprint areas and volumes to address the increasing demand for efficient energy storage devices for small and portable electronics.

“We are deeply honored to receive this award,” said Jiang. “Our technology addresses the existing and growing global animal feed market. We expect that this LAUNCH funding will play a critical role in making the technology ready for commercialization.”

Beidaghi echoed those sentiments, stating, “It is an honor for us to receive this award. Printed batteries are rapidly gaining attention for various applications ranging from wearable and flexible electronics to self-powered sensors. Our technology will potentially transform how batteries and other energy storage devices are manufactured. Funding from the LAUNCH program will greatly help us to develop our battery inks and printing methods further and introduce our technology to potential licensees and partners.”

As LAUNCH award recipients, the researchers will have the opportunity to meet with experts in entrepreneurship from Auburn’s Harbert College of Business and with IAC staff members to develop the plans for commercial success. Researchers may also be partnered with Auburn alumni and friends with extensive experience in industries related to the projects.

"Auburn is committed to providing a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem for our faculty, staff and students as a natural extension of our land-grant mission and the mission of Auburn Research Park," said Cary Chandler, director of the LAUNCH program and director of business development and start-ups for Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization, or IAC. "The LAUNCH Program is a critical part of that environment and plays an important role in delivering science-based solutions to our region and beyond. These are the ‘big ideas’ that will create jobs, grow our economy and improve quality of life, and we are pleased to support this year’s outstanding winners.”

The goal is to fund an endowment of $10 million that will generate $400,000 annually for research grants. Until it is fully funded, Auburn’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development is providing the awards. 

More information on LAUNCH is available online

The recipients of this year’s LAUNCH Fund for Research and Innovation award are Zhihua Jiang (left), an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and director of the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering, and Majid Beidaghi, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Auburn University awarded $1.31 million in research project funds from state of Alabama

5/20/2020 6:43:45 AM      

Three Auburn University research projects have received a combined $1.31 million award, through a new program administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, or ADECA.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced the grants this week through the new Alabama Research and Development Enhancement Fund. The state-funded program was created in 2019 under the Alabama Innovation Act.

The multidisciplinary projects are funded as follows:

  • $245,865 to develop an advanced biosensor using forest and agricultural products that will have a wide variety of uses dealing with contaminant detection, like determining if pesticides are present in water. The project is conducted by Samuel Ginn College of Engineering faculty members Virginia Davis, Alumni Professor, and Robert Ashurst, the Uthlaut Family Associate Professor from the Department of Chemical Engineering; and Soledad Peresin, an assistant professor of forest biomaterials in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

  • $868,145 to develop a lightweight material that blocks mosquito bites while retaining coolness in hot weather. The research is being done by John Beckmann, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture.

  • $193,960 to develop a filtering process to remove perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances from water and landfill runoff. The manmade substances are used in food packaging, stain repellants, cookware and firefighting foam and do not readily break down. The investigator for this project is Dongye Zhao, the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering.

“This fund will enable our universities, hospitals, research institutions and others to develop and bring to fruition ideas that will improve lives and create jobs,” Ivey said about the grant program in the announcement. “I am tremendously encouraged by this program and its potential in Alabama.”

Jan Thornton, executive director of Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization, or IAC, said the ADECA grants are now an annual funding opportunity for researchers, with proposal submissions for the next award cycle currently open through July 29. 

Faculty who wish to learn more and want to ensure that their research is protected as technology that might be potentially commercialized should contact the IAC by visiting iac.auburn.edu.

BY MITCH EMMONS

Samford Hall and Auburn University sign

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment, Health Sciences, Auburn In the News


Auburn Engineering faculty collaborating on COVID-19 sensing device

4/23/2020 7:00:35 AM      

An assistant professor in the Auburn University Samuel Ginn College of Engineering has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a biosensor that will rapidly detect COVID-19.

COVID-19 belongs to a family of similar viruses known as beta coronaviruses. There have been two other such viruses that have emerged over the past two decades – Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome, commonly referred to as SARS.

“There are similarities between the viruses that cause MERS, SARS and COVID-19 to the point where the name of the current virus is SARS-CoV-2,” said Robert Pantazes, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and the principal investigator on the project. “What we’re doing is using computational tools and experimental methods to try to take advantage of all the resources that were already in existence for these other coronaviruses and convert them into tools that will work with COVID-19 and potential future coronavirus outbreaks.”

The research project, titled “Antibody-Based Nanoplasmonic Barcode Biosensors for COVID-19 Detection,” is led by Pantazes in collaboration with Pengyu Chen, assistant professor in the Auburn University Department of Mechanical Engineering and Jennifer Maynard, the Henry Beckman Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas.

Specifically, the team of researchers are developing an inexpensive, near-real-time, point-of-care diagnostic device that would meet the need to more quickly and more conveniently diagnose COVID-19 and understand its spread.  

“My lab has a long history in developing nanomaterial-based biosensors for immune detection,” said Chen, a co-investigator on the project. “This biosensor design originated from a multiplex barcode sensor for high throughput sensitive cytokine measurements in human serum samples and can be further applied to saliva and throat swabs.”

The team plans to screen and select optimized antibodies that can target the spike protein on the surface membrane of the virus. They will then immobilize the selected antibodies on glass substrates to capture the virus.

“We will flow in signaling nanoparticles functionalized with detection antibodies that can attach to the captured virus to form a so-called ‘sandwich’ structure,” Chen said. “These nanoparticles can emit strong scattering light with specific color and can be visualized under microscope or even by human eyes. So if we have a positive response, we will observe a brightened barcode or colored test strip.”

The team is progressing toward a proof-of-concept device that can be used for lab testing to be followed by a prototype of an integrated test strip that could be potentially used at home or in clinics.

“The academic research community is working rapidly to reduce the impact that this pandemic has on our daily way of life,” Pantazes said. 

BY CASSIE MONTGOMERY

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

 

Assistant professors Pengyu Chen and Robert Pantazes

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences


Auburn-developed microscope technology finds use on COVID-19 battlefront

4/23/2020 6:52:43 AM      

An Auburn University-developed light microscope technology that has been on the market since the early 2000s has found new potential as a research tool on the COVID-19 battlefront.

CytoViva Inc., a subsidiary company of the Auburn Research Park-based firm Aetos Technologies Inc.—and the registered name for the patented microscope technology developed by Professor Vitaly Vodyanoy of Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine—has partnered with Joanna Sztuba-Solinska, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, to aid in her research efforts.

A molecular virologist, Sztuba-Solinska has focused her research on the herpesviruses, but with the current COVID-19 pandemic, she has begun to expand her research focus to studying SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

“This is a dramatically different type of virus,” she said. “I study Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, which is a DNA virus that as most herpesviruses, coevolved with human population for very long time, thus, it is much less virulent.

“SARS CoV-2 is a newly emerged virus with probably the largest RNA genome, and the unique capacity of proofreading its mistakes—which you usually don’t see with RNA viruses. However, because it’s an RNA virus it has more so to speak evolutionary flexibility, meaning, it can undergo mutations, and go from animal reservoir to unfortunately human reservoir. Also, because it is a newly emerged virus, it has a much greater virulence, that is, the capacity to cause the disease or even death.”

While Sztuba-Solinska says she is optimistic that efforts underway to produce an effective COVID-19 vaccine will be successful, the process takes many months to develop, test and confirm the effectiveness and human safety of a new vaccine.

Meanwhile, her immediate research in the area of coronaviruses and COVID-19 is focused on working collaboratively with researchers in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering on polymers to be used in antimicrobial materials for protective face masks, and in determining if the differences in types of coronaviruses can be detected visually by observing changes in their spectra.

“This is where I will be able to use the CytoViva microscope and its high-resolution capabilities,” she said, adding that she should have a unit set up and in operation in her lab within two weeks.

Introduced in 2004, CytoViva technology has been installed in hundreds of research laboratories. This includes leading national research laboratories, academic institutes and private industrial labs across the Americas, Asia and Europe.

CytoViva had principally focused on the use of its technology in the engineered nanomaterials world associated with drug delivery. In 2008, CytoViva integrated its proprietary hyperspectral imaging technology with the patented microscope developed by Vodyanoy to provide quantitative data analysis.

“Interestingly, though, viruses are nanoparticles, too,” said Byron Cheatham, CytoViva vice president for marketing. “Given CytoViva’s capability to detect live viruses like coronavirus, we have reached out to the biomedical community. We firmly believe that this technology can be an effective and efficient tool on the front against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases research.”

Vodyanoy, who was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2013, added that “hyperspectral imagery of a single cell” would allow identification of the coronavirus infection.

The CytoViva microscope has won several major national awards: R&D Magazine's top 100 most technologically significant products introduced in 2006 and 2007 and the Nano 50 Award by NASA Tech Briefs, which recognizes the most exceptional new products in the nanotechnology field.

BY MITCH EMMONS

Joanna Sztuba-Solinska

Joanna Sztuba-Solinska, assistant professor in Auburn’s College of Sciences and Mathematics, will use the CytoViva microscope to research SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences


Auburn design adapts CPAP machines into emergency ventilators

4/2/2020 2:10:41 PM      

A team of Auburn engineers has developed a way to quickly and inexpensively convert CPAP machines into ventilators, one of the most important tools hospitals have for helping COVID-19 patients.

Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machines are commonly used to help people with obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily during sleep. The Auburn design, called RE-INVENT, is an accessory that would safely repurpose a CPAP into a functional ventilator.

Ventilators are in short supply at hospitals across the nation as the number of patients requiring respiratory assistance due to COVID-19 rises.

Tom Burch and Michael Zabala, faculty in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, initiated the project. Additional engineering faculty and alumni helped refine the mechanical design, control system, user interface and alarms. Critical respiratory care medical professionals contributed to the design of RE-INVENT. 

“What started as pure intellectual curiosity quickly grew into an emotional race against time to potentially save lives,” said Zabala, an assistant professor. “We wanted to know if we could design a solution to solve the ventilator shortage problem.”

