College of Engineering Archives - UConn Today https://today.uconn.edu Wed, 24 Jul 2024 12:35:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.5.5 As Seen on TV: Alum’s Business is Thriving https://today.uconn.edu/2024/07/as-seen-on-tv-alums-business-is-thriving/ Wed, 24 Jul 2024 11:15:40 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=216390 While many Americans were enjoying Independence Day barbecues and fireworks, Ryan Gresh ’09 (ENG) was hunkered down in a conference room at UConn Farmington’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) building. A day earlier, the Natural Pain Cream and Sports Recovery Lotion produced by his holistic health start-up, The Feel Good Lab, had been featured on a segment of Good Morning America.

Orders were pouring in, leaving Gresh and his small team scrambling to get merchandise packed up and ready to ship out on Monday.

“We were getting 20 calls an hour and hundreds of emails,” says Gresh, founder and CEO of The Feel Good Lab. “We almost sold out.”

The path to producing over-the-counter pain relief products, and recent rush of success, was neither straight nor easy for Gresh. The 37-year-old grew up in Ellington and seemed destined to become a pharmacist like his grandfather, father, and uncles.

But Gresh decided to take a different route. After watching his father’s disillusionment over the proliferation of opioids for the treatment of pain, he broke with tradition – and out of the family business – to study mechanical engineering at UConn.

Gresh’s first taste of entrepreneurship was through a senior design project he did at UConn. The program offered engineering students the opportunity to take MBA courses in the School of Business and create their own product. The all-terrain wheelchair developed by Gresh and his partners won funding, a patent, and a competition at Yale, but the second they hit obstacles, his partners gave up.

Gresh spent the next decade in the aerospace industry, working jobs at Sikorsky, Pratt & Whitney, and later consulting, but still yearned for an entrepreneurial endeavor. A fateful conversation at dinner one night with his father and younger brother helped crystalize an idea for one.

After selling his pharmacy business in 1999, his father, Gene Gresh, opened a compounding pharmacy and functional medical practice. Partnering with doctors and other healthcare providers, he worked to diagnose the source of a patient’s pain and makes custom compounds tailored for their individual needs.  Listening to his dad talk about developing a remedy for one such patient, suddenly changed the way he saw the pharmacy profession.

“If you can have that much of an impact on a person’s life, it made me think it was a worthy pursuit,” Gresh said. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and work with my family on things I could create. I realized it was all right in front of me my whole life.”

After dabbling in it as a side business for two years, Ryan Gresh launched The Feel Good Lab in 2016 and quit his work in engineering to run it full-time.  His team currently consists of two pharmacists, his dad and younger brother Michael, and four summer interns.  The company is part of TIP, the state’s largest tech incubator, offered through Technology Commercialization Services.

In the early years, Gresh and his partner at the time sold their plant-based products mostly on Amazon, a decision that taught them some painful lessons. Shortly after quitting their jobs, and raising a glass to their new venture, Amazon accidentally banned the product.

Six weeks later they got back on the site, shaken but more aware of the importance of a diverse sales strategy. More setbacks followed, but unlike the all-terrain wheelchair venture in college, Gresh dug in and kept pushing this time. When QVC told them the network was getting out of OTC product marketing, Gresh persisted for over a year until QVC relented.

“We fought and they gave us a shot,” he says. “We didn’t just succeed: we reinvigorated the category. Now I’ve been on QVC almost 30 times.”

The Feel Good Lab is one of the few soft science ventures based at TIP. Being in the same building as start-ups bringing cancer drugs, home diagnostic technology, and veterinary medications to market, has been good thing for his company, Gresh says.

“When you walk people through here, they can see into the different labs and companies working toward different goals”, he says. “Some of them are developing lifesaving treatments. Some of my fellow entrepreneurs here have even become investors.”

Being based at UConn has also provided networking opportunities that have fueled the company’s growth. One such connection was with UConn basketball player Cam Spencer. The fan-favorite Husky liked the product so much that, after being drafted into the NBA, he invested in The Feel Good Lab.

But for Gresh, helping people doesn’t stop at customers. He serves on the advisory board for UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and volunteers as a mentor for NetWerx, a signature program offered by the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Gresh is still pinching himself at being featured on GMA. The exposure, he says, will help the company rely less on investors. This time, however, he knows better than to start popping champagne corks. Not making a big deal about the wins makes it easier to endure the losses, he says.

“Being an entrepreneur is hard,” says Gresh. “But when you do something that you are really passionate about, nothing deters you. Building up that resilience and perseverance is so important.”

 

Gresh is always interested in connecting with the UConn community and others looking to network. You can find him on LinkedIn or email him at ryan@thefeelgoodlab.com.

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Technology Entrepreneurship: Waste Not, Want Not https://today.uconn.edu/2024/07/technology-entrepreneurship-waste-not-want-not/ Wed, 17 Jul 2024 11:15:39 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=216267 Usama Javed Sheikh likes to say that acquiring knowledge is one thing, but utilizing it is quite another. So, after spending years learning about environmental challenges facing the world, especially related to the waste-water crisis devastating his home country, Pakistan, he pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemical engineering, then put his education and skills to work.

Sheikh, now a Ph.D. student studying chemical and biomolecular engineering at UConn’s College of Engineering, was acutely aware that people were dying from ingesting untreated or poorly treated wastewater, and from the results of polluted water being dumped into canals, streams and rivers and leaching into aquifers.

Determined to make a difference, he immersed himself in researching wastewater treatment methodologies, and co-founded a company focused on finding and implementing creative and affordable solutions to Pakistan’s wastewater crisis.

According to his research, close to 100,000 Pakistanis annually – and likely far more, since health and environmental recordkeeping is poor – die as a result of direct or indirect contact with wastewater.

Tech-Entrepreneurship Spotlight

What’s more, half of those deaths are children under 5 years old. More than 95% of industrial wastewater is dumped into the environment in Pakistan without treatment, due to prohibitive costs, corruption, and land requirements. Yet, according to the World Bank, the country only spends $380 million annually trying to address these challenges, approximately 3.9% of the country’s GDP.

In comparison, the United States spent $106.18 billion in 2022 on wastewater management, $113.08 billion in 2023, and is expected to spend $179.2 billion by 2030. The World Bank estimates that the impact on the Pakistani people from wastewater pollution, measured in economic loss, is at least $16.4 billion annually, which reflects the impact of disease and the loss of land value, tourism, recreation and investments.

Usama Sheikh in a laboratory.
(Photo by Christopher LaRosa)

After completing his undergraduate and master’s degrees, Sheikh dove into rigorous experimentation and research to develop effective methodologies for meeting stringent environmental standards. Working with his brother, Muhammad Zaid, an expert in electrical, wireless communication and coding, they collaborated with the chemical and textile industries, focusing on wastewater treatment. Their efforts were centered around developing pre-treatment and post-treatment systems, aiming for zero-liquid discharge. Additionally, they revolutionized point-of-use reverse osmosis (RO) systems and were able to significantly prolong the lifespan of RO membranes used in water-filtration devices that connect to a single fixture to remove contaminants.

After graduating and spending a few years working in the field, Sheikh returned to UConn while Zaid remained in Pakistan. His goal, he explains, was to continue developing his skills and the knowledge needed to advance their work to a new level. He credits his UConn advisor, Jeffrey McCutcheon, associate professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering, for the support he has provided so Sheikh can continue working and completing his Ph.D.

“I rejoined UConn to better equip myself with advanced knowledge in technologies which will help us implement more robust solutions in Pakistan,” Sheikh says. “At the same time, we were developing a color and protein removal system, and applied for a prestigious grant to support that research, along with systems we had already developed.”

Every drop is precious

In 2018, prior to returning to UConn, Sheikh and his brother co-founded SE DROP (Save Every Drop). He had been working as a field engineer for a multinational corporation, but wanted to devote all his time to research and product development. Their research led them to create a process they call the Molecular Distortion Technique (MDT), which revolutionizes the way wastewater is approached by utilizing electricity to disintegrate pollutants at a molecular level. Sheikh explains that their system, with patents now pending, is compact, portable, economical, and easy to install and operate.

Once in place, their systems operate for three to five years without significant maintenance requirements, and with minimum energy utilization. Using their technology requires little training, and is tailored to Pakistan’s textile industry, which uses millions of gallons of water every day.

“Far from being just another technological advance, MDT offers a practical solution that seamlessly integrates into existing infrastructure, addressing wastewater challenges directly and reducing the reliance on fresh-water sources,” Sheikh says. “This system not only conserves water but also repurposes it for various applications, fostering a more sustainable ecosystem.”

To put this into perspective, Sheikh says that creating 1 kg of fabric consumes over 200 liters of water, which typically is dumped. This wastewater contains up to 20,000 chemicals, which are discharged into the environment without treatment. As a consequence, World Bank research and other organizational studies show that 20 percent of all freshwater pollution is made by textile treatment and dyeing.

In addition to water pollution, the textile industry is the world’s second-highest greenhouse gas producer after the oil industry. Total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production stands at 1.2 billion tons annually and accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions. Additionally, consuming fossil-fuel-based electricity, the primary source of energy in the apparel production process, greatly exacerbates greenhouse gas emissions.

Together, Sheikh and his brother pioneered the installation of Pakistan’s inaugural greywater recycling system in Islamabad, conserving 36,000 gallons of water per month. Additionally, they created an innovative storm drain recycling system that garnered international attention. Their journey of innovation, Sheik says, took them to Dubai GITEX 2020, the TRT World Forum in Turkey, and the Young Founder Program in Singapore, and included winning Pakistan’s national startup competition, in 2022, where they were recognized by Pakistan’s president, Arif Alvi.

Usama Sheikh in a laboratory.
Usama Sheikh (Photo by Christopher LaRosa)

Moving to larger-volume solutions, teaching and collaboration

Their efforts resulted in another significant milestone in 2023 when they were awarded a $505,000 grant from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). This was in partnership with Dr. Wakil Shehzad from the University of Northumbria, UK, and designated to enhance their ability to pursue sustainable water solutions.

Utechnologies, this grant, Sheikh says, will be used to help foster collaborations with like-minded organizations and experts, with the goal of sharing knowledge and driving positive change in Pakistan. They also will focus on educating and raising awareness about the importance of sustainable textile practices. That’s especially important, Sheikh says, explaining that developing and implementing the science often is easier than getting people to understand its value and to buy in. Fermenting an open attitude toward innovation, he adds, and navigating culture, costs, and politics is extremely complicated and challenging, especially in Pakistan.

“We want to play a valuable role in reducing Pakistan’s environmental footprint and help drive positive change,” Sheikh says. “We believe in the power of collaboration and innovation to create a circular economy in the fashion industry. This grant will propel us forward in our mission to transform wastewater into a valuable resource and promote eco-friendly practices in Pakistan and, eventually, in other countries facing similar water-related and environmental challenges.”

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Five UConn Student Teams Innovating Decarbonization through a Competition Supported by Eversource Energy https://today.uconn.edu/2024/07/five-uconn-student-teams-innovating-decarbonization-through-a-competition-supported-by-eversource-energy/ Wed, 03 Jul 2024 10:54:16 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215984 UConn is taking bold steps towards a sustainable future by committing to reducing its carbon footprint through innovation and community involvement. For the second year in a row, UConn has partnered with Eversource Energy to launch an exciting innovation competition aimed at engaging students in the design of our energy future. This unique opportunity invites teams of undergraduate and graduate students to propose their own groundbreaking ideas to facilitate a clean energy transition.

