Undergraduates Tailor Summer Research Experiences to Fit Areas of Interest

Thursday, September 17, 2015
Andrew Miner

Andrew Miner researched standard industry specifications to create test samples for his summer research project in carbon fiber and polymer composite materials. (In other words, he researched to prepare for his research project.)

When Rose-Hulman's Human Powered Vehicle team hits the pavement later this season, they'll be trying out a new and improved carbon fiber body, thanks to the summer research project of the group's president, Andrew Miner. The junior mechanical engineering major from New Jersey was one of 11 students participating in this summer's Interdisciplinary Research Collaborative (IRC) and Rose Summer Undergraduate Research Program (RSURP). The programs are designed to provide opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in a full-time mentored summer research experience.

Projects this year spanned disciplines ranging from biomedical and mechanical engineering to mathematics, computer science and software engineering, biochemistry, and chemistry. Students submit a proposal, accompanied by a letter of support from a faculty mentor, in order to be considered for a summer research slot.

Qikai Huang Quadcopterc

Qikai "Bruce" Huang plans to apply what he learned through his research in mathematical modeling and control of a quadcopter to boost the aerial robotics team's success.

Professor of Chemistry Mark Brandt (IRC) and Professor of Mathematics Allen Broughton (RSURP) served as directors for this year'sjointly run programs. Brandt says the programs help give students a taste of what they can expect in graduate school or research in industry, and helps them apply their classroom lessons to real-life projects.

"Classwork is different. Everybody knows that there's an answer. And research-maybe there is, maybe there isn't," Brandt says. "Having that kind of experience with an open-ended type of project becomes extremely important."

Research areas this summer included characterization of breast cancer estrogen receptors, torsional friction and heating in joint replacement implants, development of a microfluidic device for measuring heavy metals in water, mathematical modeling and control of a quadcopter, and privacy-preserving data integration techniques, among others.

For Miner, the program provided an opportunity to learn more about composites while helping to improve his team's performance in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' (ASME) Human Powered Vehicle Challenge. The teams are judged on design as well as performance in the competitions.

"One of the problems we face with HPV is we overbuild because we don't know how good our [carbon fiber reinforced polymer] lay-ups are," Miner explains. Because of this, the vehicle ends up heavier, which slows it down and adversely affects team members' endurance. Overbuilding also costs the team design points.

Devin Haupt DNA

Chemical engineering senior Devin Haupt used his summer research experience to study antioxidants that reduce oxidative DNA damage by binding to metal ions.

Through his summer research experience, Miner was able to test the strength of the composite materials that the team uses to determine the optimal thickness that would meet safety standards while contributing the least amount of weight to the vehicle.

Although summer research opportunities are often sought by those planning to attend graduate school, Broughton says the experience is beneficial to anyone looking to enhance their understanding, and add relevant experience to their academic knowledge. "It differentiates you from the average student," he adds.

Researchers will have the opportunity to present their findings at Rose-Hulman's Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, October 30.