By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
Raised on the outskirts of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Malcolm Lewis ’24 grew up in a bilingual-speaking household. His mother, Anke Finger, a professor of German studies at the University of Connecticut, would frequently Deutsch zuhause sprechen, although Lewis’s primary language was always English.
So, when it came time to begin language studies in high school, Lewis naturally gravitated to German.
Lewis, who also enjoys mountain biking and tinkering with cars, decided to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at UConn. And because of his interest in German, he also enrolled in UConn EuroTech, the German international engineering program.
Upon completion of the five-year program, Lewis will graduate with a dual degree—a B.A. in German and a B.S. in mechanical engineering.
“The nice thing about this program is that you are able to make it as easy or as difficult as you’d like,” Lewis said. “By that I mean you can spend your time taking mostly German classes or any other classes you find interesting, or you can challenge yourself and continue progressing in your area of study in a different environment. I would recommend this program to anyone that is considering moving to Europe or anyone that just wants some international experience.”
Now in its 30th year, EuroTech is continuing its mission to help prepare students for careers in the global market. On Oct. 23, 120 EuroTech Program alumni, current students, faculty, staff, special guests, and key corporate partners gathered at the UConn Alumni Center to commemorate three decades of achievement. Speakers included EuroTech alumni Ethan Beattie '23 and Emily Sweeney '19; current Eurotech student Hunter Rego '24; and industry speaker Stefan Ziegler, a lead engineer of modeling and forecasting at Eversource Energy. Sonja Kreibich, the Consul General of Germany, and Andreas Weissenbach of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University attended.
There's much to celebrate. More than 300 alumni have completed the Eurotech program since 1993, and in 2022, INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine recognized UConn Eurotech with an “Inspiring Programs in STEM Award.”
“We’re so excited to celebrate the program’s accomplishments and honor those who continue to make it a success,” said EuroTech co-director Friedemann Weidauer, professor of German studies. “We have really worked to design the program to prepare students for a career in the global market by offering them a first-hand experience and practice of engineering in Germany.”
The UConn Eurotech program is open to any qualified engineering student and requires no previous knowledge of German. In addition to German studies coursework, Eurotech participants travel abroad as part of the Baden-Württemberg Exchange Program that allows students to receive credit for studies in the partner-state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Students attend universities in Heidelberg, Freiburg, Tübingen, Konstanz, Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Hohenheim, and Ulm.
This fall, three College of Engineering students, including Thomas Miller III ’25, mechanical engineering; Isabell Sterett Lee ’25, materials science and engineering; and John Womelsdorf ’26, computer science and engineering; are studying abroad through EuroTech—Miller in Heidelberg and Sterett Lee and Womelsdorf in Stuttgart.
“I happen to be of the lovely coincidence that Germany has a great reputation for engineering, and half of my family lives there,” Womelsdorf said. “The EuroTech program has been the perfect opportunity to experience a foreign culture for an extended period of time, improve my German through the best way possible (immersion), and spend time with my family."
EuroTech students would begin taking German language courses their first year at UConn. Once abroad, students take a four-week intensive German language and culture course at their host institution before enrolling in classes.
During the second and third year, the EuroTech curriculum requires students to take German 3220: German Recitation in Applied Mechanics; German 3211: Introduction to the Sciences in German’ and German 3222: Fields of Technology. In 3221 and 3222, students are required to give a 10-minute presentation in German on a technical topic. Past topics have included public transport concepts, energy, particulate filters, delayed resonators, hydraulics, and chemical reactions.
As a final component of UConn EuroTech, students who are advanced in their engineering studies, foreign language skills, and interpersonal workplace skills, may participate in a six-month internship abroad. Students have interned with popular companies such as Merck, Böhringer-Ingelheim, Porsche, Fraunhofer Institute, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW, among many others.
During the Spring 2023 semester, Lewis, who attended the University of Stuttgart as part of the Baden-Württemberg exchange, worked as a bike mechanic for Bike’N Soul, the largest bike shop and rental provider in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria.