The competition has attracted an impressive group of participants, with five finalist teams comprising 13 students – four undergraduates and nine graduates. These talented individuals represent six departments and schools: Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, School of Computing, School of Public Policy, and Department of Mathematics. This multidisciplinary approach ensures a wide range of perspectives and expertise in tackling the complex challenges of clean energy.

Each selected team will receive summer funding and be paired with mentors from both UConn faculty and Eversource Energy, providing them with invaluable guidance and support as they develop their innovative ideas. This hands-on mentorship will help students address the real-world dimensions and details necessary for a successful clean energy transition.

The culmination of their efforts will be showcased at the 2024 Sustainable Clean Energy Summit on September 23, where the teams will present their projects to a distinguished panel of industry, utility, research, and state professionals. The most promising team(s) will be awarded additional funding to continue their research through the next academic year, paving the way for tangible advancements in sustainable energy.

This renewed partnership between UConn and Eversource Energy exemplifies a continued commitment to fostering environmental justice both locally and globally, preparing for climate extremes, and driving forward the innovation needed for a sustainable future. Through this initiative, UConn is empowering its students to be at the forefront of the clean energy revolution.

 

The projects and student teams selected for the 2024 Clean Energy & Sustainability Innovation Program are:

Project: The Energy Justice Mapping Tool

Students: Umar Salman (Ph.D. Student, Electrical Engineering), Binit Gautam (Ph.D. Student, Civil Engineering), Charitarth Chugh ’25 (CLAS), Mathematics and Statistics.

 

Project: A Probabilistic Real-Time Controller for Restoration Control Actions During Hurricane Disasters with High Penetration of Renewable Energy

Students: Soroush Vahedi (Ph.D. Candidate, Electrical Engineering), Alaa Selim (Ph.D. Candidate, Electrical Engineering), Morteza Azizi (Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental Engineering).

 

Project: Leading Connecticut Towards a Sustainable Future: Innovative Energy Demand Prediction and Resilience Planning

Students: Jiwon Kim ’25 (ENG), Computer Science; Buket Sahin (Ph.D. Student, Environmental Engineering).

 

Project: Integrating Green Hydrogen Production and Transport within a Natural Gas Infrastructure on the Path to Carbon Neutrality

Students: Ava Tobón ’25 (ENG), Chemical Engineering; Alana Marquis ’25 (ENG), Civil Engineering.

 

Project: Potential Micro-Hydropower Retrofits at Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants

Students: Zhiqing Li (Ph.D. Student, Structural Engineering), Steven Matile (MPA candidate), Meshach Ojo (Ph.D. Student, Structural Engineering).

 

 

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Bracing for Impact: UConn, Partners to Improve Grid Resistance https://today.uconn.edu/2024/07/bracing-for-impact-uconn-partners-to-improve-grid-resistance/ Tue, 02 Jul 2024 11:35:54 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215917 As extreme weather events grow more frequent, UConn and its partners are working to make the northeastern power grid more resilient.

UConn is leading a collaboration with the University at Albany and several other partners lending their respective expertise in outage prediction and meteorology. The federal Department of Energy (DOE) is funding the effort through two significant grants totaling $2.63 million.

“The Northeastern United States is the exemplar regional case for energy transition to electrification and renewables while highly exposed to risk of disasters from natural hazards, such as hurricanes, severe Nor’easters, and winter storms,” says Emmanouil Anagnostou, Interim Director of the UConn Tech Park and Director of the Eversource Energy Center. “These risks are projected to increase in severity and frequency across the region, as are heat waves, precipitation, and drought, creating unique challenges to power grid resilience.”

“We are thrilled to partner once again with UConn, along with other researchers and industry innovators, to help strengthen the power grid for vulnerable Northeast communities,” says Chris Thorncroft, director of UAlbany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and Center of Excellence in Weather & Climate Analytics. “This work will advance research and cutting-edge technologies to improve energy industry efficiency and reliability in the face of a rapidly changing climate and global transition to clean energy sources.”

Early this year, the DOE called for submissions for Grid Resilience Analysis and Climate Change Impacts (GRACI) funding. Public, private, and nonprofit institutions and companies were asked to accelerate analysis of regional climate change threats and resulting challenges to grid resiliency. The grants, announced on Thursday, June 27, total $4.6 million nationwide.

Emmanouil Anagnostou.
Emmanouil Anagnostou. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“Keeping the lights on for communities across the country is a primary goal of the Grid Deployment Office (GDO),” saysMaria Robinson, Director of the Grid Deployment Office, U.S. Department of Energy. “GDO provides multiple financial mechanisms and investment programs to support state efforts, but this is not always enough. Each geographic region is different, with varying extreme weather impact challenges and grid resilience goals. This program will allow states to leverage existing tools, methods, and processes to help identify a solution that works for their individual region, while providing the highest level of community benefits.”

Through the two projects funded for the Northeast, UConn and the Eversource Energy Center will lead one and assume technical lead overseeing four of seven tasks in the second project led by Pointerra3D.

In the first GRACI project entitled “Community co-design of Resilient Energy Solution Technology,” UConn and UAlbany will work together to provide risk assessments and investment guidance to states throughout the Northeast. UConn will utilize its outage prediction model to create the grid resilience assessment, combining expertise in climate research and socioeconomic risk to guide recommendations.

UAlbany will use numerical prediction models to identify key trends throughout the region for different climate hazards and scenarios.

UConn and UAlbany are no strangers to collaboration. The two universities comprise the Center for Weather Innovation and Smart Energy Resilience, designed to help corporate partners and government agencies to work with to conduct high-impact research, drive innovative technology development, and develop a skilled workforce.

“These projects highlight the continuing partnership between UAlbany and the University of Connecticut, bringing together preeminent expertise in climate and energy,” says Jeff Freedman, research faculty at UAlbany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center. “We look forward to working together to identify and recommend efficient pathways for states and utilities to follow to ensure a just and dependable energy future.”

In the second GRACI project entitled “Wind Impact Study for Power Resilience (WISPR)”, UConn and UAlbany will work with Cornell and Pointerra3D (a 3D visualization and data analytics company) to simulate investments at Eversource, Avangrid, and National Grid service territories aimed at enhancing grid resilience, including hardening assets and managing problematic vegetation.

Pointerra3D will deploy light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology, and data imagery to generate digital twins of circuits in the respective territories. UConn will use these data along with asset information, and historical outage data to develop a dynamic risk assessment model to identify patterns between vegetation management and power outages. UConn will also integrate future climate change projections and vegetation growth algorithms into the optimization model to enhance its predictive capabilities.

Zongjie Wang.
Zongjie Wang. (Chris LaRosa/UConn Photo)

“This project is a testament to UConn’s leading role in electric grid research,” says Zongjie Wang, UConn’s primary investigator for the WISPR project, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and associate director of the Eversource Energy Center. “By integrating advanced optimization techniques and intelligent management strategies, we aim to reduce electricity costs and enhance grid resilience for Connecticut and the Northeast region. Our collaboration with partners such as Cornell University, the University at Albany, Pointerra3D, National Grid, Eversource Energy, and Avangrid will ensure the success and scalability of this initiative across North America.”

WISPR will be headquartered at UConn, providing enhanced research opportunities for multiple postdoctoral positions and Ph.D. candidates, according to Wang.

Pointerra3D says “these are best practice approaches intended to be scalable across multiple regions throughout North America.”

Additionally, UConn will perform a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis for both projects using advanced econometric models to optimize resilience improvement strategies.

“These projects aim to reduce electricity costs and enhance grid reliability, demonstrating UConn’s leading role in advancing electric grid resilience,” says Pamir Alpay, UConn’s Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.

The success of these projects will provide the DOE with valuable insights to reinforce the national electric grid infrastructure. They will help pave the way for a more secure and efficient power infrastructure, benefiting not only Connecticut but potentially setting a precedent for the entire country.

“During the last heavy storm, a conversation with Eversource Energy highlighted the critical role of our work in improving residents’ quality of life, including our own families,” Wang says.  “Driving to Storrs in 2021, I saw firsthand how essential vegetation management is for optimal grid resilience. This project addresses these crucial aspects to ensure a reliable power supply.”

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Engineering Strong Teams Through Communication and Personal Growth https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/engineering-strong-teams-through-communication-and-personal-growth/ Thu, 27 Jun 2024 11:20:24 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215737 In one exercise, the group stood in a circle, passing an imaginary ball back and forth. Some passed gently, others aggressively, sometimes with flourishes, other times with apologetic glances. The pace quickened as they got more comfortable, changing directions and pantomiming more assertively. In another exercise, a customer-focused story was created, with a word or phrase from each participant then being “passed” to the next person in the group who built on the narrative, sometimes changing direction or expanding creatively.

As they progressed, the group energy moved from awkward to more comfortable, and as people relaxed, they began laughing and clearly enjoying themselves. The facilitator watched, and when he stopped the exercise, offered feedback, including reflections on how people often need to come apart to come together, and the role of non-verbal cues and behaviors.

This particular group was a team of engineers and scientists; they had come together because their company leaders understood that learning to communicate more effectively is as critical a skill as the many other professional tools and resources they utilized daily.

To that end, UConn’s College of Engineering (CoE) recently introduced its Center for Advanced Engineering Education – Excellence in Engineering Communication (EEC) program. This non-credit customized training and development programming complements the college’s Master of Engineering (MENG) degree programs, engineering graduate certificates, specialized engineering boot camps and other customizable non-credit programs.

EEC is led by Program Director Rory McGloin, a business communication professor at UConn. He also serves as the associate director for Entrepreneurial Communication and Research with the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI). Additionally, McGloin mentors graduate students interested in organizational communication research, develops executive-level training programs, and supports entrepreneurs in their start-up journeys.

Loureiro engineers
Associates from Loureiro Engineering in a brainstorming session. (Christopher LaRosa / UConn College of Engineering Photo)

Successful projects, McGloin explains, require collaboration, empathy, the wisdom to effectively give and receive useful feedback and a variety of interpersonal abilities not typically taught-–or learned—in many degree programs.

“We customize this programming for engineering teams with the goals of strengthening daily performance and confidence, improving presentation skills and focusing on best practices,” says McGloin. “It’s team building, professional development, highly interactive and personally challenging, all aimed at helping engineering professionals become more intuitive listeners, influencers, business partners and leaders.”

McGloin stresses the importance of building a workplace that values communication, explaining that good communicators require presence, sincerity, respect, engagement and clarity. People, especially leaders, need to learn to read and understand body language, as well as express clear expectations and not be afraid to engage in two-way debate and dialog, however challenging the topic. Learning to listen, he stresses, is critical, so the group focuses on barriers to effective listening, and methodologies for discovering and interpreting distinct characteristics that help work associates improve their relationships with management, clients, vendors and one another.

McGloin recently facilitated a four-part class for the senior leadership team of Loureiro Engineering Associates, Inc. Loureiro provides integrated multi-disciplinary engineering, consulting and construction services, with a focus on government and manufacturing sectors. They are headquartered in Connecticut with offices throughout New England, the Southeast and the Midwest.

