An origami ‘rock star’ visits Penn State

Zoubeida Ounaies, the Dorothy Quiggle Professor of Mechanical Engineering, right, demonstrates a how a piece of piezoelectric material can be turned into a music speaker to origami expert Robert Lang, center. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Zoubeida Ounaies, the Dorothy Quiggle Professor of Mechanical Engineering, right, demonstrates a how a piece of piezoelectric material can be turned into a music speaker to origami expert Robert Lang, center. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

One of the top talents in the field of origami, Robert Lang, visited Penn State today (Sept. 25) to check out some of the origami engineering projects in the College of Engineering.

Students studying under engineering faculty members Mary Frecker, Timothy Simpson, Paris vonLockette and Zoubeida Ounaies demonstrated the active origami structures they’ve been developing in the Electroactive Material Characterization Laboratory in Reber Building.

The students’ origami structures, such as a dielectric elastomer actuator, actively fold and unfold in response to multiple fields.

Penn State received a four-year, $2 million grant in August 2012 from the National Science Foundation to investigate origami design methods. The work, headed by Frecker and including Simpson, vonLockette and Ounaies, seeks to develop active origami structures for use in applications in minimally invasive surgery, adaptive aircraft structures, reconfigurable robots and deployable space structures.

Lang was on campus to deliver a talk to the Department of Mathematics. More on his work can be found on his website.

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IIE Career Fair Breaks Records

An engineering student engages with a corporate recruiter during the 2013 IIE Career Fair.

An engineering student engages with a corporate recruiter during the 2013 IIE Career Fair.

If you were near the Hintz Alumni Center on Wednesday evening, you may have wondered what the line of students around the building was all about. They were not there for tickets to the Jay Z concert, but waiting in line to enter the 2013 Industrial Engineering Career Fair.

Organized by the Penn State student chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), the career fair provided an opportunity for industrial engineering students to meet with representatives from 21 different companies looking specifically to hire IEs for internships, co-ops, and full-time positions. After outgrowing the Leonhard Building lobby, the IIE leadership moved the event to Hintz in order to accommodate the growing number of interested companies, as well as the largest-ever enrollment of students in the department.  More than 280 students attended this year’s career fair making it by far the largest ever held by the department.

Students line up outside Hintz Alumni Center for the 2013 IIE Career Fair

Students line up outside Hintz Alumni Center for the 2013 IIE Career Fair

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BP donates $45,000 to support students

J. Robert Gochnour, manager of BP’s advanced reservoir simulation development and deployment, delivered a $45,000 check yesterday morning to support Penn State students.

BP's J. Robert Gochnour, left, presents Associate Dean Renata Engel a $45,000 check to support student programs.

BP’s J. Robert Gochnour, left, presents Associate Dean Renata Engel a $45,000 check to support student programs.

Gochnour said $30,000 will go to support the University’s Millennium Scholars Program. The program is designed to support academically strong students whose plans include pursuing a doctoral degree in science or engineering, and who are committed to increasing the diversity of researchers in science and engineering.

Renata Engel, associate dean of academic programs in the College of Engineering, said the gift would be used for student scholarships.

The remaining $15,000 is designated for the Engineering Orientation Network, a student-run group that organizes an orientation for first-year students and runs several networking events throughout the academic year.

Gochnour is also a Penn State alumnus. He earned his bachelor’s in 1973, master’s in 1975 and doctorate in 1976 in petroleum and natural gas engineering.

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APMS 2013 International Conference Held at Penn State

Attendees of the Advances in Production Management Systems (APMS) 2013 International Conference were treated to a sustainability tour of Penn State that highlighted education, research and service in the areas of power generation, solar power, recycling, composting and manufacturing.

The first stop of the tour was to one of Penn State’s power plants used generate electricity for the university. Fuelled by natural gas (or diesel) the plant has a combined heat and electricity generation for high efficiency and a cleaner environment. It includes water treatment processes such as softening and reverse osmosis.

Next up was a trip to the Morningstar Solar Home (photo above) built by Penn State students for the Solar Decathalon national competition. The home serves as a teaching and research facility dedicated to renewable energy systems and energy efficient technologies.