“[The internship] was a fantastic learning experience for me and I greatly valued my time working for this company and it was a great steppingstone for things I am hoping to achieve in my future,” Lewis said. “At this point after spending a year in Germany and Austria I would consider myself fluent in German and I have even gained a better understanding of the language due to the fact that I had to learn to understand so many different dialects.”
Womelsdorf recently finished writing his resume in German and will start applying for his internship soon. “I am eyeing a couple companies, mainly: Bosch, Mercedes, and Fraunhofer (Research Institute)," he said.
By the time UConn EuroTech engineers graduate, they’ll have the ability to understand the German approach to business, communicate with fellow engineers, and be able to help the company become more successful in the American market, explained Sebastian Wogenstein, associate professor of German studies and academic advisor. “They’ll be equipped to work with many of the thousands of global companies that need engineers who can function in a variety of cultural settings.”
EuroTech alumnae Nicole Henry ’16 says the program gave her “the courage and the push” she needed to move back to Europe after graduating from UConn. Henry ended up moving the U.K., where she completed her Ph.D. in 2023 and works as a postdoc researcher. “The EuroTech program showed me how many incredible opportunities are available to you when you step outside your comfort zone,” she said in her EuroTech portrait.
Alumnus William "Cliff" Birtwell '11 moved to Berlin, Germany four years ago and co-found a the startup Meisterwerk. His co-founders, he said in his EuroTech portrait, "found it attractive to have an American on board, citing our reputation for having a strong work ethic. Living abroad and learning a culture firsthand was likely the most significant experience in my life so far."
And Aaditya Vyas ’13, who works as a senior software engineer at Pratt & Whitney considers the EuroTech program “by far the best decision” that he made as an undergraduate. “Earning a paycheck abroad, paying bills, working with German colleagues and collaborating in a foreign language challenged me in many ways, but I came out of the program as a much more well-rounded individual having completed this experience,” Vyas said in his EuroTech portrait.
Although Lewis relished his time schooling and working abroad, his post-UConn plans will likely keep him in the States.
“As of now I have no intentions of living in Europe, but I will more than likely at least be back to visit.”
Read more about UConn EuroTech's 30th anniversary online here.
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
Like many ambitious kindergarteners, Jose Cevallos Jr. ’24 aspired to be an astronaut when he grew up.
“I remember being fascinated by the idea that there are people that work and even live in space for periods of time,” he said.
Now a senior at the University of Connecticut, he hasn’t let go of that dream.
“One day I hope to be one of the very few candidates to participate in NASA’s Astronaut Training Program and one day go to space,” he said. “I always knew how difficult and competitive it will be, and I’ve had days where I would carry a lot of self-doubt. But to this day, I have not let it get in my way. I am determined to keep going.”
Cevallos, who is pursuing a mechanical engineering concentration within the engineering physics major, is one of 14 UConn students and four engineering majors to be named McNair Scholars. Through the Center for Access and Postsecondary Success (CAPS), the UConn Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement (McNair Scholars) Program is a U.S. Department of Education TRiO program that equips first-generation and/or minority undergraduate students with tools to succeed at UConn and prepare them to pursue a Ph.D.
Cevallos, along with Manav Surti ’25, biomedical engineering; Jason Pulla ’25, chemical engineering; and Cesar Rodriguez ’24, mechanical engineering, were inducted as McNair Scholars during a ceremony on Sept. 19. The program was led by Tadarrayl Starke, associate vice provost for the Institute for Student Success, and Renee Trueman, director of CAPS Research Scholars and the McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program.
“We are a community-centric program, so the undergraduate students truly get to know each other and lift each other through this demanding and unique pursuit of a Ph.D. degree,” Trueman said. “Our program is multi-year, year-round, with a focus on holistic conversation always.”