The RE-INVENT team focused on a design that would reliably ventilate a patient for an extended period. They also considered affordability and ease of manufacture given the urgent, national need for ventilators. The device can be assembled in as little as four hours using approximately $700 in readily available component parts in addition to a standard CPAP machine. A ventilator typical in many hospitals costs as much as $25,000, often more.

“I use a CPAP machine, and it does 90 percent of what a ventilator does,” said Burch, who initially proposed incorporating continuous positive airway pressure into the RE-INVENT design. 

“These are difficult times,” he said. “Everybody who understands the gravity of the situation wants to do something to help, so it feels good to think you’ve helped with something that may have an impact.”

Auburn officials are exploring options for sharing the design with health care providers and potential manufacturers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided guidance to health care providers that may allow them to use RE-INVENT to help increase the availability of ventilators and other respiratory devices during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Health care providers interested in collaborating with the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering during the current public health emergency can learn more online about RE-INVENT.

BY JEREMY HENDERSON

 Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

Michael Zabala and Tom Burch with CPAP machine converted to ventilatorMichael Zabala and Tom Burch, faculty in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, helped design RE-INVENT, an accessory that would safely repurpose a CPAP into a functional ventilator.

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences, Auburn In the News


Three engineering faculty members receive NSF Early Career awards totaling more than $1.6 million

3/19/2020 9:42:38 AM      

Three more Auburn Engineering faculty have been selected for the prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.

Majid Beidaghi, assistant professor of materials engineering, was awarded $544,586 to conduct fundamental research on advanced battery chemistries and components that have the potential for greater energy density and cycling performance.

In addition to enabling the design of an entirely new family of cathode materials for aluminium-ion batteries, the project also includes outreach and educational activities designed to support Alabama middle and high school students participating in STEM-related competitions. Educational modules focused on defining and performing science fair projects will be developed and disseminated to local schools through teacher training workshops. In addition, the educational plan utilizes "science and engineering as art" projects to foster creativity in science communication and dissemination of scientific concepts and discoveries among undergraduate and graduate students.

Pengyu Chen, assistant professor in materials engineering, will use a $500,000 award to develop a nanomaterial imaging system that can measure and track in real-time chemical signals secreted by immune cells. This novel research into how immune cells "talk" to each other will advance immune disease screening and diagnosis technologies.

New education experiences developed as part of this award will train K-12, undergraduate and graduate students about bioengineering and nanotechnology. Learning activities and public events will be performed to increase the public interests in material science and biotechnology.

David Roeuche, assistant professor in civil engineering, will use his $573,297 award to investigate new methodologies that harness post-windstorm reconnaissance data in order to promote the resilience of buildings and communities and reduce future losses and other impacts. Current capabilities for analyzing this data are ill-suited for efficient discovery and application. Roeuche’s project will develop a robust, theory-guided, statistical inference framework for learning from post-windstorm data that will transform the scale to understand and predict windstorm damage, specifically for low-rise buildings. 

An interactive outreach platform will be developed to translate the project’s research findings to the general public and increase awareness of the critical factors affecting windstorm performance.

“We're proud of these three immensely talented researchers and faculty members,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “We are thrilled that the NSF recognizes the same promise that we see in them."

Auburn Engineering faculty have now won four CAREER awards in just the past six months. Lauren Beckingham, assistant professor of civil engineering, received the National Science Foundation Faculty Early CAREER Development award in August for her work in environmental engineering.

BY JEREMY HENDERSON

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, jdh0123@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591

Pengyu Chen, Majid Beidaghi and David Roeuche

Categories: Engineering


Auburn Engineering researchers awarded NASA grant to aid in future moon landings

3/17/2020 4:21:44 AM      

Auburn University researchers recently received a grant from NASA through the organization’s Early Stage Innovations 2019 initiative for a project that aims to aid in future moon landings.

David Scarborough, assistant professor in aerospace engineering, serves as the principal investigator for a three-year, $538,789 grant, titled “Non-intrusive Approaches to Full-domain, Scaling-law Based Experimental Investigation of Crater Formation and Plume-surface Interaction Dynamics.” Scarborough is joined on this project by three co-investigators from Auburn’s Department of Aerospace Engineering: assistant professors Vrishank Raghav and Masatoshi Hirabayashi as well as Brian Thurow, the W. Allen and Martha Reed Professor and department chair.

“In the next decade, NASA is prioritizing returning humans safely to the moon, deploying scientific instruments on a variety of extraterrestrial bodies and ultimately enabling human exploration of Mars,” Scarborough said. “One of the most significant obstacles to achieving these objectives is our limited understanding of plume-surface interactions leading to crater evolution and lunar dust formation during descent and touch-down.”

The multi-disciplinary research team includes experts in propulsion, fluid mechanics, optical diagnostics and planetary science. The project centers on improving scientific understanding of plume-surface interactions, including the 3D crater evolution process and particle-jet interactions, caused by the interaction of rocket exhaust plumes with the planetary surface, under sub-atmospheric conditions using a multi-pronged non-intrusive diagnostic approach.

NASA selected 14 university research-led proposals, including three in the area of plume-surface interactions. These grants fund ambitious projects to mature and develop technology for future NASA missions.

“There are talented researchers outside of NASA, working at universities across the country, who are poised to help us look at challenging aspects of space exploration in new ways,” said Walt Engelund, deputy associate administrator of programs within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. “With the help of these institutions and principal investigators, NASA will accelerate innovation for critical space technologies.”

BY DREW DAWS

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

Dr. David ScarboroughDavid Scarborough, assistant professor, Auburn University Department of Aerospace Engineering

Categories: Engineering


Department head emeritus named fellow of National Academy of Inventors

2/27/2020 2:02:47 PM      

David Irwin, emeritus head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Irwin was one of 168 prolific academic innovators from around the globe inducted into this year’s class of fellows.

The NAI fellows program recognizes academicians “who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society,” according to NAI.

“Being selected as an NAI fellow is one of the highest professional distinctions an academic inventor can earn,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “This is a fitting recognition for Dave’s accomplishments in conducting pioneering research and driving the development of new technologies in the field of electrical and computer engineering.”

In addition to his innovative research, Irwin is also author and co-author of numerous publications, papers, patents and presentations, including nine textbooks, some of which have been translated into foreign languages. One of the textbooks, “Basic Engineering Circuit Analysis,” is in the 12th edition and has been used nationally and internationally for 35 years.

Irwin’s accomplishments have afforded him prominent standing in the field of electrical and computer engineering. He is a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in addition to being an inductee into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.

Media Contact: Chris Anthony, chris.anthony@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447

BY CHRIS ANTHONY

David Irwin

Categories: Engineering, Auburn In the News


Auburn University civil engineering assistant professor earns major NSF Award

1/29/2020 11:05:52 AM      

An assistant professor in the Auburn University Department of Civil Engineering has been recognized with a National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation Award worth more than $865,000.

Lauren Beckingham, who was also awarded an NSF Faculty Early CAREER Development Award in 2019, will serve as the principal investigator on the project, with the award supporting the acquisition of an X-ray Computed Nanotomography (nanoCT) system equipped with in-situ mechanical and thermal material testing that enables fundamental research in biological, geological and engineered materials.

This project will advance critical research in additive manufacturing, biomedical engineering, earth and environmental systems, energy and smart materials and sustainable, resilient infrastructure materials.

“In the few short years she has been at Auburn, Lauren has proven herself to be an incredible asset to our faculty, with her work being recognized by the NSF and other prestigious organizations,” said Steve Taylor, associate dean for research in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “This award further highlights the success of our faculty and the research being conducted here at Auburn.”

Co-principal investigators on the project include Maria Auad, the W. Allen and Martha Reed Professor of chemical engineering and director of the Center for Polymer and Advanced Composites; Allan David, the John W. Brown Associate Professor of chemical engineering; Nima Shamsaei, the Philpott-WestPoint Stevens Distinguished Associate Professor and director of the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence; and Marta Miletić, assistant professor of civil engineering. 

This award will provide new research, outreach, teaching and training opportunities to students, faculty and staff at Auburn University and regional institutions.

Funds will allow high-imaging resolutions and in-situ testing capabilities that will be leveraged to enhance understanding of porosity formation and the integrity of additively manufactured parts, materials for biomedical applications and design of novel nanoparticle-based drug therapies, hydro-chemical-mechanical processes in natural and engineered geomaterials, structure-property relationships and design of energy and smart polymeric materials.

In addition, the project will enrich education through integration into undergraduate and graduate courses and will encourage underrepresented students to pursue STEM fields through inclusion in outreach activities including Auburn University's Women in Engineering camps and the Engineering Academic Excellence Program. 

BY DREW DAWS

Media Contact: Austin Phillips, austinp@auburn.edu, 334-844-2444

Dr. Lauren Beckingham

Lauren Beckingham

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Auburn researchers receive NSF grant for interdisciplinary additive nanomanufacturing research

1/24/2020 9:32:58 AM      

Two Auburn Engineering faculty members have been awarded a $400,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to advance the science of additive nanomanufacturing of multifunctional materials and hybrid structures.

The project is led by Masoud Mahjouri-Samani, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Nima Shamsaei, director of Auburn University’s National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME).

The grant will support research to develop an additive nanomanufacturing platform capable of producing multifunctional nanoparticles on demand to fabricate durable hybrid structures and devices layer-by-layer. Printing nano-scale multifunctional materials is challenging because of minimal source materials and inadequate fabrication systems.

As principal investigator, Mahjouri-Samani will generate a stream of multifunctional materials, sinter them on a submicroscopic scale using laser technology and study their behaviors on various printed surfaces.   

“Today, additive manufacturing is mainly focused on metallic and structural components, which are not functional materials,” Mahjouri-Samani said. “What we proposed here is to combine our knowledge of additive manufacturing with a variety of multifunctional materials and, for the first time, creating multifunctional devices that can be printed on any conformal surface. We are hoping this technique can revolutionize the way we are printing multifunctional and electronic devices.”