The third stop was to Penn State’s Recycling Center. About 64 percent, or 9,853 tons per year of solid waste from campus are diverted from landfills and processed at the university’s recycling center. In addition, composting is done on a 13-acre site using organic waste from campus cafeterias, hotels and animal farms. It is then used for landscaping and maintaining the athletic fields.

Lastly, the tour concluded at the Factory for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) Lab in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. Here the attendees were briefed on two current research projects focused on energy-aware manufacturing and research in green sand aimed at making metal casting processes environmentally friendly and sustainable.

The APMS conference, held last week at the Penn Stater, is an annual conference and the official conference of the International Federation for Information Processing. The theme of this year’s conference was Sustainable Production and Service Supply Chains and chaired by Vittal Prabhu, professor of industrial engineering.  This is the first time in eight years the conference has been held in the U.S. and has previously been held in Poland, Sweden, Finland, France, Italy, Norway and Greece.


Morningstar Solar Home

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3-D Printing Goes to the Next Level

I am a nerd at heart. Or is it a geek? I fall somewhere on the spectrum according to this graphic, but in any case…

When I was given the opportunity to be one of the first people to see The Learning Factory’s newest 3-D printer, the Stratasys Objet 260 Connex, I jumped at the chance.

I was not disappointed. Bill Genet, Learning Factory Supervisor, gave me an overview of the machine that was nothing short of WOW!

We all know that 3-D printing is cool and cutting edge. I’m here to tell you that printing with the Objet 260 Connex is even cooler because it brings together different compounds – some rigid and some flexible – to create intricate prototypes, which engineering students can use when working on class projects. When I was an undergraduate student here, I was happy when we switched from 5 ¼” floppy disks to 3 ½” floppies so to see that Penn State students have access to leading edge technology such as this 3-D printer (or rapid prototype machine), is pretty amazing.

Bill explained that students create the pieces they need in a typical computer-aided design program and then the rendering is translated, so to speak, by the printer’s software to take the needed part from concept to reality.

He showed me some things that he and his staff have created with the new machine, including this very cool piece with intricate gears that move seamlessly (check out the video of this piece made by the Stratasys Object 260 Connex) and a hinged sample that integrates all types of motion, materials and flexibility, which was built, layer by layer, as one piece with the new printer.

It’s the first printer of its kind at Penn State University Park. The purchase of this 3-D printer was made possible through the Richard and Marion Leonhard Endowment to Support Entrepreneurship and Manufacturing, with contributions from the Naren and Judith Gursahaney Excellence Fund in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, the industrial and manufacturing engineering department and the Applied Research Laboratory.

To see a really cool video of the Objet 260 Connex in use, check out this YouTube video.



Dana Marsh, director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering, freely admits that she’s not an engineer but is fascinated by how the work of engineers impacts every aspect of a human’s day-to-day existence: from the houses we live in and the roads we drive on, to the smartphones and computers we rely upon. She’s now made it her mission to educate non-engineers about the real-world applications of leading-edge engineering initiatives. 

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Breaking down the U.S. News rankings

Earlier this week, U.S. News & World Report released its “2014 Best Colleges Rankings,” where Penn State was ranked No. 8 among all public national universities and the College of Engineering was ranked No. 19 among undergraduate engineering programs.

U.S. News ranked the following undergraduate programs:

  • Aerospace Engineering: 12th
  • Chemical Engineering: 17th
  • Civil Engineering: 14th
  • Engineering Science and Mechanics: 10th
  • Industrial Engineering: 6th
  • Materials: 10th
  • Mechanical Engineering: 16th

The University’s undergraduate programs in biological engineering, bioengineering, computer engineering and electrical engineering were not ranked.

According to U.S. News, the undergraduate results are based solely on the peer judgments of deans and senior faculty who rated each program using a scale of 1 to 5 in a mail survey.

U.S. News does not include the disciplines of architectural engineering, computer science and nuclear engineering as part of its survey.

