The School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

REU - Projects

Interdisciplinary Excellence Built On World-Class Knowledge

Example Summer 2014 REU Topics

Investigation of fuel effects on the performance and emissions of a micro gasifier - Cill Richards
Almost half of the worlds population, roughly 3 billion people, still cooks their meals over a fire. These energy poor, at the bottom of the economic pyramid, spend large amounts of time to gather fuel that is often polluting and burned inefficiently. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 4 million deaths each year due to exposure to smoke from indoor cooking. In addition, cooking fires produce a substantial amount of green house gas emissions as well as black carbon. The use of clean and efficient cookstoves can conserve fuel, reduce exposure to toxic cookstove smoke, and decrease the emission of gases and substances contributing to climate change. A key to designing an efficient, & low emissions micro-gasifier cookstove is to understand the impact of fuel characteristics on stove performance. In this project the effect of fuel characteristics and stove loading on the performance of a micro-gasifier type clean cookstove will be performed.
Modeling and Process Development for Microscale GRIN Optics - Lei Li
Micro optics refers to miniaturized optical elements with dimensions from several micrometers to a few millimeters. Compared with conventional large scale optics, micro optics has many advantages such as compact size, low cost, and easier to be integrated into micro systems. Micro optics has been used in numerous applications, i.e. imaging, display, optical communication, and sensing. The commonly used processes for fabricating micro optics are based on geometry shaping. Technologies, such as laser cutting, ultraprecision machining, thermal reflow, self assembly, and molding, have been well studied in the past. One of the limitations for these methods is the difficulty to obtain complex surface profiles for aberration compensation. On the other hand, Gradient Refractive Index (GRIN) optics, which can achieve aberration compensation with simple geometry profiles, has long been existed, especially in nature. In this study, a fabrication process for microscale GRIN optics will be investigated for optical polymer materials. The objective of the study is to achieve controllable refractive index distribution in micro optics. Both mathematic modeling and experiment methods will be carried out for process optimization.
Variable thermal conductivity composite materials through control of nanoscale heat transfer - Robert Richards
This project focuses on the development of new advanced composite materials whose thermal conductivity can be controlled. Using packed beds built up of nanoparticles or nanofibers it is possible to create materials whose thermal conductivity can change one or more orders of magnitude. This is accomplished by varying the surface resistance between nanoparticles by filling the spaces between nanoparticles either with liquids or gasses. Filled with gas, the effective thermal conductivity of a packed bed of nanoparticles is extremely low, lower than most existing insulators. Filled with a dielectric liquid like water, the effective thermal conductivity of a packed bed of nanoparticles approaches the conductivity of the nanoparticle material. To design composite materials that effectively leverage these dramatic changes in thermal conductivity requires a better understanding of the heat transfer between the nanoparticles, and particularly the contact resistance between the nanoparticles. To accomplish this, the thermal conductivities of packed beds of a variety of nanoparticles and nanofibers are being determined using a custom guard heated calorimeter and modeled numerically. In this work metallic, ceramic and carbon-based nanoparticles and nanofibers are investigated. An REU student will assist in the assembly of packed beds of nanomaterials and in characterizing the thermal properties using the guard heated calorimeter. Experiments will be conducted for nanoparticles beds filled with gases and liquids.
Drag Reduction of Model Ship Hull by Air-Ventilated Cavities - Konstantin Matveev
Significant performance improvement of marine vessels can be achieved with air-ventilated cavities formed under the ship bottoms. The air cavities decrease wetted area of a hull and reduce frictional resistance of a ship. An REU student will upgrade a modular model-scale hull with a variable-geometry recess in the bottom and a regulated air supply system. Components of the propulsion and control systems, as well as sensors and data acquisition modules, will be tested, calibrated, and integrated into the hull. This boat will be operated in self-propelled and towing modes. Model resistance, drag reduction, and air-cavity characteristics will be measured in different conditions with variable forward speed, hull geometry, loading, and air supply. Simplified mathematical models will be used to evaluate theoretical drag reduction. Efficient hull configurations and operational regimes will be determined.
Modeling and Simulation of Microfluidic Fuel Cell - Prashanta Dutta
In the past decade, the paradigm of using micro fuel cells for portable power applications has inspired novel innovations in fuel cell technology. One such example is the laminar flow fuel cell (LFFC) which utilizes colaminar flow to maintain the separation between the anode and cathode instead of a solid electrolyte such as the membrane used in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells. The original concept of a LFFC was first presented as a vanadium redox cell in 2002. LFFCs were then investigated experimentally by addressing parameters such as flow rates or fuel concentrations. Mathematical models are also important in understanding and optimizing a new device concept such as LFFCs. Presently, in literature, there exist a number of simplified models for laminar flow fuel cells. In simplified models, reactant consumption has been used to study fuel utilization for a variety of electrode configurations and multiple reactant inlets along the electrodes. Recently, we presented a more general model for LFFC that uses the Poisson-Nernst-Plank (PNP) equations along with Navier-Stokes equations. This model provides a more fundamental representation of ion transport within the electrolyte by considering the electromigration across the channel. LFFC is a perfect example of multiscale engineering problem where more than one spatial length scale is involved. In LFFC, the reaction kinetics take place at the nanometer scale electric double layer, but the mass transfer takes place across the channel which generally has micro to mesoscale dimensions. In this study we will use a multiscale computational model to study fuel crossover in LFFCs. Fuel crossover is the phenomenon where the fuel supply at the anode bleeds over into the cathode catalyst layer which adversely affects the overall fuel cell performance. In LFFC, the lack of a physical separation can permit oxidant as well as fuel to crossover and impact device performance adversely. The REU student will perform simulation work under the faculty advisor. A number of different fuels will be tested in these numerical experiments where the REU student will be involved in the performance study of various liquid fuels.