One of the challenges the researchers face in this project is ensuring the robustness and long-term functionality of these materials. Shamsaei, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, will lend his expertise by evaluating the durability and structural integrity of the 3D-printed hybrid structures.

“We are definitely excited about having this technology and research at Auburn,” Shamsaei said. “At our additive manufacturing center, most of our capabilities lie in fabricating metallic materials with micro-level accuracy. This research will be a new addition not only to our center, but also to the field of additive manufacturing.”

This project has the potential to benefit the U.S. economy through its applications in aerospace, energy, biomedical and the automotive industries by conducting fundamental research on the intersection of additive manufacturing and nanotechnology. Visit the NSF website for more information about the project.

BY BRIAN WESLEY

Media Contact: Chris Anthony, chris.anthony@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447                                             

Nima Shamsaei, director of Auburn University's National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME), with Masoud Mahjouri-Samani, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering

Categories: Engineering


Engineering professor made Auburn the place to study fracture mechanics

1/10/2020 9:05:21 AM      

Hareesh Tippur likes to ask why and how.

Why do materials bend? Why do they break? How do structures fail?

Failure of materials and structures is inevitable as they all contain invisible defects. That’s what keeps Tippur fascinated with fracture mechanics—the science of studying objects containing cracks—at Auburn University.

Tippur, the McWane Professor of Mechanical Engineering and associate chair for graduate studies in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, is one of this year’s two recipients of the university’s Faculty Award for Creative Research and Scholarship. The honor acknowledges the research achievements and contributions of faculty who have distinguished themselves through research, scholarly works and creative contributions to their fields.

It may seem odd to hear that anyone studies failure, but everyone should be glad someone does.

Take for instance, an airplane. The impact from a pebble or tool drop takes micro seconds to cause a miniscule crack in a fuselage, but it may not produce significant visible damage until the airplane is racing down the runway at 170 mph or flying at 30,000 feet. Tippur wants to understand the safety of that fuselage.

Fracture mechanics is all about understanding why engineering materials, such as carbon fiber reinforced composite or aluminum, fail, how they fail and how to prevent such failures.

Tippur said fracture prevention is the ultimate goal, but one must first understand the material’s behavior—how, when and why something bends, breaks or fails.

Rather than manufacturing airplanes with aluminum, carbon fiber reinforced composites are increasingly used because they are half the weight and twice as strong as aluminum.

“Therefore, it’s not just aluminum anymore. The new airplane structures contain over 50 percent composite materials. What is a composite material? Microscopically it is mats of carbon fibers and glued with epoxy that you use to fix things around your house,” said Tippur. “That’s basically it.”

Composite materials are inherently complex in terms of microstructure and catastrophic failures are possible, if the design is poor.

“In order for you to design it very well, you need to understand the fracture mechanics of such materials very well,” he said.

Engineering from the start

Growing up in India, Tippur was likely destined for a career in engineering. The son of a civil engineer, he was initially fascinated with civil structures and then airplanes. His plan was to get an advanced degree and do research at an aerospace or defense industry in his native country.

It is during his thesis research at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Tippur developed his fascination with structural failure. With an advanced degree, Tippur spent about a year working at one of India’s defense research and development labs. The experience wasn’t what he had expected, so his advisor suggested he go to the United States for a doctoral degree.

The advisor had done so, eventually returning to India to teach future engineers and perhaps Tippur could do the same.

At the State University of New York-Stony Brook, Tippur continued to focus on why and how structural materials fail. He learned to use lasers and light to make sophisticated measurement and study fractures in materials. He couldn’t solve the problem then, let alone today.

No one can.

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the problem has evaded researchers because structural materials continue to advance. As long as new materials are produced and totted for particular qualities, there can only be specific answers to why it would inevitably fail.

Take automobiles, for instance. Steel was primarily used for decades because it was structurally strong, but then lighter materials like aluminum, composites and plastic came along, making automobiles lighter and more fuel efficient. This trend is bound to continue.

Tippur said today’s challenge is to create materials that meet multiple requirements, such as lightweight, strong, tough yet sustainable and reusable. A material that “checks all these boxes” is a long, long, long-term goal of materials engineers, he said.

Studying Behavior

After SUNY, Tippur was did post-doc work at Caltech, where he devised optical tools to measure high speed fracture events.

“Materials behave very differently in slow and fast loading events, like squeezing a wad of silly putty or bouncing it off the floor,” he said. “How fractures occur at high speeds therefore aren’t like the slow speed ones.

“The human eye can see a slow loading event, but a fast one, like cracking of a glass window, happens too quickly for humans to perceive.”

Tippur uses light and high-speed photography to capture what we can’t see.

“The latest camera we have here records events at 5 million frames per second. It’s hard to convince people we can do that,” he admitted. “But it is necessary because fracture events during projectile impact, shock and blast happen extremely fast, like mile-a-second speed crack growth occurs in glass when impacted. For me to understand the full spectrum of material behavior, I need to understand what happens at very high speeds and at small scales.”

Tippur came to Auburn in 1990. He liked the proximity to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and the fact that no one was studying fracture mechanics on the Plains.

“I thought I could contribute something new at Auburn,” he said.

And he has.

“Now any time fracture mechanics, particularly high-speed fractures, come to anybody’s mind, they think of Auburn, and hopefully me,” Tippur said.

Certainly Tippur has had opportunities to teach and conduct research elsewhere over the past 29 years, but there are some significant factors that have kept him here.

“I am fortunate to have attracted many good students over the years. I have also been successful in gathering resources to build cutting-edge facilities here,” he admitted. “If not, I would have looked elsewhere.”

Tippur said he maintains high standards for his undergraduate and graduate students and strives to be a good mentor to them.

“Any student who walks into my lab knows they are signing up for something interesting, unique, but at the same time, very challenging,” he said.

To Tippur, earning the Faculty Award is a testament to his students and the work they produce together. Many of his students go on to work at national labs, Fortune 500 companies or academia because of Tippur and an Auburn Engineering education.

“It makes this job quite satisfying to hear their success stories,” he said. “I’m still full of ideas, so as long as there are resources and the school keeps encouraging me to do what I am good at, I’ll keep plugging away.”

BY AMY WEAVER

Hareesh Tippur, the McWane Professor of Mechanical Engineering and associate chair for graduate studies in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering

 

 

Categories: Engineering


Auburn Engineering posts banner year in research

12/20/2019 11:21:27 AM      

The Auburn University Samuel Ginn College of Engineering posted a banner year for externally sponsored research awards in fiscal year 2019, bringing in $59.6 million in awards from Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019.

“I give full credit to our faculty. They are helping us compete against the best research institutions in the country,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “Their outstanding research and scholarship are driving our college and Auburn University forward, and I am confident that their continued work will sustain us among the nation’s top engineering research institutions.”

In addition, Auburn Engineering’s research expenditures have placed the college in the top 10% of engineering institutions for the past 15 years, according to data from the American Society of Engineering Education.

Notable research awards from this year include: 

Auburn Engineering has five strategic research areas that form the heart of the college’s research portfolio: advanced manufacturing and materials; cybersecurity and intelligent systems; energy and environment; infrastructure and transportation; and biomedical and health systems engineering. 

Read more about Auburn Engineering’s research at eng.auburn.edu/research.

BY CHRIS ANTHONY

Researchers are pictured in assistant professor Masoud Mahjouri-Samani's Laser-Assisted Science and Engineering lab.

Categories: Engineering


NASA awards $5.2 million contract to Auburn University’s National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence

4/4/2019 8:10:29 AM      

Public-private partnership to improve liquid rocket engine performance

Published: April 01, 2019

 

Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering today announced that NASA has awarded a $5.2 million contract to its National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence, or NCAME, to develop additive manufacturing processes and techniques for improving the performance of liquid rocket engines. The three-year contract is the latest expansion of a longstanding public-private partnership between Auburn and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

“For decades, Auburn engineers have been instrumental in helping the U.S. achieve its space exploration goals,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “This new collaboration between NASA and our additive manufacturing researchers will play a major role in developing advanced rocket engines that will drive long-duration spaceflight, helping our nation achieve its bold vision for the future of space exploration.”

The research and development covered under the new contract is part of NASA’s Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology, or RAMPT, project, which focuses on evolving light-weight, large-scale novel and additive manufacturing techniques for the development and manufacturing of regeneratively cooled thrust chamber assemblies for liquid rocket engines.

“This partnership with Auburn University and industry will help develop improvements for liquid rocket engines, as well as contribute to commercial opportunities,” said Paul McConnaughey, deputy director of Marshall Space Flight Center. “The technologies developed by this team will be made available widely to the private sector, offering more companies the opportunity to use these advanced manufacturing techniques.”

NCAME will support the RAMPT project in creating a domestic supply chain and developing specialized manufacturing technology vendors to be utilized by all government agencies, academic institutions and commercial space companies. The announcement was made at the biannual four-day meeting of ASTM International’s Committee on Additive Manufacturing Technologies (F42) hosted by Auburn University at the Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort & Spa at Grand National in Opelika, Alabama.

Auburn University and NASA established NCAME in 2017 to improve the performance of parts that are created using additive manufacturing, share research results with industry and government collaborators and respond to workforce development needs in the additive manufacturing industry. The center is also one of the founding partners of the newly established ASTM International Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence at Auburn.

Leading Auburn’s team as principal investigator for the RAMPT project is Nima Shamsaei, NCAME director. Serving as project manager is Mike Ogles, director of NASA programs in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

“This contract is a giant leap towards making Alabama the ‘go to state’ for additive manufacturing,” Ogles said. “We look forward to growing our partnership with NASA, industry and academia as we support the development of our nation’s next rocket engines.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.

Categories: Engineering


Nearly 600 Auburn students showcasing their research and creativity April 9 at Auburn Research Student Symposium

3/21/2019 9:40:30 AM      

Nearly 600 Auburn University students with a flair for research and creativity will showcase their talents when they gather for the annual Auburn Research Student Symposium.