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PhD student awarded two fellowships to study in France

Because of a National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship last year, PhD candidate Whitney Coyle has worked to complete her doctorate in collaboration with a lab in Marseille, France. She recently received another fellowship from the French Embassy in Washington D.C. called the Chateaubriand Fellowship and the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) program of the National Science Foundation fund.

Coyle completed her masters in acoustics at Penn State in 2012 and now spends 80 percent of her time in France working on her project titled, “Study of the acoustical properties of the clarinet in order to characterize the ease of playing.” She is one of sixteen NSF graduate research fellows who were selected among the best American doctoral students to participate in a three-to-twelve month research stay in France.

GROW helps students do research abroad by connecting them with premier educational and research institutions around the world. Coyle is one of five GROW laureates who are also part of the Chateaubriand Fellowship program.

Marketing and Communications Fellow for the College of Engineering, Kathy Andrusisin, talked to Coyle to learn more about researching in France.


Kathy Andrusisin (K.A.): What have you done as a Chateaubriand Fellow and with the NSF GROW funds?

Whitney Coyle (W.C.): After I received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship last year I decided to choose a different topic for my PhD than I did for my masters. In order to get the most out of my fellowship (three years of funding) I decided to contact some researchers who already had lab space and materials as well as the background in clarinet acoustics that I lacked. When they agreed to work with me I knew that I would need to spend some time at their lab in France in order to accomplish as much during my time as an NSF fellow as I could, and luckily my Penn State adviser, Dr. Daniel Russell, was very supportive of this.

The main goal is to spend time in Marseille, France in order to use the measurement facilities and expertise of the researchers here, and I will also be able to work with researchers at the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics and Music studying the clarinet and the clarinet manufacturers Buffet-Crampon in Paris.


K.A.: What research have you done for your project?

W.C.: My research concerns finding the acoustical characteristics of a clarinet that could help in defining an ideal instrument. This is more than just, does it ‘sound’ good? Is it playable by a professional? Right now the characteristic we are studying is the playing frequency of a clarinet and what affects it. We have numerical and analytical models, and we are beginning to take data from a number of different professional level clarinets owned by the French National Centre for Scientific Research lab in Marseille. I will be using these fellowships to remain in Marseille for eight months this year, but I will likely return the following year to continue data collection.


K.A.: How has receiving these fellowships helped your research?

W.C.: This year was the first year the NSF has offered the GROW fellowship for travel to France. The GROW fellowship offers funds to established NSF fellows in order to travel for up to a year in a foreign country. I also applied for the Chateaubriand Fellowship which is offered by the French Embassy in the United States. These funds were a little more flexible, allowing me to use these funds for lodging while in France as well. I was very surprised and ecstatic to receive both! Each of these fellowships is not only helpful in my everyday functioning during my time in France, but it also speaks very highly of Penn State and the graduate program in acoustics.


K.A.: What are you hoping to accomplish through your research in France?

W.C.: Spending time in France is somewhat twofold. I am getting to use the experimental set up here in Marseille. If not for that I wouldn’t get nearly as far in my research. Since musical acoustics research is little funded in the United States there isn’t too much happening at Penn State in this field. This means that I would have to begin from scratch making my own measurement apparatus. Being able to use already verified techniques and facilities here in Marseille will help propel my research forward.


K.A.: How will this research opportunity help you with your career goals?

W.C.: I am working with researchers at the top clarinet manufacturer in Paris, France, and this could be a possible career option for me in the future. I am networking with acousticians all over the world. These opportunities are so precious and few and I know that I would not be able to accomplish all of this had it not been for these funds.


K.A.: How has this opportunity helped you be a World-Class Engineer?

W.C.: Being in France has been a wonderful experience. Not only do I get to work in great facilities with well-known researchers in my field, I am learning French and really stepping outside of my usual comfort zone. I feel I am growing as a researcher, learning to ask questions and sharing my knowledge of not only science but culture as well. I am happy I am able to link the great researchers here in Marseille with those in my program at Penn State. I am sure we will find excellent results and hopefully produce more partnerships in the future.

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