The team worked on new mission and purpose statements, and focused on multiple team-building challenges. They completed a number of interactive exercises designed to promote cohesiveness, examine personal space, interpret non-verbal communication, improve brainstorming, address commonalities and differences, strengthen public speaking skills and explore personal and collective strengths and weaknesses.

Kate Engler is vice president of Environmental Assessment at Loureiro, and was a participant in the Loureiro training program. She says she especially enjoyed the interactive and provocative nature of the sessions.

“Rory has a unique ability to disarm the group into providing input on a topic, and asks good, probing follow-up questions to spur further conversation,” Engler explains. “I was surprised how quickly he was able to develop a sense of trust and openness with all of us despite our varied personalities, and how quickly I noticed my teammates being open to deep, meaningful and productive conversations.

“Sometimes in our day-to-day challenges,” she adds, “we forget that we each have individual motivations, personalities and experiences, and we need this awareness to come to the forefront so that we can better understand one another’s differences and work together effectively. I am more aware of those differences now when working with my teammates on the leadership team, as well as those in my division, and we can harness our individual strengths better as a result.”

Brian Cutler, CEO at Loureiro, requested and joined in the EEC training program. He says that it wasn’t a cookie-cutter experience, but rather a mix of off-the-shelf concepts put together in a way that fits Loureiro. He found the experience deeply reflective of pre-training conversations he had with McGloin to identify goals, discuss challenges, and provide background on Loureiro, himself and his team. McGloin, Cutler recalls, took the lead after the meeting and drafted an initial set of concepts describing what “help” could look like.

“Our first interactions with Rory were one-on-one meetings with a subset of our leadership team, those with Profit & Loss responsibilities,” Cutler says. “Following those initial discussions, we each had a similar reaction: we felt comfortable talking to him and opened up about ourselves and the organization. In short, he gave us a space where we could develop trust. I had nothing to do with that, meaning I did not prime the members of the team. That impressed the heck out of me and gave me a level of confidence we were heading in a good direction.”

The feedback from his team, Cutler explains, is that they enjoyed the classes and, even early on, felt they were making progress and doing important work. For some of them, he adds, the results have been transformational, and he felt that that the engagement with Rory has been positive for their individual and collective development.

“If you are a person that leads a team, understands that you are flawed, and cares about the wellbeing of your people, Rory is someone you should talk to,” Cutler reflects. “He is a listener and passionate builder of teams. I am already thinking about how we can stay engaged with him into the future.”

Building and enhancing relationships such as the one with Loureiro, stresses CAEE Director Nora Sutton, is a valuable asset for UConn and for regional industry.

“Our non-credit professional education programs, like Dr. McGloin’s Excellence in Engineering Communication, strengthen UConn Engineering’s connections to local industry,” Sutton says. “In addition to years of success offering graduate-level degrees, we’re now poised to meet companies and individual engineers where they are: ready to grow and upskill as lifelong learners.”

 

For more information about UConn’s Center for Advanced Engineering Education – Excellence in Engineering Communication program (EEC), contact them at engrcaee@uconn.edu

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UConn Announces Newest Board of Trustees Distinguished Professors https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/uconn-announces-newest-board-of-trustees-distinguished-professors/ Wed, 26 Jun 2024 14:58:56 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215780 The University of Connecticut is proud to announce the selection of three exemplary faculty members as this year’s Board of Trustees Distinguished Professors. This prestigious award represents the highest honor the university can confer upon its faculty, celebrating their outstanding contributions in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Each year, the Office of the Provost invites nominations from throughout the UConn community to identify candidates for this distinguished title. Faculty peers and student representatives, forming a select committee appointed by the Provost’s Office, undertake the meticulous process of reviewing submissions to identify the most deserving among a competitive group of nominees. We would like to extend our sincerest thanks the committee members for their service.

The 2023-24 recipients are as follows, with more detailed biographical information provided below.

Dr. Nora Berrah, Department of Physics
Dr. Ki H. Chon, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Dr. Crystal L. Park, Department of Psychological Sciences

“It is an honor to recognize the exceptional achievements of this year’s Board of Trustees Distinguished Professors,” said Anne D’Alleva, Provost & Executive Vice President. “Their dedication to excellence not only elevates our university but also significantly impacts our broader community, making substantial contributions to societal advancement.”

The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees approved the recommendation for this award at their meeting on June 26, 2024.

Dr. Nora Berrah

Dr. Nora Berrah is a renowned experimental physicist specializing in investigating Quantum Systems and currently serves as a faculty member in the Department of Physics at the University of Connecticut. She joined UConn in 2014 as the Department Head of Physics and has significantly transformed both the administrative and academic landscapes of the department. Prior to her tenure at UConn, she held the title of University Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Western Michigan University and progressed through various academic ranks from Assistant to Full Professor.

Professor Nora Berrah.

Dr. Berrah earned her Ph.D. in Physics in 1987 from the University of Virginia. Throughout her illustrious career, she has held numerous prestigious positions across the United States and Europe, including the Blaise Pascal Chair d’Excellence at the Commissariat à l’énergie Atomique in Saclay, France.

Her research focuses on investigating ultrafast quantum phenomena through the interaction of molecules with high-intensity laser pulses that cover a broad energy range from infra-red to X-ray wavelengths. Her pioneering cutting-edge research has led to groundbreaking insights in Quantum Dynamics and Non-Linear Physics, supported by funding from the NSF and the Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences, amounting to $1.33 million over three years. Dr. Berrah’s career research funding totals approximately $10 million.

Dr. Berrah’s academic contributions include over 284 peer-reviewed publications in top-tier journals such as Nature, Science, and Physical Review Letters, among others. She has delivered 275 invited presentations at national and international levels. Her work has earned her numerous accolades, including a Humboldt award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany, an Honorary Doctoral Degree in Physics from the University of Turku, Finland, the 2014 Davisson-Germer Prize from the American Physical Society. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences.

Beyond her research, Dr. Berrah is deeply committed to educational innovation and public engagement. She introduced Studio Physics at UConn, a research-based approach enhancing student comprehension in introductory physics courses. She also leads efforts in organizing significant scientific conferences and actively contributes to promoting diversity and inclusion within the scientific community.

In recognition of her outstanding scientific achievements and leadership in academia, Dr. Nora Berrah is nominated for the Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor award, reflecting her exceptional contributions to the University of Connecticut and the broader field of physics.

Dr. Ki H. Chon

Dr. Ki H. Chon, the Krenicki Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Connecticut, is a pioneer in the field of biosignal processing and wearable devices. As the inaugural head of the Biomedical Engineering department from 2014 to 2022, Dr. Chon’s leadership was instrumental in driving substantial growth in both faculty recruitment and research funding, securing a more than $17 million increase in annual research allocations.

Having earned his undergraduate engineering degree from UConn, Dr. Chon has remained dedicated to advancing his alma mater’s stature in the global academic community. His research has led to the development of a life-saving wearable device capable of predicting seizures in divers—a breakthrough that underscores his commitment to translating academic research into practical, real-world applications. This innovation has not only secured the backing of the U.S. Navy but also holds the potential to transform safety protocols in diving operations worldwide.

Professor Ki H. Chon.

Dr. Chon’s scholarly contributions are extensive, with an impressive tally of over 220 refereed journal articles and 13 U.S. patents granted, alongside substantial federal research funding totaling more than $29 million. His work on real-time detection of atrial fibrillation and other physiological anomalies via mobile and wearable technology platforms has positioned him at the forefront of biomedical engineering.

Dr. Chon has demonstrated a profound commitment to educational innovation. He has developed three new courses, including Junior Design and Biomedical Signal Processing, which have significantly enhanced the biomedical engineering curriculum at UConn. These courses not only prepare students for real-world engineering challenges but also ensure that they are well-versed in the latest technological advancements and methodologies.

Beyond his technical and academic achievements, Dr. Chon has played a pivotal role in enhancing the department’s diversity and inclusion efforts. His recruitment strategy led to the appointment of UConn’s first female African American Professor in the College of Engineering, marking a significant step forward in fostering an inclusive academic environment.

As a fellow of six major societies and a distinguished member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, Dr. Chon’s contributions to the field of biomedical engineering are widely recognized. His leadership and vision have not only elevated the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UConn but have also had a profound impact on the broader scientific and engineering communities.

In recognition of his outstanding contributions to research, teaching, and service, Dr. Ki H. Chon is an exemplary candidate for the Board of Trustees Distinguished Dr. award. His ongoing dedication to the field and his alma mater makes him a deserving recipient of this prestigious honor.

Dr. Crystal L. Park

Dr. Crystal Park is a distinguished member of the faculty at the University of Connecticut, where she has served since 1999. As a clinical psychologist, her work in health psychology, particularly in the domains of holistic health, well-being, and spirituality, has set a new standard in the field. She is recognized for her superior trajectory of scholarly contributions, as evidenced by her impressive h-index of 104, highlighting her status as a top-tier researcher globally.

Dr. Park obtained her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology and has since directed her research efforts towards understanding the human capacity to thrive in adversity. Her work integrates meaning making, integrative medicine, and spirituality/religion, contributing significantly to the fields of psychological resilience and flourishing. To date, her research has garnered over $17 million in direct costs through federal and foundational support, and her scholarly output includes 376 peer-reviewed articles and 70 book chapters.

Professor Crystal Park.

Her development of the Meaning Making Model is particularly noteworthy, offering a robust framework for understanding how individuals navigate stressful and traumatic experiences. This model has become foundational in studies across a variety of contexts including serious illness and trauma. Dr. Park is also at the forefront of advancing the scientific rigor of yoga research, enhancing methodological approaches and contributing to its integration into mainstream medical practices.

As a mentor, Dr. Park is deeply committed to fostering the academic and professional growth of her students. She has successfully guided 17 doctoral students to completion, with several more currently underway, and has supervised over 800 undergraduate research assistants. Her mentorship has consistently enabled her students to achieve remarkable success in clinical and research careers.

In addition to her research and mentoring roles, Dr. Park’s service contributions are substantial. She has played a critical role in integrating health psychology into UConn’s curriculum and has been instrumental in developing interventions that improve student well-being. Nationally and internationally, she disseminates her Meaning Making Model widely, impacting diverse applied settings and advancing understanding of spirituality’s role in mental and physical health.

Dr. Crystal Park’s unparalleled expertise, her innovative contributions to psychological science, and her dedicated mentorship and service make her an exemplary candidate for the Board of Trustees Distinguished Dr. award at the University of Connecticut. Her work not only elevates the university’s standing but also significantly advances the broader field of psychology.

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Quantum Seed Grants Are Funding Solutions to Real-World Problems https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/quantum-seed-grants-are-funding-solutions-to-real-world-problems/ Wed, 26 Jun 2024 11:25:58 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215706 What do underwater navigation, drug safety, and air traffic control have in common? Each creates challenges that quantum science and technology could solve.  

In Connecticut, the unique public-private partnership QuantumCT is accelerating research to meet those challenges head on—and to position Connecticut as a global quantum technology hub.   

As of this spring, nine Connecticut-based research groups have received one-year seed grants for exploratory quantum projects. Each project aims to tackle a “challenge problem” issued by corporate partners in the state, like the need to develop algorithms that simulate molecular drug actions in the body, or to invent exquisitely accurate but hardy sensors that work in extreme environments with little power.  