With projects ranging from chemical engineering to plant pathology to architecture and design, the symposium on April 9 will provide Auburn and Auburn Montgomery students an opportunity to share their discoveries university-wide. The daylong event will take place in the Student Center.

Undergraduate and graduate students from almost every department have registered to participate through posters, oral presentations and creative scholarship displays. Approximately 400 of the young researchers will present posters and displays more than 180 will give 10-minute talks, all under the watchful eyes of judges who will award top honors in a variety of university-wide and college-specific categories.

An awards ceremony and reception will be held April 18 at 5 p.m. in the Student Center ballroom. The keynote speaker will be Michael Zabala, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Auburn in 2007.

Steve Taylor, chair of the Research Symposia Committee and associate dean for research in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, said, “Our students’ innovative research covers many areas, from projects in STEM disciplines [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] to the arts and humanities. They are working with our world-class faculty on life-changing projects that could shape new developments in many fields.”

Following the April 9 symposium, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry George P. Smith will visit Auburn University and the College of Veterinary Medicine April 10-11. Professor Smith will present a public lecture at 2 p.m. April 10 in The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center auditorium, which will be followed by a reception. On April 11, he will be available to meet with faculty and students at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

A fall event, the Auburn Research Faculty Symposium, will be held in September to recognize faculty excellence in research and creative scholarship.

More information about the student symposium is available at www.aub.ie/researchstudentsymposium or by contacting Taylor at taylost@auburn.edu.

WRITTEN BY CHARLES MARTIN

Auburn students with a flair for research and creativity will showcase their talents when they gather April 9 in the Student Center for the annual Auburn Research Student Symposium. Pictured, student Elizabeth Bankston discusses her research poster with Steve Taylor, chair of the Research Symposia Committee, at last year’s symposium.

Categories: Engineering, Cyber, Energy & the Environment, Health Sciences, Transportation, Food Systems, Security, Creative Scholarship


Auburn University achieves research milestone with ‘R1’ Carnegie classification

12/18/2018 8:23:23 AM      

In another affirmation of its drive forward to excellence, Auburn University achieved a research milestone Monday - being elevated to an “R1” institution by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

The announcement follows a concerted effort by Auburn to elevate its commitment to life-saving research, beginning with an announcement by Auburn President Steven Leath in December 2017 and subsequent awarding of $5 million for three years toward the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR. An R1 designation by Carnegie is reserved for doctoral universities with the highest levels of research activity.

Among 120 institutions to receive the R1 designation Monday, Auburn was listed in the top 100 of such universities, raising its classification from an already lofty “high research” R2 classification to Monday's “very high research activity” R1 label.

“This tremendous designation acknowledges the hard work involved in the pioneering discoveries happening at Auburn every day,” said Leath, who was recently named one of seven new members appointed by President Trump to the National Science Board, a policy-making body of the National Science Foundation. “We are grateful to the university’s faculty and staff, especially Graduate School Dean George Flowers, for their unwavering commitment to elevating Auburn’s profile as a world-class academic institution.

“Auburn is on the move, and this prestigious distinction recognizes Auburn’s critical role in creating new knowledge and helping others live better lives.”

Universities considered for the R1 designation must have awarded at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees and had at least $5 million in total research expenditures, according to Carnegie’s classification website. Auburn has grown its research efforts in both STEM and non-STEM areas, furthering its institutional commitment to offer solutions to real-world problems and grow its reputation as a go-to university in providing results that transform and inspire.

“Auburn University is known for its innovative and transformational research, and receiving the R1 classification is a significant accomplishment,” said Jennifer Kerpelman, interim vice president for research. “This classification recognizes the dedication, commitment and hard work of Auburn’s faculty and student researchers across all disciplines.”

 

Dr. Amal Kaddoumi and graduate research assistant Sweilem Al Rihani in laboratory

Dr. Amal Kaddoumi, left, a professor in Auburn’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development, works in a lab with graduate research assistant Sweilem Al Rihani. Kaddoumi is leading a multi-disciplinary team in an investigation of oleocanthal, a molecule that appears naturally in extra-virgin olive oil, as a novel preventative treatment for such diseases as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Categories: Engineering, Cyber, Energy & the Environment, Health Sciences, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Transportation, Food Systems, Auburn In the News, Creative Scholarship


Auburn, partner organizations sign agreements for additive research centers

7/24/2018 8:33:57 AM      

Auburn University, ASTM International and other partner organizations on Monday celebrated the launch of two new centers of excellence in additive manufacturing aimed at accelerating research and development, standardization and innovation in that field, also known as 3-D printing. 

Global standards developer ASTM International launched its Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence with Auburn University, NASA, manufacturing technology innovator EWI and the UK-based Manufacturing Technology Centre. Auburn and NASA also formally launched the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence

ASTM International President Katharine Morgan said, “The synergy among EWI, MTC, Auburn and NASA will help fill the gaps in technical standards that this industry needs to drive innovation. As a result, we’ll empower industries that are eager to apply additive manufacturing to aerospace, auto, medical and more.” 

AMCOE’s advisory board comprised of U.S. and international public and private sector leaders met for the first time today while other meetings involved research and development as well as education and workforce development teams. The events come on the heels of AMCOE’s international launch on July 13 at the MTC, where European industry and government officials gathered to celebrate this initiative. 

Auburn University President Steven Leath said, “Auburn is committed to growing research, solving real-world problems and establishing partnerships that support these transformative initiatives, such as our thriving additive manufacturing program. By investing in skilled researchers and first-rate facilities, we aim to drive additive technology forward and unleash its full potential. We look forward to continuing to work with our industry and government collaborators.” 

Auburn University is in the final stage of renovations to the Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory, which will in part house additive manufacturing research funded through the centers.

Auburn was selected for the two research partnerships in March. 

Media Contact: Chris Anthony, chris.anthony@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447                                             

Components made through additive manufacturing are shown in the additive manufacturing lab in Wiggins Hall at Auburn University.

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences, Transportation, External Engagement


Lall receives advisory board's Advancement of Research and Scholarship Achievement Award

7/9/2018 1:12:34 PM      

At its recent spring meeting, Auburn University’s Research and Economic Development Advisory Board selected Pradeep Lall, the McFarlane Endowed Professor in Auburn’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, as the 2018 recipient of its Advancement of Research and Scholarship Achievement Award. The award recognizes Lall for his research achievements in the fields of harsh-environment electronics and flexible electronics.

The advisory board is made up of more than 40 industry professionals from across the country who actively support Auburn’s research efforts. The group established the award in 2014 to recognize significant research and scholarly activity that exemplify and advance Auburn’s research and scholarship mission. The recipient of the annual award receives a $25,000 grant to further his or her research.

Lall, director of Auburn’s NSF Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics, is the author or co-author of two books, 14 book chapters and more than 500 journal and conference papers in the field of electronics reliability, safety, energy efficiency, and survivability. He serves on the NextFlex Institute’s technical council and governing council. Lall spearheaded research efforts in flexible electronics and led Auburn’s proposal team for the NextFlex Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute.

A fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Lall has received numerous awards for his research. He is the recipient of the IEEE Sustained Outstanding Technical Contributions Award in 2018 and the National Science Foundation Schwarzkopf Award for Technology Innovation in 2016. With significant funding from public-private partnerships, Lall’s work has proven beneficial to the aerospace and automotive industries and in military vehicles and defense systems.

“The Research and Economic Development Advisory Board has made a great choice in honoring Dr. Lall with this award,” said Jennifer Kerpelman, Auburn’s interim vice president for research. “He is a very accomplished researcher with a strong track record, and his work is a great asset to Auburn University,” she added.

Lall’s research focuses on the development of methods for assuring survivability of electronics to high shock forces, vibration and extreme temperatures. He is best known for his research in the areas of reliability and prognostics for electronic systems operating in harsh environments, such as:

  • Combined exposure to temperature and vibration under the hood of an automobile for electronics mounted on-engine or on-transmission;
  • Extreme cold or extreme hot environmental temperatures for prolonged periods of time experienced in military and defense applications;
  • High g-forces experienced by electronics inside missiles;
  • Corrosive attack of salt fog for electronics operating on ships at sea.

“Electronic systems have taken an increasingly important role in automotive design and operation,” Lall said. “Traditional automotive electronics at one time consisted of climate control and entertainment systems. Roll the clock forward to the present day, and automotive electronics have expanded to include driving assists such as antilock braking systems, traction control systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems and more. Failure of one of these systems is no longer an inconvenience; it may be critical to the safe operation of the vehicle.”

Dr. Pradeep LallPradeep Lall, McFarlane Endowed Professor in Auburn’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been named by Auburn’s Research and Economic Development Advisory Board as the 2018 recipient of its Advancement of Research and Scholarship Achievement Award.

Categories: Engineering


Lall wins IEEE Outstanding Sustained Technical Contributions Award

6/21/2018 10:57:07 AM      

Pradeep Lall, MacFarlane Endowed Professor in department of mechanical engineering, is the 2018 recipient of the IEEE’s outstanding Sustained Technical Contributions Award for outstanding sustained contributions to the design, reliability and prognostics for harsh environment electronics systems.  

The award recognized Lall’s seminal contributions to the field of harsh environment electronics. Lall is widely credited with the development of leading indicators of failure for prognostics health management of electronic systems to allow for early identification of faults that may impair system operation. Lall is the author and co-author of over 500 journal and conference papers in the field of electronics reliability, safety, energy efficiency, and survivability. 

"This award is recognition of Dr. Lall's international reputation and the impact of his contributions to state-of-the-art innovation," said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. "His work has positioned Auburn Engineering to be a leader in harsh environment electronics."

“Electronics is pervasive in today’s consumer products and many of the functions are safety critical”, Lall said. “Take present day automobiles -- electronics enables much of the safety critical circuitry in present-day cars," Lall said. "Examples include lane-departure warning systems, collision avoidance systems and park and drive assist systems. Given the level of criticality and the need for continued reliable operation, it is important that problems be identified much prior to catastrophic failure. Much of the electronics resides under the hood of the automobile where temperatures and vibration loads are very high. Ensuring survivability for sustained operation of electronics is a continuing evolving challenge with the miniaturization of electronics.” 