THE MCNAIR JOURNEY
McNair Scholars begin their journey with immersion in undergraduate research as part of the UNIV 2100: Preparation for STEM Academic Research course, community engagement events, and peer mentorship each Spring semester. Scholars establish faculty research project mentors who help them blossom into investigators during the academic semesters until they graduate, including a two-month fully funded summer internship component.
In addition, the scholars meet regularly with program staff to discuss life balance with academics and research and the best ways to navigate the graduate school application process step-by-step. At the semester’s end, students are named CAPS Research Scholars or McNair Scholars based on their level of commitment to program objectives and career aspirations.
Year-round, until graduation, scholars participate in professional development workshops; networking opportunities; community engagement activities to build social capital, cultural capital, and financial literacy thorough graduate school preparation, including constructive feedback of application materials; funded discipline-specific conference attendance; funded graduate school visits, and mentorship.
Cevallos, Surti, Pulla, and Rodriguez were four of the student participants of this summer’s cohort. For all of June and July, they focused on research advancement, graduate school visits, professional development, graduate school application creation, and data communication during the program’s annual poster exhibit.
Brief research bios of the students are below:
MANAV SURTI ’25
Surti, a first-gen student from South Windsor, Conn. spent the summer working with Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Kazunori Hoshino on differentiating organoids undergoing different drug-delivery treatments in terms of their mechanical structure. They collaborate with biologists at UConn Health Center to culture and apply micro-Newtonian forces on the organoids using a biocompatible/piezoelectric compression device.
“This research can help us better understand how cells behave and respond to various stimuli in the human body,” Surti explained. “We’re also employing lightsheet microscopy in this context to give us the advantages of a high spatial resolution, fast acquisition speed, and broad image depth while not damaging our samples.”
Surti’s interest in engineering stems from high school when he took AP biology.
“I wished to combine my interest in math and biology and biomedical engineering was the perfect way to do so. Now being enrolled in BME classes, I know I made the right decision,” he said. “After obtaining my undergraduate degree, I will be applying to grad schools—both Master’s and Ph.D. programs—with the end goal of doing research in the industry.”
JASON PULLA ’25
Pulla, a first-gen student from Danbury, Conn. chose to major in engineering for three reasons: ample opportunities, the problem– solving aspects, and “I enjoy watching science applications help out the world,” he said.
In his research, Pulla works with Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Luyi Sun on a project strengthening “smart” materials, specifically thin film plastics. This research has applications in areas like food wrapping and shoe soles. “I was amazed by the elasticity of the polymer I used—styrene-butadiene—during our tensile strength tests,” he said. “This project deepened my understanding of materials synthesis and improved my experimental and analytical skills.”
Like most McNair Scholars, Pulla has plans to attend graduate school and apply for the Ph.D. program in chemical engineering at UConn. Ultimately, Pulla hopes to work as a research scientist and develop new materials—particularly in energy and environmental science—and explore process engineering and manufacturing.
“I had a valuable experience with the McNair program,” Pulla said. “Now, I am currently thinking about pursuing my graduate degree and developing my knowledge in chemical engineering.”
CESAR RODRIGUEZ ’24
Rodriguez’s research interests lie at the intersection of robotics, design, and control, with a “profound passion” for bringing autonomous machines to life. He’s working with Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Ashwin Dani at the Robotics and Controls Lab. “I am fascinated by the entire lifecycle of robots, from conceiving their design to harnessing their capabilities through intelligent control systems,” he said.
Rodriguez, a first-gen student from New Bedford, Mass. credits several educators for affecting his life in a positive way and spurring his interest in engineering. He plans to attend graduate school and earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
“Someday I want to become a professor, and if it wasn’t for the McNair program, I would have never thought this was achievable,” he said.
JOSE CEVALLOS JR. ’24
Cevallos, a first-gen student born in Ecuador, grew up Stamford and currently lives in Norwalk. He’s working with Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, assistant professor of physics and graduate student Jonathan Mercedes-Feliz on investigating black hole accretion and feedback cycles in active galaxies using cosmological hydrodynamic simulations.