In other words, the projects are directly relevant to Connecticut industries, including aerospace, biotech, and life sciences. This practical approach to science is called use-inspired research.  

“These grants are fertilizing creative, potentially transformative projects in quantum science and technology across several key industries, all of which are central to Connecticut’s present and future economy,” says Michael Crair, Vice Provost for Research and William Ziegler III Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at Yale University.  

The Quantum CT logo.

The seed grants are funded by the University of Connecticut and Yale University and distributed via QuantumCT. Research results will help QuantumCT plan long-term research eligible for competitive funding through the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines (a program established through the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act).  

The aim of QuantumCT is to make Connecticut a global destination for quantum education, job training and equitable job growth, research innovation, and industry excellence. 

“Because large universities and industry in Connecticut have joined forces, sharing resources and expertise under the QuantumCT umbrella, we are realizing a faster pace of quantum innovation—and advancing our state’s role as a leader in quantum science and technology,” says Pamir Alpay, Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Connecticut. “The seed grants will fuel not only quantum discovery but also career opportunities in a high-demand STEM field.”  

Each project is collaborative, bringing together researchers from UConn, Yale, and industry partners.  

“The projects foster interactions among a range of researchers from faculty to students to industry scientists, allowing them to pool their knowledge and creativity at top-of-the-line laboratory facilities in Connecticut,” Alpay notes. “These collaborations also offer rising quantum scientists a look at potential career paths in industry.” 

Advanced sensing 

Airplanes, ships, and other vehicles rely on sensors for accurate navigation. But current sensor technologies have important limitations, and five of the project teams are working to develop better ones.  

In one, led by Charles Ahn and Alexander Balatsky—physics professors at Yale and UConn, respectively—the aim is to develop a robust, highly sensitive radiofrequency (RF) sensor that outperforms state-of-the-art directional sensors. To do this, the team is studying how electromagnetic waves interact with atom-sized magnets.  

“We incorporate magnetic atoms on thin films on the nanoscale,” says Dung Vu, a Yale postdoctoral associate on the team, which also includes collaborators from RTX Technology Research Center (RTRC), the research arm of RTX and its three businesses Collins Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney, and Raytheon.  

“By changing properties such as energy and polarization of the light we shine on to the film, we can manipulate the quantum magnet’s properties, then measure the change of the magnetic field around them when they interact with light,” Vu says.  

The devices, Vu explains, can be used to make RF sensors that may be useful for airborne and autonomous vehicles. 

Another team is developing innovative fiber sensors for a magnetic-aided inertial navigation unit for a global navigation satellite system (GNSS). With its extraordinary sensitivity, this technology is designed to operate in environments like the deep ocean and underground, where GNSS signals can be jammed, spoofed, or otherwise unreliable. Electrical engineers Faquir Jain and John Chandy of UConn and Fengnian Xia of Yale are behind that effort. 

“The sensor can detect ultra-low magnetic fields that help with navigation with very low power consumption and cost,” Jain says. 

A key challenge for next-generation magnetic sensors is to limit the devices’ SWaP (size, weight, and power consumption). Currently, the best ones require supercooled liquid helium. A seed project by assistant professors Yu He of Yale (applied physics) and Pavel Volkov of UConn (engineering) is pursuing sensors cooled with liquid nitrogen—a much more user-friendly substance.  

“The results will form one pillar for the eventual theory-experiment-industry collaboration,” Volkov says. 

Highly accurate sensors are vulnerable to miniscule errors and noise in the data. A team led by Yale engineering professor Hong Tang is building ultra-thin silicon nitride microwheels to create a tough, low-SWaP sensor whose round shape is designed to reduce error.  

Meanwhile, Yale associate professor of physics and applied physics Peter Rakich is developing a technique to attach microscopic mirrors to the end of silica fibers, creating a tiny, high-finesse device called a resonator. This resonator should allow precise control of quantum particles, like the ability to couple light particles with ions. That could advance not only sensors, but also quantum computers and networking. 

Computing revolutions 

With quantum technologies poised to revolutionize computing, many industries stand to benefit. 

Quantum entanglement, the eerie phenomenon by which two particles are linked as if they were one, is central to quantum computing and a major reason why the technology is expected to deliver vast improvements. In fact, entanglement can be considered a key resource in quantum computing, and as with any resource, there are better and worse ways of distributing it. Leandros Tassiulas and Shan Zuo, electrical engineering faculty at Yale and UConn, respectively, are studying how quantum computing systems can generate entanglement across multiple users in an equitable way.  

Air traffic controllers, delivery route planners, and factory managers are among the many workers who face optimization problems: how to make actions most efficient. But optimization problems can be fiendishly difficult to solve, especially where there are hard constraints like the need for airplanes to avoid no-fly zones, trucks to refuel, or machines to complete tasks in a certain order. Like classical computers, quantum computers can use heuristics to tackle optimization problems—which remain extremely challenging to solve.  

A joint Yale-UConn team led by Yale physics professor Steven Girvin is exploring whether new algorithms could help quantum computers handle hard constraints on optimization problems. The research should also have relevance to problems like portfolio optimization and risk assessment that frequently arise in domains like finance and insurance, supply-chain logistics, and flight route planning, according to Amit Surana, an RTRC researcher working with the team.  

“The value proposition is that even slight improvements to logistics, even by half a percent, can mean huge savings,” Surana says.  

Progress in life sciences 

Computing is also a focus of two teams led by Yale chemistry faculty members Victor Batista and Tianyu Zhu, which are exploring quantum solutions to problems in drug development.  

One complex challenge researchers face is efficiently identifying drugs that will bind tightly to the intended receptor. Zhu and Batista, with partners at UConn, including physics professor Lea Ferreira Dos Santos and representatives of Mirion Technologies and Boehringer Ingelheim, are developing algorithms that run on quantum computers to tackle this task. 

Drug safety, too, might be improved by quantum computing. New drugs must be rigorously checked for possible toxic side effects on the heart, liver, and immune system. As part of a de-emphasis on animal testing, the industry has been studying the use of classical computing tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence to evaluate possible side effects. But quantum computing techniques remain relatively unexplored.  

So, another group working with Zhu and Batista is developing algorithms that use toxicology data to predict the safety of drug candidates. They are studying a hybrid approach in which a classical computer does a first check for toxicity, then drug candidates that pass that test undergo a further check by a quantum algorithm. Such a hybrid quantum-classical approach is a new and potentially highly effective way to do AI. Project partners include UConn professor Bodhisattva Chaudhuri and researchers with Novartis and Pfizer. 

With this method, says Anthony Smaldone, a graduate student in the Batista lab, “we can remove drugs that are highly likely to fail in testing. Then we don’t have to rely on animal testing so heavily.” 

The hybrid method allows for tinkering that should help researchers determine where quantum computers offer efficiency gains, Smaldone explains. 

“We can slowly change our hybrid models, taking out classical components and putting quantum components in, and see what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “Hopefully, as we’re putting in these quantum components, we can start to see quantum advantages in doing so.”  

Currently, Smaldone says, the team is working with simulations only. Real-world success will have to wait for certain types of hardware and algorithms to catch up. “But this shows the first theoretical framework to do this efficiently,” he says. 

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Worth Repeating: Carbon-Neutral UConn https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/worth-repeating-carbon-neutral-uconn/ Mon, 24 Jun 2024 11:55:17 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215658 UConn has set the ambitious goal of attaining carbon neutrality by 2030 and will be carbon zero by 2040. We’ve made great strides toward those goals, including the installation of a state-of-the-art fuel cell at the Depot Campus in 2022 and the addition of eight more fuel cells that will soon come online at UConn Storrs. Clean energy research is a pillar of our academic mission at UConn, and clean energy living is our responsibility to the next generation.

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Tech Park Getting Fuel Cell Upgrade https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/tech-park-getting-fuel-cell-upgrade/ Mon, 24 Jun 2024 11:45:13 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215639 The UConn Tech Park will soon be powered exclusively by clean energy, the result of a partnership between the University and FuelCell Energy.

The Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at the Tech Park is partnering with Danbury-based FuelCell Energy on the effort, which aligns with UConn’s clean energy and sustainability ambitions. Over several years, four 250-kilowatt solid oxide fuel cells will be installed for a total of 1 megawatt of power.

“This valuable partnership will help UConn to accomplish two critical goals: utilizing clean and sustainable energy sources to power our campuses as we work toward our carbon neutrality goals, while at the same time providing research and learning opportunities for members of our campus community,” said UConn President Radenka Maric, a world-renowned expert in clean energy engineering. “Ensuring that UConn is as sustainable as possible and supporting research and innovation in the clean energy field is one of the great challenges of our lifetimes.”

The fuel cells will generate enough energy to supply all the Tech Park’s advanced technology laboratories, centers, and institutes. Importantly, the cells produce energy without combustion, generating electricity that is much cleaner than carbon-based sources.

“Innovation requires energy, and our leaders have worked hard to establish an environment where our power needs are met without negatively impacting our carbon footprint,” said Pamir Alpay, UConn’s Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. “The addition of these fuel cell units will sufficiently power the entire Tech Park, UConn’s nexus for research progress. In the process, we move closer to our goal of carbon neutrality without compromising the needs of our partners and centers that call the Tech Park home.”

Installation and Process

FuelCell Energy will complete the IPB project in two phases. After the second phase is complete, the system will be integrated into a building microgrid. Unused power will be exported to the Eversource power grid, according to FuelCell Energy.

The units will be configured to operate in a combined heat and power mode, allowing the University to integrate thermal energy recovery into an existing system within the IRB. UConn researchers will collect data from the fuel cell, analyzing efficiency, cleanliness, and other factors. FuelCell Energy will also provide educational experiences for UConn faculty and students, including lectures, facility tours, and internships.

FuelCell Energy’s President and CEO Jason Few said, “We are excited to work with UConn to support its Innovation Partnership Building and 2030 carbon-neutral goal, and we are proud that our home state school’s leadership in sustainable energy study and adoption.”

Honoring the Commitment

Maric has pledged that UConn will become carbon neutral by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2040. Those goals have transformed the University’s approach to new infrastructure, developed hundreds of research opportunities for faculty and students, and established new programs and initiatives that support development of clean energy and reduce the impact of climate change.

The addition of the new fuel cells also complements goals in the recently adopted UConn Strategic Plan by supporting expanded research and educational opportunities and adding to the wellbeing of the campus and community through its environmental stewardship.

The Depot Campus, which is home to the Center for Clean Energy (C2E2), is already fully powered by fuel cells. This spring, C2E2 received eight solid oxide fuel cell units as a gift from InfraPrime, a company also dedicated to carbon neutrality and eventual carbon negativity.

Discovery Drive on the north end of campus is designated as the Renewable Energy Corridor, with the Tech Park serving as the anchor. UConn’s research and industry collaborations are largely headquartered at the IPB, a state-of-the-art building providing space, interdisciplinary cooperation, and technology for key partners.

Maric has convened a Carbon Reduction Working Group, comprised of UConn leadership, faculty clean energy experts, staff members from schools and colleges, and several undergraduate and postgraduate students. The group tracks data of the University’s consumption of resources, such as energy and water, and supports academic research as well as responsible building practices as UConn continues to expand.