Lall joined the Auburn faculty in 2002 after a distinguished industry career at Motorola, where he worked on the development and manufacture of wireless products such as cellphones and two-way radios. 

Lall is a fellow of the IEEE. The award was conferred at the IEEE Electronic Components and Technology Conference (ECTC), a premier international event attended by more than 1,700 attendees in San Diego in May. Lall received $3,000 and a certificate for his achievements. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology.  

Lall is also a member of the Technical Council and Governing Council of NextFlex and is director of the NSF Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics at Auburn University. He has previously been recognized by the National Science Foundations-IUCRC’s Schwarzkopf Prize for Technology Innovation in 2016.  Lall is the recipient of The Alabama Academy of Science Wright A. Gardener Award, the IEEE Exceptional Technical Achievement Award, ASME-EPPD Applied Mechanics Award, SMTA’s Member of Technical Distinction Award, Auburn University’s Creative Research and Scholarship Award, the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering Senior Faculty Research Award, and 20 best paper awards at national and international conferences.

BY TERI GREENE

Media Contact: Teri Greene, tag0036@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591                                            

 

Pradeep Lall and Avram Bar-Cohen

 

 

 

 

Pradeep Lall, MacFarlane Endowed Professor at Auburn University, left. receiving the Outstanding Sustained Contributions Award from Avram Bar-Cohen, President of IEEE Electronic Packaging Society at ECTC 2018 in San Diego.

 

 

 

Categories: Engineering


Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR) Announced

6/21/2018 10:43:34 AM      

Auburn research teams are tackling local and global challenges ranging from housing affordability to advanced manufacturing of medical implants, thanks to a new $5 million investment in 11 groundbreaking projects designed to deliver practical, life-changing solutions.

“Auburn research is on the move,” said Auburn President Steven Leath. “Our world-renowned faculty are leading Auburn in our drive to solve problems, provide real-world benefits and serve the social good.”

Today’s announcement is part of an initiative funded through the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR, that Leath created last year to propel Auburn to new levels of research and development distinction. The PAIR funding will span three years. Additional research topics include rural health disparities in poverty-stricken areas, treating the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, neuroscience research and graduate education, reducing carbon dioxide emissions or using them for other means, and other critical areas of human and environmental health.

Project teams were selected from three award tiers: Tier 1 for new teams, with funding up to $100,000 per year; Tier 2 for established teams, with funding up to $250,000 per year; and Tier 3 for high-impact teams, with funding up to $500,000 per year. All proposals received an in-depth evaluation from Auburn’s associate deans for research, and Tier 3 proposals were also externally evaluated. Top-evaluated proposals were those that most closely aligned with the goals of PAIR as stated in the program guidelines. From 101 proposals received, 11 project teams will receive funding (the two top-evaluated proposals per tier for up to three years of funding, as well as five additional, top-evaluated Tier 1 proposals for two years of funding with a third-year no-cost extension available).

Project teams to receive funding are:


Project: Creating better bio-medical implants for patients in need using additive manufacturing, or “3D Printing” (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers plan to develop improved implants/orthotics for those with neuromuscular and skeletal system needs through the process of additive manufacturing. This process, also known as “3D printing,” allows for more customizable implants for small animals and humans and the possibility of embedded drugs in implants to ward off infections that can sometimes follow implant surgeries.

The Auburn solution: Research will take place to ensure “3-D printed” biomedical implants will remain durable during use and conform well to a patient’s needs while serving as a reliable drug-delivery source that can offer injury-triggered pain relief. The additive manufacturing process also helps reduce implant production costs.


Project: Unlocking Home Affordability and Prosperity in Rural America (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers are focusing on helping those in poor, rural areas gain greater access to resources that will ultimately lead them to finding affordable housing options.

The Auburn solution: Auburn researchers will work toward the creation of a National Institute of Rural Prosperity that will foster partnerships to help rural residents more easily overcome barriers to home ownership, including mortgage lending, home insurance and local ordinances and policies.


Project: Reducing the burden of neurological disease by increasing fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system (Tier 2; $637,500 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers will work to mitigate against mental, neurological and substance use disorders, which make up a substantial proportion of the world’s disease burden.

The Auburn solution: A team of experts in chemistry, physiology, development, degeneration, and imaging of the brain will collaborate to develop a neuroscience center to increase fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.


Project: A Mobile Mitochondria Laboratory (AU MitoMobile) to Lead the World in Measuring Bioenergetics in Natural Settings (Tier 2; $636,941 total funding over three years)

The issue: Because the successful study of genetic and environmental impacts on mitochondria (the energy-providing part of the cellular makeup of plants and animals) can be severely limited in a laboratory setting, Auburn researchers will collaborate to build a mobile laboratory to bring this research to field sites.

The Auburn solution: A team of evolutionary biologists, environmental biologists, exercise physiologists and engineers will develop a mobile laboratory for measuring mitochondrial energy production of vertebrates at remote locations, such as oil spill sites and other places where environmental disturbances have damaged the health of local wildlife.


Project: Rural African American Aging Research (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers will assess the psychosocial stressors that can contribute to the problem of rural African Americans having a lower life expectancy and a faster progression of age-related diseases. Research in this area has the potential to inform health-promoting interventions and polices and lead to health and social equity.

The Auburn solution: PAIR funding will be used to establish a sustainable research structure in east-central Alabama focused on improving health in that community and beyond by partnering with surrounding communities. The ultimate goal is to grow the scientific knowledge of how psychosocial risk factors can accelerate aging among African Americans.


Project: Reducing and reusing carbon dioxide emissions for useful means (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers seek to combat the dire environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions through a plan to reduce such emissions and store or utilize them for other useful means.

The Auburn solution: Researchers will work toward the development of an Alabama CO2 Utilization and Storage Center at Auburn University, with a goal of establishing Auburn as a leader in carbon dioxide utilization and storage research focused on best ways to capture CO2 emissions and convert them into helpful forms such as green fuels.


Project: Extra-virgin olive oil examined for uses in treating hallmarks of Alzheimer’s (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn researchers are examining the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil for its potential to have a positive effect on the disease hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease. The research team is seeking to conduct more research into this area to determine the viability of findings for humans.

The Auburn solution: A multidisciplinary team will be assembled to conduct a pilot study on the positive effects of extra-virgin olive oil and to produce data for a strong human clinical trial to be submitted to funding agencies.


Project: Drugs from Dirt: Development and Characterization of Novel Antimicrobial Compounds (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Because many disease-causing organisms are resistant to current drug therapies, Auburn scientists are pursuing new approaches to the development of antibiotics.

The Auburn solution: Researchers will test and develop new therapeutic strategies for treating infectious diseases, through the study of antiobiotic-producing bacterial cultures they have discovered in soil. These are potentially life-saving antibiotics that could have application in human medicine, agriculture, and veterinary practice.


Project: Creating a Climate Information System to aid in planning for climate-related disasters (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn researchers will create a climate service model that will help guide decision making in planning for climate-related disasters that can cause great economic and social damage.

The Auburn solution: A cross-disciplinary team of investigators will develop a science-based, Unified Climate Information System to better inform planning, policy and practices at regional, national and global scales. In addition to exploring emerging climate data, the research will seek to improve and integrate impact models for water quantity, water quality, crop growth and disease transmission simulations. The project also will include the creation of an interactive website platform, with all work being focused on the southeastern U.S. and being easily adaptable to other locations worldwide.


Project: Emerging Contaminants Research Team (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn experts are conducting research into newly recognized environmental contaminants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have not been studied sufficiently to determine their impact on the environment and their possible health risks to humans and wildlife.

The Auburn solution: This Auburn research team will use its expertise in civil engineering, pharmacology, aquatic sciences, and other key areas to collaborate on focused research into the effects of these and other previously understudied contaminants, to increase knowledge and public awareness of risk factors.


Project: Development of the AU-NASH Research Program (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn researchers are seeking solutions to the problem of nonalcoholic steatotic hepatitis, or NASH, the most severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and perhaps the most significant form of chronic liver disease in the world today, which has no current approved therapies available.

The Auburn solution: The research team will work to address this urgent, unmet medical need by developing a disease therapy program to increase positive outcomes for those suffering from liver disease.


For more details on each PAIR project and how Auburn is inspiring as a leading provider of life-changing research, creative scholarship and community engagement, visit auburn.edu/auburninspires.

BY JONATHAN CULLUM AND PRESTON SPARKS

research laboratory

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment, Health Sciences, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Food Systems


SEC's Auburn University Faculty Achievement Award presented to chemical engineering professor

8/18/2017 2:45:35 PM      

Auburn University and the Southeastern Conference have announced that Professor Bruce Tatarchuk of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering has been honored with the SEC's Auburn University Faculty Achievement Award for 2015.

Tatarchuk, chemical engineering professor and director of Auburn's Microfibrous Materials Manufacturing Center, will receive a $5,000 honorarium, and he becomes Auburn's nominee for the SEC Professor of the Year, who will be selected from 14 nominees representing SEC universities.

"Dr. Tatarchuk has an outstanding record of accomplishment and he has greatly enhanced the prestige of Auburn University," said Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University and past president of the Southeastern Conference. "This award is a testament to his dedication to his profession, students and colleagues."

The SEC Faculty Achievement Awards, created to recognize faculty accomplishments, scholarly contributions and discoveries, were established by the SEC presidents and chancellors and are administered by the SEC provosts. The awards were first presented in 2012.

"Dr. Tatarchuk epitomizes the character of a university professor who has excelled inside and outside the classroom," said Timothy Boosinger, Auburn University provost and vice president for academic affairs. "His accomplishments include being recently appointed the Charles E. Gavin III Endowed Chair in the College of Engineering and also named as a 2014 Fellow to the National Academy of Inventors in recognition of exceptional accomplishments in innovation and invention to benefit society."

