Mechanical engineering seniors to showcase research in Harrisburg
By Stefanie Tomlinson
Daniel Ruth and Elaine Sung are among dozens of undergraduates who have been selected to discuss their research with their peers and state legislators during the Undergraduate Research at the Capitol (URC-PA) event April 5 in Harrisburg.
According to its website, the URC-PA poster conference allows undergraduate students enrolled in Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities to showcase their research talents to the Commonwealth’s key decision-makers. Participants spend the day in the Capitol Building, share experiences and ideas with peers from other schools, and enlighten state legislators on topics that are important to them and to society.
Ruth’s poster is titled “Use of Gas Jets for Characterizing Diesel Injections.” He is advised by Jacqueline O’Connor, assistant professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering.
Their project seeks to improve efficiency and reduce emissions of heavy-duty diesel engines.
Ruth explained, “The way that we’re studying that is by focusing on the fuel injection process. In a diesel engine cylinder, before combustion happens, the fuel is injected and this plays a role in the overall efficiency and emissions of the engine. Instead of studying actual sprays of diesel fuel, we are working with inert gas that doesn’t undergo combustion as diesel fuel would. By doing so, we can focus on the fluid dynamics of the fuel injection process.”
Sung’s poster is titled “Multi-field response origami structure — emerging frontier of active compliant mechanisms.” She is advised by Mary Frecker, professor of mechanical engineering.
Their research is part of a broader area of study — origami engineering.
Sung said, “Basically, it takes the Japanese art form of paper-folding and applies it to a variety of engineering applications such as medical devices or deployable space structures.”
Her research focus is the accordion form of origami engineering, which folds in half when placed inside a magnetic field, or in between a magnet.
“More specifically, we study the reaction force that it gives when it folds in half and how much it folds in half in relation to the strength of the magnetic field,” said Sung.
She noted that origami engineering is more common than one might realize.
“For example, pizza boxes use origami. They start out as a flat unfolded piece of cardboard and then fold to the box that holds your pizza,” said Sung.
In addition to presenting their own research, both Ruth and Sung said they look forward to finding out what kinds of research undergraduates from other schools are doing, as well as learning which research topics the government thinks will be important in the future.
Ruth and Sung, both Schreyer Scholars, said they credit their advisers for the opportunity to attend URC-PA.
“Dr. O’Connor has been very helpful from the beginning, giving me background on the project and providing me with papers to read about related work that has been done,” said Ruth, who has been working on his research project since his sophomore year.
Sung, who has been involved with the origami engineering research since she was a junior, said, “Dr. Frecker is the first faculty member I have ever done research with, and she has been patient and helped me go through all the steps to identify goals that would lead to the best outcome.”
O’Connor and Frecker provided equally complimentary feedback about the students they advise.
“Dan is a fantastic member of our research team. His research experience has been enhanced by a co-op experience at Volvo, our research sponsor, and he brings a unique perspective to the project after having experience in both the lab and industry,” said O’Connor.
Frecker said, “Despite some setbacks and unexpected results in her initial experiments, Elaine has been determined to succeed in her research. Her experimental work in characterizing folding actuation is key to effective design and material selection in active origami, and helps our entire research team eliminate reliance on trial-and-error design.”
Sung’s work is funded by the National Science Foundation through Frecker’s EFRI grant, and by the Shuman Scholars program in the mechanical and nuclear engineering department.
Support for Ruth’s project is provided by Volvo Group Trucks Technology under the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck program.