Plans include relocating C2E2 to the Tech Park, where it will take up residence in the IPB. Fuel cells are also planned for installation adjacent to the Putnam Refectory and Werth Residence Tower. Additionally, UConn is increasing the number of charging stations for electronic vehicles and is reviewing bids for construction of solar canopies to be built across 11 parking lots on the Storrs campus.

UConn has a legacy of clean energy and sustainability research and commitment that stretches more than a century. The fuel cell installation is the latest in a series of initiatives and milestones that include contributions to the moon landing and several undergraduate majors.

UConn is partnering with the federal government as well as fellow regional institutes and research universities to establish the Northeast as a leading developer of clean energy technology and to help industries in their decarbonization efforts.

In addition to improving emissions and upholding sustainability standards, the clean energy market is potentially substantial to the economy as a driver of research and employment opportunities.

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UConn College of Engineering Graduate Programs Ranked Nationally https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/uconn-college-of-engineering-graduate-programs-ranked-63rd-nationally/ Tue, 18 Jun 2024 15:26:05 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215528 The 2024 U.S. News & World Report rankings for graduate engineering programs have been released, and UConn’s College of Engineering (CoE) has seen significant rating increases in some areas, including civil engineering, environmental health, materials, and mechanical engineering. Overall, the program remained steady, ranked 63rd nationally.

Rankings are based on peer and recruiter assessments, faculty resources and credentials, articles published in industry journals, research activity, and research expenditures. Overall, the college was tied in the rankings with Brown, RIT, Stony Brook, and University of Arizona.

George Bollas is director of the Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering, the P&W Endowed Chair Professor in Advanced Systems Engineering with the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, and was recently appointed associate dean of research with the College of Engineering at UConn. This acknowledgment, he says, is a testament to the significant strides UConn has made in both research and education.

In the highly competitive field of engineering, rankings like these are not just numbers. They are a reflection of our commitment to excellence and innovation, as well as a result of our strong ties and partnership with world-leading industry partners, Bollas says. Our ascent in these rankings highlights the dedication of our faculty, the hard work of our students, and the ongoing support from our alumni and industry partners. We have invested heavily in cutting-edge research, state-of-the-art facilities, and fostering an environment that encourages groundbreaking discoveries. These efforts are designed to ensure that our graduates are not only well-prepared to meet the challenges of today’s engineering landscape but also are poised to be leaders in shaping the future.

Among improved ratings, CoE’s civil engineering program metrics increased dramatically over the previous year’s standings. Marisa Chrysochoou, department head for civil and environmental engineering, adds that the improvement is a direct result of the College’s strategic initiatives aimed at strengthening its program.

From enhancing our curriculum to investing in state-of-the-art facilities and fostering industry partnerships, every effort has been focused on elevating the quality and impact of our engineering education, says Chrysochoou. This achievement motivates us to continue striving for excellence and to push the boundaries of innovation and knowledge.

Rankings continue to be an important measurement of a program’s success and competitiveness, stresses Aida Ghiaei, Graduate Outreach & Diversity director, and an important asset in attracting top faculty and new students.

By achieving this ranking, we demonstrate that our efforts are yielding tangible results, positioning us as a competitive and respected institution in the engineering field, Ghiaei says. Being ranked alongside prestigious schools like Brown and the University of Arizona highlights our competitive edge and validates our strategic efforts to improve our program. This achievement not only boosts morale within our community but also ensures continued investment and growth, solidifying our position as a leader in engineering education and research.

More information about the college’s graduate programs can be found online.

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Krenicki Student Building Portable AI Escape Room https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/krenicki-student-building-portable-ai-escape-room/ Mon, 17 Jun 2024 12:00:27 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215330 So, there was one time on a trip to Spain when Matthew Marczak ’26 (ENG) found himself chained up in some guy’s basement.

He laughs about it now. But, true story, he was part of a group that voluntarily descended a staircase into a stranger’s basement, willingly agreed to being chained down there, and only slightly worried they wouldn’t make it out in time.

The whole experience resembled a scene from the horror movie, “Saw,” he says, in which the main character puts his victims through a battery of puzzle-like tests to save their lives.

“I love movies and TV shows, and something like this lets you be the main character,” Marczak says. “Imagine being Indiana Jones, walking into a temple, and having to run around putting totems on platforms. Escape rooms let you do that. They’re interactive, immersive experiences that let you be the character.”

In character, Marczak has been shackled to other pirates on a boat that rocked for an hour and a half while they figured out how to overthrow a mutiny. And he’s raced the clock as a government agent to save the president before a terminal disease got the better of him – or before the hour was up.

Marczak estimates he’s played upward of 75 escape rooms – the farthest from home being the basement in Spain and the largest in a 12,000-square-foot Las Vegas warehouse.

As grand an experience as those were, he’s now focused on building a portable escape room that people can play with friends at home, but one that’s no less immersive and no less interactive.

With funding from UConn’s IDEA Grant Program through the Office of Undergraduate Research, Marczak’s project has the working title, “Developing Next-Gen AI Entertainment for Portable Escape Rooms,” even though by the end of next academic year he expects to have produced a full-blown prototype that people can play.

The concept, he explains, is that a host would book the game from an escape room business with a physical address and pick it up to play at home. With a small group or large party, players would follow the game to its end and return it 24 hours later to the business, or in a big city maybe a locked drop box location.

“It would come in this cool, super high-tech wooden box with buttons, light sensors, and special effects to make you feel like you’re in a traditional escape room, but you’re at home,” Marczak says. “Inside the box, there would be a set of weird metal pieces that when screwed together form a robot that starts talking to you and that you can talk back to.”

The whole game centers on the idea of robot artificial intelligence and whether humans can train them before technology takes over the world – but in a fun way of considering the fall of humankind, Marczak jokes.

The game would use a cellular connection, not Wi-Fi or the internet, allowing it to be even more portable and able to be played just about anywhere, Marczak says, adding he expects to incorporate tricks using people’s phones, like directing a player to focus one’s camera onto an item to display a secret message.

That’s just augmented reality, he notes. The actual robot sending text messages or calling on the phone is real – because, after all, AIs are out to destroy the world.

Marczak has had a hand in developing the games “Breathless” and “Invasion” at Mind Factory Escape Games in Bridgeport where he’s been christened chief creative officer, so he understands what goes into a game’s evolution.

And that’s why this game doesn’t yet have a name. That depends in part on how he decides to end the storyline, he says.

At 12 years old, Marczak says, he played his first escape room and has been hooked on the concept since. During pandemic boredom in 2020, he found an old table at his house and taught himself electrical concepts to build into it a series of puzzles that a player would have to solve to stop a nuclear missile from launching.

He says that’s what sparked his interest in electrical engineering.

Playing the role of William Barfée in his high school’s performance of “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” helped develop a love of theater.

Put the two together and, at UConn, Marczak is an electrical engineering major with a minor in entertainment engineering and aims to work in the entertainment industry, maybe even designing immersive experiences at Walt Disney World.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how things work, and I had so much fun as a sophomore in high school designing the circuits for that first portable escape room,” he says. “I learned it all by watching YouTube videos or finding free online courses.”

A student at UConn’s Krenicki Arts and Engineering Institute, which joins the College of Engineering and School of Fine Arts to offer classes in entertainment engineering and industrial design, Marczak says escape rooms are a perfect example of merging the disciplines.

Getting the escape room’s robot to work is basic circuit design. Designing the game to make players feel transported is theatrical. Programming the two to work together is computer code, much of which is open source, Marczak says.

“I hit probably 20 different issues building that first one four years ago and learned a lot about what I could do better the next time, what needs to change,” he says.

Edward Weingart, Krenicki co-director and an associate professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts, is Marczak’s mentor on the project and has been a champion of his since his first, albeit unsuccessful, pitch for funding.

Marczak says he originally saw an opportunity for engineering students to get hands-on experience by building an escape room on campus. It would offer experiential learning and the possibility for a senior design project – not to mention serve as a program recruitment tool.

When that failed to secure monetary support, he regrouped, and considered that the only technology today’s portable escape rooms offer comes on a USB to plug into a computer. And video games are limited to 2D immersion.

“Most people who play escape rooms are not there for the puzzles. They’re there for an interactive, immersive experience. They’re there for the set. They’re there for the special effects. They’re there for experiential things,” he says.

Weingart and the Krenicki Institute pushed Marczak not to give up, he says, and urged him to apply for the IDEA funding with a shift to at-home entertainment. And it worked.

“I love being creative, coming up with these crazy ideas and making them reality,” Marczak says. “The possibility of doing that for a living one day is mind blowing.”

He continues, “Almost all companies use electrical engineers. I’m doing an internship now at Strain Measurement Devices in Wallingford, and I’m making sensors for the medical industry and aerospace.”

Broadway shows employ electrical engineers to build technology for sets, same for Hollywood and theme parks like Universal Studios. He even suggests job possibilities in the insurance, technology, and business sectors.

“The opportunities are endless,” Marczak says, noting, “None of this feels like work to me, even all my engineering classes. They’re so much fun. It doesn’t feel like I’m in class, because it’s something I want to learn.”

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New Master’s For Digital Design and Manufacturing Innovators https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/new-masters-for-digital-design-and-manufacturing-innovators/ Wed, 05 Jun 2024 11:15:53 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=214694 As academia works overtime to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding and evolving industry, one UConn Engineering graduate program is embracing the challenge to educate engineers to innovate with the latest digital design and manufacturing technologies. 

Computer-generated manufacturing designs.
(Contributed illustration, made with artificial intelligence)

The Master of Engineering (MENG) in Digital Design and Manufacturing is a 30-credit online graduate degree for engineers wishing to advance their knowledge in digital tools and models used in modern industries.

Students will learn and master the tools shaping the future of engineering, from digital twins and 3D design software to machine learning and data science, in a part-time program designed for their success. 

Together with faculty from the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Manufacturing Engineering, students will benefit from world-class research and teaching capabilities backed by significant funding from the likes of the National Science Foundation and various Departments of Defense, Energy, and Education funding agencies. 

“Students will learn from one of the strongest computational design manufacturing groups in the United States, whose faculty have extensive industry experience,” says School Director Horea Ilies. “We’re investing in digital design and manufacturing courses to meet the hiring needs in high-tech fields such as manufacturing engineering, software development, and robotics. These industries tend to pay well and contribute to the state of Connecticut’s economic growth, creating a successful cycle of growth for all involved.” 

 

Manufacturer.
(UConn Photo)

Upon completing the program, students will be able to: use digital design tools and processes to create and evaluate 3D CAD models; apply simulation and analysis skills to digital design projects; use emerging technologies in the digital design and manufacturing space; apply data-driven decision-making to the development of digital design and manufacturing products; use design optimization methods for the design of engineered products; and evaluate manufacturing automation and its potential for adaptation to industry trends.  

This MENG degree is offered through the Center for Advanced Engineering Education (CAEE).

The CAEE provides graduate engineering education and training that is relevant, interactive, convenient, and affordable. 

Plus, students can earn this degree remotely from anywhere in the world, offering an accessible path to advanced engineering education. 