Each recipient of the SEC Faculty Achievement Award must be a full professor at an SEC university, have a performance history of extraordinary teaching and a record of scholarship that is recognized nationally or internationally.

"I am humbled to receive this tremendous honor from Auburn University and the SEC," Tatarchuk said. "I would like to thank the university and my fantastic colleagues in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and all across campus for providing such an excellent environment for faculty, student and stakeholder success."

Tatarchuk's discoveries have resulted in 12 U.S. patents and a large number of foreign patents. His work focuses on chemical interactions occurring at solid surfaces and he has pioneered the design and development of microfibrous entrapped sorbents, catalysts and electrocatalysts which facilitate extremely high levels of chemical reactivity. This work has led to the commercialization of numerous products, including double layer capacitors, advanced batteries, polishing sorbents, heterogeneous catalysts, filters and thermal and electrical conduction aids. These products impact hundreds of millions of users each year. He is a 2001 co-founder of IntraMicron Inc., a Delaware corporation and small business operating in Auburn, Alabama.

Tatarchuk began his career at Auburn in 1982 after earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1976 and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1981. He won Auburn's Creative Research Award in 2003.
By Charles Martin
 

Bruce Tatarchuk

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Auburn University hosting forum: Additive Manufacturing – The Next Industrial Revolution

8/18/2017 2:16:55 PM      

On July 30, 2015, Auburn University will be hosting a by invitation only forum on industrialized additive manufacturing.

Experts will discuss the application of this advanced technology for industries ranging from aerospace to biotechnology.  Industry leaders from GE Aviation, GKN, NASA, Carpenter Technology, Alabama Laser, U.S. Army Aviation and faculty from Auburn University, University of Alabama, UAH and University of Memphis will describe the role their organizations are playing in developing, implementing and utilizing new processes and computer-aided hardware and software to produce components from material and composites once considered exotic.

A keynote address will be given by Greg Morris, the General Manager of Additive Technologies for GE Aviation.

To learn more about this day-long forum and networking reception to follow, or if you are interested in attending, please email forum organizers at auees@auburn.edu.

Additive Manufacturing Forum

Categories: Engineering, Cyber, Energy & the Environment, Health Sciences, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Transportation, Food Systems


Auburn engineering alumnus named deputy director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

8/18/2017 2:14:52 PM      

Todd May, a 1990 alumnus of Auburn University in materials engineering, has been named deputy director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He will help manage the center's nearly 6,000 civil service and contractor employees and $2.5 billion annual budget.

Since 2011, May served as manager of the Space Launch System, a new large rocket that replaces the space shuttle to take astronauts and probes into space. The rocket is one of NASA's top three priority projects, with May overseeing its development at Marshall through its in-depth critical design review in July.

Previously, May managed the agency's robotic lunar program including the successful launch of two lunar probes in 2009. He also served as deputy associate administrator in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as the deputy manager of Marshall's Science and Mission Systems Office in a dual role as associate program manager of the Constellation Program, which looks to reenergize NASA human spaceflight efforts.

May has been honored with NASA's Exceptional Achievement Medal and Leadership Medal, the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive and the John W. Hager Award for professionalism in materials engineering. In 2014, he received Aviation Week's Program Excellence Award. May was named the Distinguished Auburn Engineer by Auburn's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering in 2012 and received the college's Outstanding Auburn Engineer Award in 2010.

May and his wife, Kelly, have four children and reside in Huntsville, Alabama.

Todd May

Categories: Engineering, Auburn In the News


Auburn University’s Pradeep Lall to lead national manufacturing center on harsh environment electronics

8/18/2017 2:13:59 PM      

Auburn University has been selected to lead a national manufacturing effort on harsh environment electronics as part of a U.S. Department of Defense led flexible hybrid electronics institute.

On Friday, Aug. 28, at NASA's Ames Research Center, Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced a cooperative agreement to the research consortium FlexTech Alliance to establish and manage a Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics, or FHE MII.

FlexTech Alliance, based in San Jose, California, will coordinate the FHE MII, which comprises 96 companies, 11 laboratories and non-profits, 43 universities and 15 state and regional organizations. Auburn University will head the only node in the state of Alabama.

Leading Auburn's node on harsh environments is Pradeep Lall, the John and Anne MacFarlane endowed professor of mechanical engineering and director of Auburn's NSF Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics, or CAVE.

"This establishment will provide engineers with the integrated skills and theoretical background for the manufacture of flexible hybrid electronics for extreme environment applications," said Lall. "It will create intellectual property and expenditures on research, education and related activities, as well as catalyze development of technologies which can be manufactured in the state. We have developed strategic partnerships with industry and research labs in Alabama and nationally for development and demonstration of technologies for harsh environment operation."

The institute will be awarded $75 million in federal funding over a five-year period and is being matched by more than $96 million in cost sharing from non-federal sources including private companies, universities, not-for-profit organizations and several states, including Alabama.

"The strength of the institute will stem from the strong support and previous work of our partner organizations," said Michael Ciesinski, CEO of FlexTech Alliance. "Auburn University's strong work in utilizing electronics in harsh environments will lend the institute a huge advantage in the special needs for that environment. We look forward to collaborating with the excellent team there and the CAVE facility."

In addition to defense, the institute's activities will benefit a wide range of markets including automotive, communications, consumer electronics, medical devices, health care, transportation and logistics and agriculture.

"I am pleased that Auburn University is a partner in this national organization, and that Dr. Lall is leading the way for its initiatives on harsh environments," said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. "The institute represents an innovative collaboration between the public and private sectors and has the potential to make a huge impact on our nation as we continue to embrace advanced manufacturing."

The new institute is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation program. The FHE MII is the seventh manufacturing innovation institute announced and the fifth under Department of Defense management. The institutes are intended to bridge the gap between applied research and large-scale product manufacturing, and it is anticipated that Auburn's harsh environment node will create technologies for the benefit of the nation's commercial and national defense interests.

Published: 08/31/2015

By: Morgan Stashick

Pradeep Lall

Categories: Engineering, Auburn In the News


Auburn University researcher wins National Science Foundation award for technological innovation

8/18/2017 2:12:12 PM      

Auburn University mechanical engineering professor Pradeep Lall has received a top National Science Foundation award for his work as director of Auburn's Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics, or CAVE3. His research includes developing methods for protecting electronics in harsh environments.

Lall, the John and Anne MacFarlane Endowed Professor in Auburn's Department of Mechanical Engineering, was recently awarded the 2016 Alexander Schwarzkopf Prize for Technological Innovation from the National Science Foundation's Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers program.

"This award is reaffirmation of Dr. Lall's national reputation and recognition of his seminal contributions to the field of mechanical engineering," said Christopher Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. "His work has positioned Auburn Engineering to be a leader in harsh environment electronics research as we address the challenges in this exciting field."

Lall's research focuses on the development of methods for assuring survivability of electronics to high shock forces, vibration and extreme temperatures. He is best known for his research in the areas of reliability and prognostics for electronic systems operating in harsh environments such as:

  • Combined exposure to temperature and vibration under the hood of an automobile for electronics mounted on-engine or on-transmission;
  • Extreme cold or extreme hot environmental temperatures for prolonged periods of time experienced in military and defense applications;
  • High g-forces experienced by electronics inside missiles;
  • Corrosive attack of salt fog for electronics operating on ships at sea.

"Electronic systems have taken an increasingly important role in automotive design and operation," Lall said. "Traditional automotive electronics at one time consisted of climate control and entertainment systems. Roll the clock forward to the present day and automotive electronics have expanded to include driving assists such as antilock braking systems, traction control systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems and more. Failure of one of these systems is no longer an inconvenience; it may be critical to the safe operation of the vehicle."

Founded in 1999 as the Center for Advanced Vehicle Electronics, CAVE3 has over the years expanded its expertise to include extreme environment electronics. Lall has been the center's director since 2008, following his appointment as associate director in 2004. Lall also directs Auburn's Harsh Environments Node of the NextFlex Manufacturing Institute, part of a national manufacturing effort on harsh environment electronics led by the U.S. Department of Defense.

CAVE3 partners with industry, government and academic agencies to address major technological challenges through precompetitive research on automotive and harsh environment electronics. This arrangement gives the center an opportunity to address the challenges before the technologies become commercialized.

Lall joined the Auburn faculty in 2002 after a distinguished industry career at Motorola, where he worked on the development and manufacture of wireless products such as cellphones and two-way radios.

"Dr. Lall's recognition with the Alex Schwarzkopf Prize is evidence of the societal and transformational impact that Auburn University is making on automotive and harsh environment technologies in everyday life," said John Mason, Auburn's vice president for research and economic development.

The National Science Foundation's cooperative research centers program was established in 1973 by Schwarzkopf to develop long-term research partnerships among industry, academe and government in areas of mutual interest. The Alexander Schwarzkopf Prize for Technological Innovation has been presented annually since 2003 to an individual or team at a member institution whose research makes an exemplary contribution to technology innovation. More than 100 universities and nearly a thousand researchers are members.

By: Chris Anthony

Pradeep Lall

Categories: Engineering, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Auburn In the News


Student Space Program receives NSF funding to design, build and launch satellites

8/18/2017 2:04:10 PM      

With a National Science Foundation grant secured by Auburn University faculty, undergraduate students at Auburn will design, build and test two CubeSat satellites that will launch into space in 2018.

CubeSats are small satellites that come in multiples of 4-inch cubes. The grant marks the first time the National Science Foundation has awarded a grant for the construction, space launch, and operation of two, three-unit, CubeSats – a project that provides invaluable workforce development experience to Auburn's undergraduate students.

"To receive this kind of funding from NSF is a real feather in our cap," said J-M Wersinger, professor emeritus in the Department of Physics and Auburn University Student Space Program director. "The Auburn University Student Space Program is now recognized as offering one of the most prestigious CubeSat programs in the nation."