Modeling-based study of the effect of diluents on transport properties of ionic liquid electrolytes - Soumik Banerjee
Lithium ion batteries are widely used as a power source for portable devices in the consumer electronics market. However, the highest energy storage capacity achieved by a state-of-the-art Li-ion battery is too low to meet current demands in larger applications such as in the automotive industry. The limitation is due, in part, to the limited ionic conductivity of currently used organic electrolytes coupled with their volatility and flammability, which raises safety concerns. The development of new generation of Li ion batteries with significantly improved energy storage would require the selection of novel electrolyte materials with improved performance without compromising on safety standards. Room temperature ionic liquids (IL) possess unique properties, such as low vapor pressure and non-flammability, making them promising alternatives for use as Li battery electrolytes. However, ILs often exhibit a great degree of ion association resulting in multiple anions coordinating with a single Li ion. Such enhanced coordination produces negatively charged clusters which can greatly reduce the mobility of Li and thus degrade the performance of IL electrolytes. Addition of organic diluents has been shown to enhance the transport properties of Li within ILs. As part of this summer project, the student will acquire experience in atomistic simulations of electrolytes for Li batteries. Analysis of the results from the numerical simulations will aid the selection of novel additives and ILs for batteries.
Multiscale modeling and simulation of electrokinetic transport in nanoporous media - Jin Liu
Electrokinetic transport in nanoporous media (porous materials with pore size in the nanometer range) plays central roles in a wide range of biological processes and engineering applications. For instance, the flow of ions and molecules across the cell membrane is regulated by the nanometer-sized pores formed by proteins on the membrane; Recent experiments show an anomalous increase in capacitance for electrochemical capacitors (supercapacitors) by using electrodes with nanosized pores, bring the energy density of electrochemical capacitors closer to that of batteries. Electrokinetic transport in nanoporous media is an extremely complex process: first as system dimensions shrink into the nanometer range, atomistic effects become important, traditional continuum theories become inadequate and fundamentally new phenomena appear; the added complexity is the seemly random but statistically controllable microstructures associated with the porous media. The question of how the atomistic effects and material microstructures interact with each other and yield the experimental observations, remains unclear. Apparently, the overall behavior of the process is governed by events occurring in multiple length and time scales, multiscale modeling and simulation will be the key to fundamental understanding and active designing of the process. The objective of this project is to develop a multiscale modeling framework for investigation of electrokinetic transport in nanoporous materials. The numerical techniques will involve microscale molecular dynamics (MD), mesoscale lattice Boltzmann method (LBM) and macroscale finite difference methods. An REU student in this project will learn numerical techniques, generate initial nanostructured domains, analyze and explain numerical results, through close interactions with the faculty and graduate students.
Catalytic Pressurization of Liquid Hydrogen Fuel Tanks Via Orthohydrogen-Parahydrogen Conversion - Jacob Leachman
Liquid hydrogen is the leading fuel in High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) applications due to the highest energy per mass of any known fuel. However, the extremely low temperatures (-424F, 20 K) required to store liquid hydrogen create many challenging design problems that limit the use of hydrogen in general UAV applications. For example, to flow hydrogen out of the fuel tank it is necessary to pressurize the tank. To do this, current liquid hydrogen fueling systems utilize an external helium pressurization tank that accounts for over 20 % of the total fueling system mass as helium is the only gas other than hydrogen that will not solidify at this temperature. This research proposes construction of a novel catalytic pressurization system which completely removes the need for this external pressurization system and substantially reduces the fueling system mass. The scope of the project includes creating engineering drawings of the device for manufacture, sizing the bellows and springs to ensure operation at cryogenic temperatures, and a proof-of-principle test of the device in the Cryo-catalysis Hydrogen Experiment Facility (CHEF).
Assembly/Disassembly time computation in Conceptual Design - Gaurav Ameta
A product has varying impacts on environment, economy and society throughout its lifecycle from raw materials, to manufacturing, to use and then disposal or recycling. Environmental, economic and societal impacts of a product are primarily locked into a product during its design phase. Assembly/Disassembly time is very critical as it impacts the planning and costs in the beginning and the end-of-life of a product. This study aims at exploring assembly and disassembly time estimates during the conceptual design of a product. Several different products conceptual design will be investigated to identify metrics that affect assembly/disassembly time of the product. The design process will be followed from conceptual design to preliminary design to further link the assembly/disassembly times (from conceptual design) to more reliable estimates in the preliminary design. This project provides the opportunity to learn function structure diagrams, at the conceptual design stage, and take them to CAD models through morphological charts and design layouts.
Feature based manufacturing energy estimation for achieving geometric tolerances - Gaurav Ameta
Lean manufacturing techniques aim at reducing manufacturing energy and cost of manufactured products without compromising the geometric quality of the manufactured products. In the design stage, preliminary manufacturing planning can assist in reducing manufacturing energy of a product. This study aims at manufacturing a set of several features (slots, pockets, holes, etc.) and measuring the energy consumed for each feature with many different set of parameters. Each feature will be then scanned using optical scanners and the geometric quality of the feature will be estimated. Utilizing the data collected, a feature based profile of energy and geometric quality will be created based on the machining parameters selected. Such a feature based profile can aid in assisting a designer in creating energy efficient products.
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