“Our degrees are designed to help students elevate their career and make a lasting impact in the engineering world,” says CAEE Director Nora Sutton. “Our programs align with industry’s latest needs, and this Digital Design and Manufacturing MENG is one example of that effort.”

Students enrolled in this degree take classes such as CAD for Industrial Design; Data Science for Materials and Manufacturing; Manufacturing Automation and Industry 4.0; and Design Under Uncertainty and Health Prognostics and more. 

 

Enrollment for the new DDM MENG continues through July 15. Forge your path as an engineering innovation leader and apply today

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Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center Offers Technical Advising to Small Businesses https://today.uconn.edu/2024/06/connecticut-manufacturing-simulation-center-offers-technical-advising-to-small-businesses/ Mon, 03 Jun 2024 11:30:25 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=214714 Since 1982, Aero Gear, Inc. in Windsor has worked to engineer and manufacture customized gears and gearbox assemblies for the global aerospace industry. These drive gear systems help control the power that moves an airplane forward for Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, Boeing, and many other aerospace businesses.

ANSYS software training ME Seniors 2023
Since 2016, the CMSC has trained 1,800 UConn students on manufacturing and simulation software and processes. Pictured, mechanical engineering seniors are trained on the simulation software Ansys.

Although the company has since grown from two to 170 employees and houses dozens of machining instruments, some processes cannot be carried out in the facility. So, they sought technical advice from UConn’s Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center (CMSC).

“CMSC has the tools—and willing researchers—to approach complex materials physics problems that we simply have no way to investigate,” says Pat Brueckner, director of engineering at Aero Gear. “Our collaboration with CMSC helps us understand our heat treat and machining processes from a more academic perspective and close a scientific gap that exists between academia and real-world applications.”

In partnership with the U.S. Economic Development Administration, CMSC provides technical support—at no cost—to small-to-medium manufacturing businesses in Connecticut. The center strives to promote innovation and economic development and train the next-generation workforce with computing and simulation skills.

“Some businesses may not have relevant expertise or resources to handle complicated processes or have the right machinery to complete a job,” says Jeongho Kim, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of CMSC. “We’re able to help, by being sort of an R&D department for them. They give us their problems and we work to find them answers through physics-based modeling and simulation.”

CMSC also provides finite element modeling and simulation, structural/thermal/fluid analysis, and machine learning methods for diagnosis and prognosis. It uses state-of-the-art equipment to aid manufacturers with welding, laser cutting, 3D printing, machining, milling, cutting, heat treating, die quenching, stamping, spinning, metal forming, forging, casting, injection molding, composites manufacturing and additive manufacturing needs.

Professor Jeongho Kim is director and Professor Jiong Tang is associate director of UConn's Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center.
Professor Jeongho Kim is director and Professor Jiong Tang is associate director of UConn’s Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center.

But more importantly, the well-trained CMSC staff can work one-on-one with industry partners to help them find solutions for problems. Led by Director Kim and Associate Director Jiong Tang, United Technologies Corporation Professor of Advanced Materials and Processing, the CMSC team also consists of engineering graduate students and technicians.

For Aero Gear, the CMSC staff is helping with heat treatment and carburizing processes solutions for a customized steel gear. These processes can help ensure the metal is more durable and wear-resistant. CMSC is also taking the lead on crafting aluminum accessory gearbox housing by using a high precision milling process known as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling.

“Jeongho and his team will regularly present their latest findings and those data help shape our decision-making process when we run into manufacturing problems,” Brueckner says. “Their research is certainly helpful and has made our process more efficient. In my opinion, the partnership over the last few years has been very successful.”

Since its establishment in 2016, the CMSC contracted with 40 industries and trained more than 300 professionals, 1,800 UConn students, and 24 community students.

The center currently collaborates with Aero Gear and three other key industry partners: PCX Aerosystems in Newington; Carey Manufacturing in Cromwell; and Advanced Manufacturing, LLC in East Hartford.

The CMSC’s staff is working with PCX Aerospace on a carburization simulation of a steel thin-walled gear shaft used in the aerospace industry. “We greatly appreciate the CMSC’s professional work and willingness to address our technical needs,” says Gregory Niedbala, engineering manager at PCX Aerosystems. “Their simulation support has been helpful in overcoming challenges and achieving our goals. Their commitment to excellence and dedication to our success speaks volumes to the positive impact they have.”

For Carey Manufacturing, the team is helping business leaders Alison Carey and Mike Fitzpatrick on developing a simulation that depicts how a laser beam could cut through carbon steel.

CMSC is working with Advanced Manufacturing LLC on a friction stir welding simulation.
CMSC is working with Advanced Manufacturing LLC on a friction stir welding simulation.

And for Advanced Manufacturing LLC, CMSC is working with company president Dongsheng Li and process engineer Oliver Walz on a friction stir welding simulation and optimization. Friction stir welding technology allows for workpieces to be joined without needing to reach a melting point, hence, avoiding many of the issues present in traditional welding methods such as thermal stresses which can result in part failure under stress.

“Think of kneading of two pieces of dough or clay together in order to join them into a homogeneous solid,” Walz explains. “This process achieves a very high strength weld and is most commonly used in industries that fabricate aluminum parts but can be used to weld polymers, steels, copper, and even dissimilar metals.”

With only six employees, the small business will benefit from results of CMSC’s simulation by helping to improve the efficiency and efficacy of its technology processes.

“CMSC’s work in simulating material behavior of the entire welding process is a significant contribution to our company’s engineering practices,” Walz says. “The greater understanding of material behavior these simulations show, will give us the ability to predict and mitigate negative effects of a weld on a workpiece such as material stresses, deformation, and weld faults.”

 

The Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center is housed at the Engineering and Science Building at UConn’s campus. For more information, visit the Connecticut Manufacturing Center’s website or LinkedIn page.

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Discovering and Developing Hidden Engineering Talent https://today.uconn.edu/2024/05/discovering-and-developing-hidden-engineering-talent/ Fri, 31 May 2024 17:58:41 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=214886 The UConn College of Engineering (CoE), the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion (VII) at UConn’s College of Engineering, and Pratt & Whitney (P&W) partnership recently received Honorable Mention at the inaugural Governor’s Workforce Partnership Awards held in Southington, Conn. The award ceremony was part of The Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s Connecticut Workforce Summit.

Among 34 nominations, the CoE/P&W collaboration is one of only four receiving this honor, which was presented by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, on behalf of Governor Lamont, who spoke at the opening ceremonies earlier that day. Specifically, Pratt & Whitney’s work with VII – Engineering Ambassadors, BRIDGE and the Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program were cited.

Under the subtitle, “Discovering Hidden Talent,” the Summit featured presenters and participants from business, education, community-based organizations and the public sector who are working together to expand Connecticut’s workforce. Per its title, this year’s summit focused on developing a more diverse and inclusive Connecticut workforce through public-private partnerships that are expanding access to training, education and work/study programs. Goals include strengthening employee pipelines, supporting historically underserved communities and creating a more robust state economy.

“This partnership exemplifies the power of academia and industry joining forces to propel advancements in aerospace engineering,” said UConn Engineering Dean Kazem Kazerounian. “More than that, though, this recognition celebrates the good work of people joining together toward a common goal: highly skilled, diverse communities. We appreciate Pratt & Whitney for supporting our engineers in all stages of life.”

Improving outcomes for underrepresented minorities in Connecticut

Pratt & Whitney supports multiple programs at UConn aimed at increasing the diversity of the engineering workforce and improving outcomes for underrepresented minorities in Connecticut. P&W and UConn achieve these goals via three programs that engage and support would-be engineers at all levels of their educational journey from early to late grade-school through the Engineering Ambassadors program; to the transition to college with the BRIDGE program; and finally, while they are students at UConn, with the Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program.

Dave Golfin, associate director, Systems Engineering at Pratt & Whitney, accepted the gubernatorial citation on behalf of the company. He was accompanied by Jadon Gomez-Stafford, a UConn mechanical engineering student participating in the Pratt & Whitney Scholars program, and by Stephany Santos, just named the new Vergnano Endowed Chair for Inclusion at UConn Engineering.

Golfin was a member of the Engineering Ambassadors program when he was an engineering undergraduate at UConn. He says that experience, including sharing his passion for engineering with young students across the state, motivated him to take on a leadership role in the UConn and RTX engineering outreach partnerships, including the Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program.

“There is a huge need in engineering to connect underrepresented and undiscovered talent with the training, skills development and funding necessary for them to discover engineering as a viable career path and build a successful career,” Golfin explains. “This award recognizes the Pratt & Whitney and UConn partnerships, some in place for over a decade. It’s my hope that this recognition has brought our programs to the forefront of other industry, state, and educational organizations’ minds such that they may implement their own similarly purposed programs and increase opportunities for the next generation of Connecticut workers.”

The Engineering Ambassadors program, with an annual grant from RTX – Pratt & Whitney’s parent company – trains undergraduate engineering students from all backgrounds in communication and presentation skills. This allows them to effectively engage K-12 students around the state to promote a STEM education and related careers. The Engineering Ambassadors program puts young students of all backgrounds, with little exposure to the concepts of engineering, in front of near-peers who show them how accessible an engineering career can be.

The BRIDGE program has played a pivotal foundational role for underrepresented minority students in their academic journey, supporting more than 1,400 young engineers since its inception. Over five weeks the summer prior to freshman year, BRIDGE gives these students exposure to the professors, college environment, and courses they will be taking and helps them forge crucial connections with their peers before the hectic pace of freshman fall takes hold.

The program consists of on-campus residency with coursework, lab exposure, industry tours, team building, and networking opportunities. In addition, this program stays connected with those students and provides a resource to them throughout their college experience to ensure they have support throughout their UConn experience, and enhances retention and graduation. Pratt & Whitney provides financial support for program operation and scholarships for students leading into their freshman year, and hosts BRIDGE students for tours of the Pratt & Whitney labs, shop floors, and training center.

Pratt & Whitney Vice President of Engineering and Technology Geoff Hunt speaks at the Vergnano Showcase 2024
Pratt & Whitney Vice President of Engineering and Technology Geoff Hunt speaks at the Vergnano Showcase 2024

The Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program is a five-year, $1.25 million annual investment to benefit underrepresented minority engineers of the UConn College of Engineering. The program comprises annual cohorts of five students who receive a $10,000 annual scholarship for four years; engineering internship opportunities after their sophomore year; and a Pratt & Whitney-sponsored senior design capstone project. In addition to these annual scholarships, Pratt & Whitney Scholars are also introduced to a near-peer mentor, who is an engineer at Pratt & Whitney, and an executive mentor who is a director or higher-level contributor within the company. The program is funded to support 20 students with a goal to extend beyond the initial five-year partnership with UConn’s College of Engineering.

Gomez-Stafford, entering his senior year this fall, is about to start his second summer internship at Pratt & Whitney’s facilities in East Hartford, where he’ll focus on developing his quality control and modeling skills as a commercial aircraft engine manufacturing designer. In his previous internship, he served as a project engineer studying engineering changes and failure analysis for military aircraft engines.

“This has been an incredibly rewarding opportunity for me, personally and professionally, especially since I’ve always been drawn to aerospace and hope one day to work with NASA and help design space suits for astronauts,” Gomez-Stafford explains. “I started out with BRIDGE as a freshman, which opened doors to training, mentors and scholarships, including participating in the first cohort of the Pratt & Whitney Scholars program. That kind of foundation and experience is critical, as mechanical engineering is a challenging, daunting and competitive field.”