Wersinger, along with Mike Fogle, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, will submit a proposal to NASA to obtain a rocket launch that will carry the CubeSats into low Earth orbit for a mission that will last approximately 18 months. The two satellites will undergo many tests and reviews before launch, which will take place in about three years.

"CubeSats are great for research because they are inexpensive to build, you can fly a lot of them at the same time and receive more information and you can look at data in almost real time," Fogle said.

The student and faculty researchers will ultimately study the structure of powerful gamma-ray flashes associated with thunderstorms in the tropical regions of Earth. Auburn launched its first, single-unit CubeSat, AubieSat-1, into space in October 2011. The two, three-unit CubeSats for the NSF-funded mission are named TRYAD 1 and TRYAD 2. "TRYAD" stands for Terrestrial RaYs Analysis and Detection.

The two CubeSats are currently being designed, built and tested solely by undergraduate student members of the Auburn University Student Space Program under the guidance of faculty in the Department of Physics and the College of Engineering. More than 30 students this semester alone are balancing their classroom obligations with 15 to 20 hours per week working in the lab on TRYAD 1 and TRYAD 2.

"The work pays off because people in industry recognize the program creates future leaders," Wersinger said. "The students are given a unique, work-force development experience where they work in teams to complete a space experiment, understand the importance of deadlines and gain a basic understanding of management and systems engineering. Also we have worked and continue to work with several NASA partners like Goddard Space Flight Center, Ames Research Center and Marshall Space Flight Center."

In addition to designing and building TRYAD 1 and 2, Auburn students will be responsible for commanding and controlling the CubeSats in space using the NASA Near Earth Network of ground stations. Through communication with the two satellites, students will also test PULSAR, a new high-bandwidth radio developed by NASA engineers, capable of transmitting 150 million data bits per second.

The project represents a collaboration with University of Alabama Huntsville, and the funding was secured by a team of scientists from UAH and Auburn University, including faculty members Wersinger and Fogle, as well as Daniel Harris, associate professor in Auburn's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Professor Saad Biaz of Auburn's Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering. The grant is in the amount of $893,873 for a project titled, "Collaborative Research: CubeSat: Observing Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flash (TGF) Beams With A Pair Of CubeSats."

UAH representatives on the project are responsible for developing the science instrument used to detect the gamma-rays while on orbit. They will also collect and analyze the science data, but Auburn University will have access to the data before it is distributed to the scientific community at large.

The Auburn University Student Space Program is part of the College of Sciences and Mathematics. For more information about the college, go to http://www.auburn.edu/cosam/.

Published: 10/08/2015

By: Candis Birchfield

NSF Funded Student Space Project

Categories: Engineering, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)


GE chooses Auburn for advanced education program in 3-D printing

8/18/2017 1:42:23 PM      

GE has chosen Auburn University as one of only eight universities from around the world to participate in the GE Additive Education Program. Auburn will receive a state-of-the-art Concept Laser MLAB 100R metal printer as part of this program, which will support Auburn’s ongoing research and education initiatives in additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing.

A GE advisory group composed of engineers and additive manufacturing specialists chose Auburn out of more than 250 applicants because of its established additive manufacturing curriculum and extensive research initiatives within the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

"Auburn Engineering is a national leader in industrialized additive manufacturing," said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. "Companies such as GE have asked for our help in graduating engineers who are well versed in additive manufacturing and prepared to lead American industry into the future.

"We responded by developing new curricula so students learn how to design for additive manufacturing systems. We are also investing millions of dollars in the latest 3-D printing technology and hiring world-class faculty to teach our students. This award further strengthens our relationship with GE, and we look forward to even greater collaboration with them in our education and research programs."

Additive manufacturing involves fabricating parts layer-by-layer from metals, plastics or other materials based on a 3-D computer-aided design model. Because parts are made by building upon each layer, additive technology reduces waste in the manufacturing process, improves production speed and can create parts that are lighter and more durable than those made using traditional manufacturing methods.

With the ability to create highly complex parts in a fraction of the time, additive technology is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry and creating new opportunities for engineers to explore. As an industry leader in this area, GE is using additive manufacturing to mass produce fuel nozzle injectors for jet engines at its plant in the city of Auburn’s Technology Park West.

Auburn Engineering faculty are also researching other ways to employ additive technology, such as producing next-generation rocket engines for space flights to Mars or developing intricate medical implants for use during surgery.

Auburn has created a new Center for Industrialized Additive Manufacturing, directed by materials engineering professor Tony Overfelt, and hired internationally known faculty working in this growing field of research. The university’s newly renovated Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory opens later this year and will feature dedicated space for Auburn’s additive manufacturing research, including upgraded and expanded testing equipment.

GE’s Additive Education Program was created to support colleges and universities such as Auburn that are educating students in additive manufacturing technologies. Through the program, GE is investing $8 million over five years to provide up to 50 metal additive machines to higher education institutions around the world. The printers are valued at $250,000 each.

"Additive manufacturing and 3-D printing is revolutionizing the way we think about designing and manufacturing products," said Mohammad Ehteshami, vice president of GE Additive. "We want a pipeline of engineering talent that have additive in their DNA. This education program is our way of supporting that goal."

BY CHRIS ANTHONY

AU Professor Tony Overfelt

Lab technician Mike Crumpler, left, and materials engineering professor Tony Overfelt examine metal components in the lab. Overfelt is director of the Center for Industrialized Additive Manufacturing and principal investigator on a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to research ways for smaller manufacturers to incorporate additive technology into their processes.

Categories: Engineering


Two Auburn professors honored with faculty enhancement awards from Oak Ridge Associated Universities consortium

8/18/2017 1:41:45 PM      

A pair of researchers from Auburn University—Majid Beidaghi, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, and Bridgett King, assistant professor of political science—have been named recipients of the 2017 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards, given annually by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities consortium, or ORAU.

The awards are intended to provide seed funding and enhance the research and professional growth of junior faculty at ORAU member institutions. Each winner receives a one-year, $5,000 research grant from ORAU, which is matched by the faculty member’s institution.

"It is a great achievement for Auburn University to receive two Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards from ORAU," said John Mason, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development. "It speaks very highly of Dr. King and Dr. Beidaghi and their promising research programs that ORAU has selected them for this honor."

Beidaghi, who came to Auburn in 2015, conducts research on the synthesis of advanced materials and the development of devices for energy storage applications. For his Powe Award project, Beidaghi will collaborate with researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to examine potential cathode materials for aluminum batteries, which show promise as an alternative to the traditional lithium-ion batteries used in many portable electronic devices.

King, who joined Auburn’s faculty in 2014, will work with colleagues from the University of Kentucky to study the impact of felony disenfranchisement laws and policy on community voter turnout among citizens who are still legally able to vote. The team will utilize geographic information system technology in combination with data on felony convictions, precinct-specific election data and information from the U.S. Census for a comprehensive precinct-level analysis.

by JONATHAN CULLUM

ORAU Award Recipients

Majid Beidaghi, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, and Bridgett King, assistant professor of political science, are recipients of the 2017 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award, given annually by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities consortium.

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Auburn University’s Warrior Research Center collaborating with U.S. Army Game Studio to develop aviation-training technology for FAA

6/6/2017 4:03:53 PM      

Auburn University is collaborating with the U.S. Army and the Federal Aviation Administration to develop innovative aviation learning and training modules using virtual, interactive and multimedia technology. The partnership seeks to develop gaming modules that can be implemented into the FAA's current curriculum for air traffic controllers.

A cooperative research and development agreement signed on Tuesday, June 6, enables Auburn's Warrior Research Center to join forces with the U.S. Army Game Studio, which is part of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, or AMRDEC, at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. The project is through the FAA's Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Technical Training and Human Performance, of which Auburn serves as a core team member.

The team will develop air traffic controller training technology using research and science-based knowledge on training adult learners and the use of gaming to improve learning and retention. The modules will demonstrate team capabilities to provide realistic, engaging and effective training.

AMRDEC's Army Game Studio has established unmatched capabilities in the development of virtual, interactive and multimedia technology used for outreach, recruiting, education and training. The studio brings together artists, soldiers and gaming experts to create virtual environments for soldiers to train in without putting them at risk in combat. Rapid prototyping of gaming technology tools ensures that the computer-generated training environments are user-friendly and customizable to the soldiers. The studio is best known for developing the free online U.S. Army video game, "America's Army."

"The Army Game Studio is my go-to place for any training, animation, augmented learning or virtual environment that I need," said JoEllen Sefton, director of the Warrior Research Center and associate professor in Auburn's School of Kinesiology. "I know that the talented team there can take anything we develop, or anything I can imagine, and make it real."

A cross-disciplinary effort, the Warrior Research Center is led by Auburn's School of Kinesiology in the College of Education and includes research from engineering, industrial design, psychology, business, veterinary medicine and human sciences. Collaborators also include Auburn's ROTC program, MRI Research Center, Center for Disability Research and Policy Studies and the Gastrointestinal Research Center, as well as the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine on Auburn's campus.

Warrior Research Center investigations include the effects of military vehicles on a body's skeletal system, blood flow and muscles; consequences from prolonged helicopter sitting; evaluation of neck injuries from prolonged wear of helmets; reducing injury and improving warfighter performance. Studies also explore the design of a universal cockpit, controllers and pilot seats to improve mission efficacy and decrease pilot fatigue and injury.

by MORGAN S. MARTIN

Jeff Langhout, left, acting technical director of the U.S. Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, signs a cooperative research and development agreement with John Mason, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development.

Jeff Langhout, left, acting technical director of the U.S. Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, signs a cooperative research and development agreement with John Mason, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development. The organizations will develop innovative aviation learning and training modules using virtual, interactive and multimedia technology.

Categories: Engineering, Transportation


Auburn researchers using unmanned aircraft to assess crop health

2/8/2016 1:26:29 PM      

The agriculture industry has seen many advances in farming over the decades, from mule and plow to high tech tractors and equipment—and now unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS. Auburn University precision agriculture researchers are using the aircraft to monitor crop health over large acreages; it's a method that lets farmers quickly address potential trouble spots.

"Precision agriculture techniques enable the producer to apply things like fertilizer and herbicide only where they are needed, which helps increase yields and profits for agribusiness," said Steve Taylor, head of Auburn's Department of Biosystems Engineering. "These tools are having a major impact in many areas, not only for agricultural crops but also for better management of our forests."

The unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are programmed to fly over a specific agricultural area and capture digital images and data with various types of cameras or sensors. After the flight, researchers download the data onto a computer so they can see potential trouble spots, such as moisture stress in plants, diseases that might be developing or a nutrition issue. The data is transferred into GPS-guided ground equipment that can deliver resources—water, pesticides and fertilizer—precisely where they are needed.

"It's a platform to carry a sensor to let us collect information much more rapidly," Taylor said. "The farmer or another UAS provider can come to the field today and collect information, download it to the computer this afternoon and have that data. Within a few hours, we can be back in the field taking action to remedy the problems uncovered by the UAS."

Auburn is conducting much of its research at E.V. Smith Research Center near Tallassee and at other Auburn research stations across the state and for individual farmers.

Research engineer Christian Brodbeck says the Department of Biosystems Engineering works closely with the university's Aviation Center to obtain FAA authorization to fly in specific areas and at certain altitudes.

Auburn's Aviation Center has FAA authorization to fly anywhere in the state below 200 feet for education and data collection activities. Biosystems Engineering recently received a Certificate of Authorization, or COA, from the FAA to allow detailed research flights at the E.V. Smith Research Center at altitudes up to 400 feet high.

"This higher altitude allows us to cover more ground during a flight or reduces our flight time for a given field," Brodbeck said. "We have applied for another COA to fly anywhere in the state at these altitudes to expand our research capabilities."

He says Auburn's fixed-wing drones have extended flight times, in varying wind conditions, while their rotary-wing drones can fly about 15 minutes. The cost of research drones is substantially higher than hobby models, ranging from $30,000 to $50,000, but as with most electronic equipment, the price is expected to go down. The advantage of the professional models is the advanced software, longer flight times and more powerful cameras and sensors, according to Brodbeck.

Greg Pate, director of E.V. Smith Research Center, added, "If we have the data quickly back from processing then we can make adjustments to the crop as we need to. We can get the right product at the right rate in the right place at the right time. And time is critical."

In 2015 Auburn received the nation's first FAA approval to operate a new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight School as part of its Aviation Center. Training is conducted by the Aviation Center for Auburn students and faculty, members of public agencies and the general public.

The university has been involved in aviation education for more than 80 years and has been providing flight training for pilots for nearly 75 years. Auburn offers three aviation/aerospace degrees: aviation management, professional flight management and aerospace engineering.

More information is available on the Auburn University Aviation Center website at http://www.auburn.edu/aviationcenter.

By Charles Martin

Categories: Engineering, Energy & the Environment


Auburn researchers using ‘awake-dog’ MRI scanning to seek neural marker that would predict a dog’s detection ability

1/19/2016 11:45:57 AM      

A dog's remarkable nose has helped mankind for ages, from the hunting of game animals to more recently sniffing out explosives and contraband.

However, the field of neuroscience knows very little about how the canine brain works, particularly when it is using the sense of smell. Auburn University researchers are shedding light on this aspect through functional MRI brain scans of awake, non-anesthetized dogs.

"We are the first group in the world to use functional MRI of awake dogs to study how their brains process odorant information," said Assistant Professor Gopikrishna "Gopi" Deshpande of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

"This lets us see their brains in action when they are smelling odors. Best of all, the dogs don't have to be anesthetized."

Auburn's College of Veterinary Medicine developed the unique awake-dog training system that Deshpande is using in his research to establish an MRI baseline test, which would determine a dog's ability to become a good detector before it goes through training.

"The dogs are not restrained in any way," said Paul Waggoner, co- director of Canine Performance Sciences in the veterinary college. "We trained them to get up on the scanner; place their head in the correct position; and then remain still while the scanning occurs. We're really the first ones to have dogs scanned in this awake fashion. Previously dogs had to be scanned while anesthetized."

Deshpande's project, "Functional Imaging for Developing Outstanding Service Dogs," is being conducted in collaboration with the iK9 company, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts.

Auburn and iK9 are using a $1 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to do the study. iK9, which has an office in the Auburn Research Park, is providing the dogs and training while Auburn researchers conduct the MRI scans at Auburn's Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Center.

"The dogs are undergoing the awake-dog MRI brain scans before and after they are trained so we can look for baseline neural features that would predict the dogs' future detection performance," Deshpande said. "This would enable us to scan a prospective dog's brain and determine the likelihood of its success."

Forty dogs are undergoing the scans and training during the two-year project.

"After a dog gets its initial scan, we train that dog to be a detection dog," iK9 President Roland Beason said. "After four to six weeks, we scan it again. At two other time points we will again scan the dog."

During the MRI scanning, various odors are presented to the dog's nose, with the idea that researchers can determine a specific neural marker in the brain image—to determine if a dog has the makings of a detector dog.

Current methods of finding and training suitable dogs are time consuming and costly for agencies around the globe.

"If we can pinpoint a specific neural marker on the scan, this could result in tremendous financial savings for the government and private companies since they would not use training resources on unsuitable dogs," said Deshpande, who adds that cost of training a highly specialized detector dog can cost up to $30,000.

The researchers hope their findings will result in a test that can used by agencies nationwide. "Auburn is known around the world for its canine programs," Deshpande said. "We have an excellent team working on this project."


by Charles Martin

Categories: Engineering, Health Sciences, Security


Auburn University enhancing commerce and research through unmanned aircraft systems

8/17/2015 4:19:46 PM      

Unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are more than a passing hobby—Auburn University officials believe they could be a key component in the nation's commerce and research.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers recently received a firsthand look at the potential when Auburn University Aviation Center officials demonstrated rotary-wing and fixed-wing unmanned aircraft, showing how they can be used in business and industry, as well as in research areas such as engineering, building science and agriculture.

"Auburn leads the nation in UAS technology, and I'm excited by the opportunities it will create for both Alabama and the nation," Rogers said.

Earlier this year Auburn received the nation's first FAA approval to operate a new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight School as part of its Aviation Center. The FAA approval requires that operators of unmanned aircraft pass a written exam and a flying test, both of which Auburn will administer through its flight school.

"The potential is immense," said Bill Hutto, Aviation Center director. "Unmanned aircraft systems can safely and efficiently inspect bridges and construction projects, conduct search-and-rescue operations and play a key role in precision agriculture."

In agriculture, unmanned aircraft systems equipped with sensors, such as infrared cameras, can quickly and easily monitor the health of crops and work in conjunction with GPS-guided ground equipment that can deliver resources—water, pesticides and fertilizer—precisely where they are needed.

"Precision agriculture techniques can save time and money and increase yields and profits for agribusiness," said Steve Taylor, head of Auburn's Department of Biosystems Engineering. "These tools will have a major impact in many areas, not only for agricultural crops but also for better management of our forests."

Auburn will conduct UAS flight training on campus and around the state for Auburn students and faculty, members of public agencies and the general public. Hands-on training covers basic flight maneuvers through obstacle courses, while classroom work covers the proper uses for unmanned aircraft, FAA rules and regulations and how to pursue FAA approval to fly commercially. The first class is tentatively set to begin later this month at Auburn.

The university has been involved in aviation education for more than 80 years and has been providing fight training for pilots for nearly 75 years. Auburn offers three aviation/aerospace degrees: aviation management, professional flight management and aerospace engineering.

More information is available on the Auburn University Aviation Center website at http://www.auburn.edu/aviationcenter.

Published: 08/11/2015

By: Charles Martin
Video by: Kevin Fichtner   https://youtu.be/L9waP6bZ2a4

Categories: Engineering, Transportation, External Engagement


Auburn University agreement opens door with Korean automotive industry

8/10/2015 4:16:11 PM      

Auburn University President Jay Gogue has signed a memorandum of understanding with Youngsoo Lee, president of KITECH, to formalize the joint research efforts of Auburn's faculty and labs with local companies supported by KITECH.

The Korea Institute of Technology, or KITECH, recently documented collaboration in research and technology development with Auburn University to support the Korean automotive industry. Established in 1989, KITECH is a government funded research and development institute headquartered in Cheonan, South Korea, with several research centers in Korea, as well as international cooperation centers in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Germany and Santa Clara, California.

"This signing creates a portal for Auburn University that facilitates our collaboration with the local automotive industry, the parent companies in Korea and the Korean government," said Andy Gillespie, Auburn University assistant provost for international programs. "Our King Sejong Institute, in partnership with Keimyung University, is our cultural bridge to Alabama's Korean and American communities, and our new relationship with KITECH will become our technical bridge, building on recent efforts by a number of Auburn's colleges and offices."

Other visitors present at the signing were Byung-Wook Choi, director of the KITECH USA Technology Cooperation Center; Sangkug Lee, director of the International Cooperation Department; Minjin Kim, researcher for the KITECH USA Technology Cooperation Center; and SangWoo Lee, administrator in the International Cooperation Department.

In 2014, the Office of University Outreach held a workshop for local companies supported by KITECH. With this declaration of a commitment to joint research, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development continue this collaboration with its involvement.

"There are over 60 Korean companies along the I85 Corridor between Montgomery and West Point, Georgia," said Larry Fillmer, executive director of the Department of External Engagement and Support. "This MOU provides a framework for collaboration among KITECH subject matter experts and Auburn faculty and researchers."

Throughout the last five years, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering professor Song-Yul 'Ben' Choe has been working with the Office of International Programs and KITECH to establish a regional office in Auburn for joint research and development efforts for the Korean automotive industry.

"Through supporting agreements, research projects, technical assistance, facilities and labs at Auburn may be shared to provide operational and manufacturing solutions to problems being encountered by Korean companies in our immediate region," said Fillmer. "In the future, KITECH may seek to establish an office and operations in the Auburn University Research Park."

Categories: Engineering, Transportation, Auburn In the News