Gomez-Stafford says he’s planning to remain at UConn’s College of Engineering after his senior year to complete his master’s, specializing in aerospace and biomedical engineering. He credits the Vergnano Institute and Pratt & Whitney for their commitment to helping engineering students more effectively navigate from arrival to graduation.

“Proactive outreach programs like those offered through UConn and the College of Engineering help change the playing field, especially for minority students,” he reflects. “They provide opportunities that would be far more challenging to achieve without this coordinated guidance and support, and truly make a difference. I’m proud we’ve been recognized by CBIA and the Governor’s Workforce Partnership, and honored to be part of this program as they showcase hidden talent in the UConn engineering community.”

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Nation’s Best Engineers Honored at UConn https://today.uconn.edu/2024/05/nations-best-engineers-honored-at-uconn/ Thu, 30 May 2024 19:40:55 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=215165 On May 9, the UConn College of Engineering Academy of Distinguished Engineers honored its newest wave of inductees, recognizing the brightest and most impactful engineers the university has produced. 

In a ceremony on the Storrs campus, faculty, staff, and alumni commended the 10 inductees comprising the class of 2024. They are as follows: 

Rashi Akki graduated in 1990 with a master’s in chemical engineering. She later launched Ag-Grid Energy LLC, with a vision for simultaneously improving the viability and financial stability of American dairy farms through the production of biofuels from cow manure and food waste. 

Saptarshi Basu graduated in 2004 and 2007 with a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering. He then relocated to India, where he joined the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. He serves as the Pratt & Whitney Chair Professor in the department of mechanical engineering. 

Jacquelynn Garofano completed her master’s and doctorate in materials science and engineering in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Garofano began her career as a research scientist at United Technologies Research Center (now RTX) in 2011. She became the chief technology officer at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology in 2021. 

Daniel Goberman finished his master’s and doctorate in materials science and engineering in 2001 and 2002, respectively. A triple Husky, he also earned his bachelor’s in physics in 1994. He is currently a senior technical fellow for Materials Characterization at RTX Technologies Research Center. 

Edward Grace graduated in 1962 with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. Grace spent 10 years at the MIT Instrumentation/Draper Laboratory working on the Apollo program. He was a member of the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Nixon. He later went on to found several high-tech companies. 

Robert Hotaling graduated with his bachelor’s in electrical engineering in 2001. He worked in the banking and technology fields before joining the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. He previously served as Deputy Commissioner and Chief Investment Officer and is now currently the senior advisor and Federal Programs director at the DECD. 

Mark Raymond finished his bachelor’s in computer science and engineering in 1988. He worked for 21 years in the technology consulting industry before joining the state leadership team in 2011. He currently serves as the Chief Information Officer for the state. He is responsible for the state’s executive-branch technology. 

Richard Twilley graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s in civil engineering. After commencement, he served as a nuclear-trained officer aboard USS Annapolis. He then returned to UConn for a juris doctor degree, and is now a partner in Athorus as a registered patent attorney. 

Marcelle Wood completed his master’s in mechanical engineering in 1987. After earning his degree, he joined UConn as assistant and associate department head until 2000. He later became the assistant dean for undergraduate education and diversity. He was a liaison to the state’s community colleges, and supported the Connecticut Invention Convention. 

Doug Young earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1983. He then joined Northrop Grumman as a member of the B-2 Spirit development team. He is currently vice president and general manager of the Strike division, which delivers aircraft to support U.S. strategic deterrence.

Millenia Polanco
GOLD Rising Star Awardee Millenia Polanco speaks about her earliest engineering experiences.

The Academy has also recently honored the Graduates of the Last Decade with the GOLD Rising Star Award. 

Rising star Reza Amin graduated with his doctorate in mechanical engineering and master’s in global entrepreneurship in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He is the founder of Bastion Health, a leading digital platform revolutionizing male health. He also co-founded Encapsulate, which focuses on chemotherapy precision. 

Rising star Haley Palmer earned her bachelor’s in civil engineering in 2019. After commencement she pursued a master’s in construction management from Purdue, and has worked at the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company since 2019. Palmer has been involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in her education and career. 

Rising star Millenia Polanco graduated with her bachelor’s in computer science in 2022. As a student she contributed to research in osteoporosis, environmental injustice, COVID-19 campus testing compliance, and ultrasound imaging.  She is a software engineer for American Express in their Enterprise, Data Governance and Artificial Intelligence Department. 

Finally, the Academy honored its first Lifetime Achievement Awardee, Dean Kazem Kazerounian. The Academy commends Kazerounian for his vision in advancing the college in excellence and innovation. He joined UConn in 1984 in teaching, and then began a 30-year path in leadership roles, culminating in a 12-year tenure as dean. 

Photographs from the event can be viewed online. 

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Using Machine Learning to Model Dead Zones in Lakes https://today.uconn.edu/2024/05/using-machine-learning-to-model-dead-zones-in-lakes/ Wed, 29 May 2024 11:15:23 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=214560 Aquatic ecosystems are complex environments that can be affected by many variables, including weather, the biological activities of the organisms living within them, and anthropogenic nutrient pollution. The influence these variables may have on aquatic ecosystems can also depend on the characteristics of the water body, such as temperature and depth. These interconnected processes can be tipped out of balance with devastating consequences.

To help anticipate these consequences, a group of UConn researchers have developed a versatile computer modeling method using machine learning to enhance existing efforts to monitor and predict lake water quality. The method was recently published in Environmental Modeling & Software.

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Head of the Atmospheric and Air Quality Modeling Group Associate Professor Marina Astitha explains the research was five years in the making and is a collaboration with a former student, Christina Feng Chang ‘22 Ph.D. as part of her dissertation, and Department of Marine Sciences and Head of the Environmental Chemistry and Geochemistry research group, Professor Penny Vlahos.

Aquatic environments are susceptible to eutrophication, a process triggered by excess nutrients, most prominently tied to fertilizer runoff from agricultural activities, that make their way to water ecosystems and lead to algae blooms. The increase in growth and eventual decomposition of these plant-like materials consume much or all of the available oxygen, to the detriment of other organisms in the environment. Oxygen-deprived or hypoxic areas are dubbed “dead zones” and can lead to fish mortality, water quality issues, and other harmful environmental and economic impacts. Astitha explains that these eutrophication events are expected to intensify with climate change, and that models like this will become more important for monitoring and prediction purposes.

The researchers focused their study on Lake Erie’s central basin, which has experienced seasonal algal blooms and eutrophication events for decades. The lake’s proximity to large agricultural areas, where fertilizers are used, and metropolitan centers, where air pollution is a concern, presents a unique set of challenges that the team aimed to study.

With millions of people relying on Lake Erie for their water, modeling has been and continues to be instrumental in monitoring water quality, says Astitha.

“Right now, predictive models do day-to-day forecasts, which is very important, especially for the people living in these areas because they’re big population hubs. Water is not just for recreational purposes; people use it in their daily lives.”

However, Astitha says no single model can account for all the variables that impact water quality. To address this, they started building machine learning models to integrate data from different sources and train machine learning algorithms with observations in the lake.

Astitha says their first publication using this method focused on machine learning modeling of chlorophyll a, an indicator of algal biomass and eutrophication, and a second paper used the same methodology but looked at nutrient pollution from rivers and streams. This most recent paper looks at physical and biological processes confined within a physics-based model to understand the dynamic processes involved in eutrophication events.

Astitha says they must start the model building from scratch for each of the processes they are studying but it is necessary to assess the different physical, biological, weather-related, and human processes that impact eutrophication.

Chang explains that eutrophication processes start in the spring when fertilizer applications on agricultural lands followed by rain events can flush the nutrients into the lake. During the summer, Lake Erie’s waters form three layers, a warmer one closer to the surface called the epilimnion, an intermediate layer that experiences the most drastic water temperature change called the metalimnion, and a deeper, cooler one called the hypolimnion. The metalimnion layer houses the thermocline, where the temperature changes abruptly. In summer during stratification, there is little to no mixing between the epilimnion and hypolimnion layers, which means that the deepest waters become increasingly oxygen-deprived throughout the summer.

The lake’s central basin is prone to the most severe hypoxic events, and to study these events and understand what is driving them, Astitha explains the model was designed to predict dissolved oxygen (DO), which is a proxy for hypoxia in the water, and apparent oxygen utilization (AOU), which is a proxy for biological activity in the aquatic ecosystem. They used 15 years of data collected between 2002 to 2017 to train the model.

The results were good, says Astitha, and the model accurately predicted the observed DO and AOU conditions. The model also identified that thermal stratification, or the separate temperature layers in the water column, was the most impactful variable driving eutrophication in their study area.

“It was a good proof of concept because there are scarce data points in the lake,” says Astitha. “Ideally, any model would need a more extensive lake coverage, which is not there. It’s not feasible with the point observations we have. Nevertheless, the model worked very well.”

Models like this will become increasingly important for water quality monitoring and support decision making as the climate continues to change. Astitha says they expect conditions, such as temperature increases, to intensify stratification, while potentially exacerbating the amount of nutrients entering the lake with extreme precipitation events caused by climate change.

“What happens with hypoxia is that in this natural system, they have nitrogen and phosphorus in them anyway, but when hundreds of acres of land are fertilized, some of that fertilizer leeches into the water. It depends on the mixing or stratification of the lake, and weather conditions influence these. Conceptually, we think climate change will make things worse, and we can now entertain hypothetical future scenarios with the model within the conditions of climate simulations.”

Astitha says future research includes applying the methodology to other freshwater or marine ecosystems and a more thorough analysis using different climate change projection data to investigate the impact of climate change scenarios on water quality of those systems.

“From my point of view, we wanted to build a tool that complements the models already doing this important prediction and monitoring. In the era of machine learning and artificial intelligence, we are trying to bring that piece in and see how helpful it is, which motivated me to start and continue this work.”

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Reducing Big Rig Parking Problems https://today.uconn.edu/2024/05/reducing-big-rig-parking-problems/ Thu, 16 May 2024 11:30:37 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=212703 As the demand for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) services has surged, so has the need for commercial motor vehicle parking. Finding a safe spot to pull off the road and rest overnight can be a challenge for commercial truck drivers, especially in the northeast where interstate highways crisscross more densely populated areas and the cost of real estate is high.

Researchers at UConn’s Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center (CTSRC) are working to develop an app to address the problem, which can result in drivers parking on highway entrance and exit ramps or on the shoulder of the road to comply with federal rest requirements. The three-year pilot project, funded through a $1.46 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and $258,981 from the Connecticut DOT, calls for the development of a Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS) to disseminate information on the availability of commercial vehicle parking in real time.

Eric Jackson, a UConn research professor and director of CTSRC and Connecticut Transportation Institute (CTI), worked with FMCSA to develop the idea for the project. Mohammad Razaur Rahman Shaon, an associate research scientist at CTSRS and CTI is primary investigator. Monika Filipovska, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, is co-PI.

“Parking in the northeast has always been an issue because our interstates were built in the 1950s and are in more densely populated areas,” says Jackson.

“Truck parking is a safety issue,” adds Shaon. “If we can provide parking information beforehand, drivers may decide they want to take a break before they get to Connecticut. This will allow them to make more informed decisions about their itinerary, routes, and connections.”

UConn is developing the app in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). They hope that advancing the technological capabilities of CMV parking notifications in Connecticut will encourage the use of intelligent transportation system (ITS) applications throughout the northeast.

Their team is more than a year into the first phase of the project, which will include a review of the literature on TPIMS, development of an ITS framework for real-time data collection, and the app itself. The team will also inventory the supply of public and privately available truck parking and assess demand for it. A separate survey of CMV drivers to better understand the parking issues they encounter in Connecticut will be conducted by students.

The proposed ITS framework will consist of sensors – a mix of video cameras, in-ground and infrared sensors, radar, and laser scanners –a data processing component supported by a state-operated Advanced Traffic Management System or private server, and an assortment of technology that drivers can use to determine where parking is available. Such technology could include in-cab electronic logging devices (ELDs), and Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) units, a wireless communication technology that enables vehicles to communicate with each other directly without using cellular or other infrastructure. Digital message boards known as Electronic Dynamic Message Signs (DMS), feeds to mobile apps, interactive voice response and websites are among the other means of relaying real-time parking updates being considered.

“These technologies allow us to collect, process, and share valid real-time parking information to enable informed decision-making for truck drivers, which can be critical to safety,” says  Filipovska.

Jackson and his team at CTSRC are best known for their work with motor vehicle crash data, including crashes involving CMVs. The idea for a truck parking app took root, he says, at a time when the state DOT was finishing up an inventory of public CMV parking and had just released its 2022-2026 Statewide Freight Plan, which included a review of CMV smart parking solutions employed by the states of Texas, California, and Minnesota.

“Part of the Freight Plan was to expand CMV parking,” Jackson says. “Their inventory included only public spaces. Our project will look at public and private parking together“.

The share of goods being transported by truck has steadily grown in recent years, with an estimated 72.5 percent of total domestic tonnage – nearly 12 billion tons – shipped in 2019, according to the American Trucking Association. The extensive network of expressways in the U.S., larger and heavier trucks, stable fuel prices, increased competition, and a reduction of branch rail lines, have all contributed to the growth and heightened concerns about safety and the need to offer CMV drivers a convenient way to find a safe place to park and sleep.

FMCSA “hours-of-service” (HOS) regulations are designed to ensure that drivers are rested, awake and alert on the road. The rules require 30-minute driving breaks for every 8-hour stretch of continuous driving, and limit consecutive hours of driving to a maximum of 14 hours with a passenger or 15 hours without one, followed by 10 consecutive hours off the clock.

FMCSA introduced a “Smart Park” program to demonstrate nationally how technology might be used to identify and convey real-time parking availability information. As the federal agency responsible for regulating and overseeing commercial motor vehicle safety, FMCSA had been pushing hard for Connecticut to implement some sort of solution, Jackson says.

In the Midwest, an association of transportation officials representing the states of Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, is working to develop and implement a TPIMS truck parking management solution serving that region. Other states are implementing lower tech solutions. Kentucky, for example, has introduced a “Truck Haven” program that allows CMV parking at weight and safety inspection facilities. Iowa has turned several weigh stations into truck parking locations and rebuilt rest areas with expanded truck parking.

Expanding public truck parking facilities in Connecticut would be more challenging and is not currently under consideration, Jackson says. The app will instead offer truck drivers a way to locate existing parking facilities in the state or identify available parking in neighboring states when none can be found in Connecticut.

The supply and demand analysis conducted in Phase I will be used to develop the framework for the Phase II placement of cameras on roadways, Jackson says. Once approved by state DOT, the cameras will be deployed to begin providing real-time parking updates. Phase II will also include collecting user feedback on the app with an eye toward refining and improving it for users.

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Driven to Succeed: UConn Formula SAE Makes History with 4th Place Win https://today.uconn.edu/2024/05/driven-to-succeed-uconn-formula-sae-makes-history-with-4th-place-win/ Thu, 16 May 2024 11:00:45 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=214283 The UConn Formula SAE team is revved up after earning a record-breaking ranking.

During a three-day competition at Michigan International Speedway May 8-11, UConn competed against 118 other national and international teams and placed 4th overall, the highest in UConn’s history.

UConn Formula car on racetrack
UConn Formula SAE has 80 members, of which 67 attended the competition at the Michigan International Speedway. This was the most of any team present. (Photo courtesy of Milton Levin)

“The team was totally ecstatic,” explains UConn Formula SAE (FSAE) President and mechanical engineering major Abhiemanyu Sukumaran ’24 (ENG). “As they were announcing the overall places, we heard 8,7,6, etc. Then they called our name, and everyone started jumping and screaming for joy! We celebrated like we won the national championship. It was bliss to have broken the record for our highest placement ever.”

UConn FSAE is a student-run organization that combines students’ passions for motorsport and engineering. The 80-member-club consists of students from different majors and class years who work towards the goal of racing a Formula-style car competitively. Each component of the car is designed and assembled by students.

The annual competition, organized by SAE International (previously known as the Society of Automotive Engineers) challenges college students to conceive, design, fabricate, develop, and compete with formula-style vehicles. “Formula” vehicles are small, single-seater racecars characterized by a low-to-the-ground aerodynamic design, an open cockpit, and exposed wheels. These high-performance vehicles can reach speeds over 110 mph on certain tracks.

During the event, teams receive points for participation in static events (cost presentation; design presentation; and business presentation) and dynamic events (acceleration; skidpad; autocross; and endurance). UConn placed 27th in cost; 11th in the design; 6th in business presentation; 8th in acceleration; 8th in skidpad; 5th in autocross; and 6th in endurance.

A student works on a formula vehicle
Lauren Guo ’25 (ENG) is head of controls for the UConn FSAE team. (Chris LaRosa/UConn)

“We indeed have an exceptional FSAE team at UConn,” says team advisor Wajid Chishty, professor in residence of mechanical engineering.

This was UConn’s 14th year competing at the Michigan International Speedway. In 2023, the team placed 11th overall and strived to make the 2024 project—named CT-151IC—even better.

“We improved many of our controls systems to make them more adjustable, we improved our suspension design, our aero package is much more durable,” Sukumaran says. “We also really focused on track testing to setup the car as best we could.”

The UConn team isn’t stopping with their combustion-engine model. In June, the team will debut their first-ever electric vehicle to competition.

SAE 2024 team
The 2023-24 UConn Formula SAE team.

For more information visit https://www.uconnformulasae.com. To view additional photos of the competition, visit https://www.instagram.com/uconnformulasae/.

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Technology Entrepreneurship: Collaborative Pitch Day Showcases UConn’s Best https://today.uconn.edu/2024/05/technology-entrepreneurship-collaborative-pitch-day-showcases-uconns-best/ Wed, 08 May 2024 14:30:11 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=213989 As the semester draws to a close, student entrepreneurs are celebrating their achievements and making one “final pitch” to fund their innovations. 

Monday, April 22 was the final pitch day and culmination of the Technology Innovation and  Entrepreneurship courses for Spring 2024. The two-part series is offered by the College of Engineering and the School of Business.

The course is led by Dr. Leila Daneshmandi, Assistant Professor in Residence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering and Director of the Entrepreneurship Hub (eHub) and Sam Nanayakkara, Professor and entrepreneur. 

Tech-Entrepreneurship Spotlight

Professor Nanayakkara is a serial entrepreneur specialized in startup operations and digital technology who uses his skill sets as an adjunct professor within the School of Business.   

Students in the TIE courses hailed from the College of Engineering, the School of Business, and the School of Nursing. This year the course opened to nursing students, a partnership through the Nursing and Engineering Innovation Center. 

The student ventures that presented were Green Grid Farms, Puppy Palace, Transplant Rescue, KLAD, eKardia, and Alevia Pharma OraSpray. 

“These students have worked hard over one or two semesters building technology-enabled ventures in areas that require significant innovation to drive change,” says Daneshmandi. “Today is a time of celebration as they look back at all they have achieved.” 

Engineering Associate Dean Leslie Shor, Connecticut Invention Convention Executive Director Nick Briere, Nursing Visiting Professor Tiffany Kelley, Connecticut Technology Council Executive Director Melina Erwin, FORGE Senior Program Manager Aaron Monikowski, Entrepreneur Mori Beheshti, and UConn Digital Media and Design Graduate Student Nooshin Farashaei judged the event. 

This year’s event also featured two new additions.  

Thanks to the Connecticut Invention Convention, the UConn community heard from three young inventors in the K-12 inventor space. Kaylee Vengruskas presented the Bucket Unstucker, a device to prevent 5-gallon buckets from sticking together while stacked. Rhea Doshi presented CocoPure, a filtration device to clean drinking water. Finally, Liam Jurado presented his 3D printed device to easily pull Play-Doh from its plastic container. 

The judges were impressed with the children’s inventions, and encouraged them to consider additional aspects for their budding entrepreneurial projects. 

The group also heard from top student ventures making waves outside of the TIE course. They include ParticleN, Genesist, and Toribio Labs Zemi Platforms, some of which were alumni of past TIE courses.  

“Engineering faculty and staff are paving the future of entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Dean Kazem Kazerounian who attended the event to meet the students. “I applaud Professor Daneshmandi and her colleagues for inspiring these students and promoting the College as an epicenter of entrepreneurship and innovation.” 

More information about the College of Engineering’s technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship courses, which are open to undergraduate and graduate students from all Schools and Colleges are available through the Entrepreneurship Hub. Photos from the event can be viewed online. 

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Celebrating UConn’s Class of 2024 https://today.uconn.edu/2024/05/celebrating-uconns-class-of-2024/ Fri, 03 May 2024 12:30:15 +0000 https://today.uconn.edu/?p=213246 In 1883, the very first commencement at what is now the University of Connecticut looked like this: six graduates, all male, received certificates rather than diplomas in a ceremony at Storrs Congregational Church presided over by J.M. Hubbard, a trustee from Middletown.

Things will look a bit different this May, some 141 years after that humble gathering.

In the newly launched website dedicated to this year’s graduates, you will meet Huskies who are veterans, Huskies who are philanthropists, Huskies who are already well into professional careers, Huskies who saw UConn as the pathway to a new life, and Huskies who are carrying on a family tradition of earning a UConn degree.

UConn students cheering in Gampel Pavilion.
Excellence is something that Huskies have become accustomed to (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

More than 8,000 degrees will be awarded to Huskies who have come from as far away as Malaysia and as close to home as Mansfield, their ranks full of doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers, Air Force officers, professional basketball players, engineers, entrepreneurs, attorneys, farmers, artists, social workers, pharmacists, chemists, biologists, journalists, and other things that J.M. Hubbard and his audience of six could have scarcely conceived all those years ago.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: the commitment to education for and by the public that rests at the heart of UConn’s mission.

The Class of 2024, having weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and a host of less dramatically disruptive challenges, strides forward in May to serve their towns, state, nation, and world. In big and small ways, in endeavors that will make headlines and in everyday acts of grace that will never be known by more than a handful of people, the newest UConn Husky alums will make the world a better place.

Congratulations, and remember: you may no longer be students today, but you’ll always be Huskies Forever.

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