“I hope to one day use my skills and knowledge to develop new products or technologies that can help advance space exploration and understand the cosmos. Post-UConn I plan to attend graduate school in a field of astronomy, astrophysics, or aeronautical engineering with help and guidance from the McNair Program.”
Ronald McNair himself held a Ph.D. in physics and was the second Black NASA astronaut to fly in space. He and six other crew members died in the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1986. Since 1989, the McNair Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, has awarded grants to low-income, underrepresented, and first-generation students with the goal to prepare participants for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Nationwide, there are only 206 institutions with McNair Programs.
Other McNair Scholars and their areas of study in the 11th cohort include Georgiette Adejayan, allied health sciences; Michela Brown, biological Sciences; Kayvona Brown, psychological sciences; Rachel Cleveland, physics; Maria Cruceta Ramirez, pharmaceutical studies; Julio Guaman, molecular and cell biology; Angela Saquinaula, finance; Brooke Kvedar, molecular and cell biology; Lisbeth Lucas-Moran, allied health sciences; and Nathan Velazquez, pathobiology.
Currently, several engineering major McNair Scholars are in Ph.D. programs at UConn, the University of Texas at Austin, Boston University, Northwestern University, and the University of California, Berkley.
“I have the good fortune of remaining connected with the students as alumni for a decade after earning their bachelor’s degrees, for our federal, annual report, but moreover to continue to guide in the actual transition to and through graduate study,” Trueman said. “It is a pleasure to get to know the scholars and their talent so well to be able to have deep conversation to help them establish career pathways in which they will feel fulfilled.”
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
With support from a $5M cooperative agreement awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a team of faculty and staff at the University of Connecticut (UConn) will continue providing technical assistance to communities encountering the challenges of assessment, cleanup, and revitalization at brownfield sites while protecting public health and promoting environmental justice.
Brownfield sites, which commonly contain contaminated or polluted materials from derelict industrial operations, may present environmentally hazardous conditions for residents residing near such properties. Not to mention, these abandoned properties are sources of blight for the surrounding neighborhood, decreasing property values and discouraging investment.
“The cooperative agreement not only supports the act of identifying brownfield sites, but we’re able to offer assistance pursing grant opportunities, reviewing technical reports and documents, conducting site reuse assessments, explaining regulatory and economic issues, and engage the local community in the redevelopment process,” explained Marisa Chrysochoou, professor and head of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) and director of UConn’s Technical Assistance for Brownfields (TAB) program. “We also support continuing education on diverse topics related to brownfields.”
By College of Engineering Staff
A newly awarded $2.5M National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) grant—spearheaded by Professor and Associate Dean Daniel Burkey—will support low-income and first-generation students majoring in computing and data science at the University of Connecticut (UConn).
Burkey, associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Engineering and Castleman Term Professor of Engineering Innovation, said UConn will use the grant—titled “Community, Identity, and Competence: Supporting Low-Income Students in Computing and the Data Sciences”—to assist approximately 30 students over the next six years of the grant. Students, who will go through an application and selection process, will be eligible for up to $15,000 per year throughout the entirety of their degree.
S-STEM is a signature program from the NSF that supports low-income and first-generation students with academic ability, talent, or potential in pursuing successful careers in promising STEM fields. The grant includes scholarship funds as well as a cohort model that provides various programmatic, curricular, and co-curricular activities to ensure that students are well-supported, from matriculation through graduation, and prepared for the workforce or further graduate study.
“The computing majors in the College of Engineering at UConn have seen tremendous growth in the last five years,” Burkey said. “This S-STEM award helps us make strides in attracting and supporting students in these majors.”
Burkey, who is the lead principal investigator (P.I.) on the grant, will oversee a team including co-investigators Andy Moiseff, professor of physiology and neurobiology and CLAS associate dean for research and graduate affairs, and Tadarryl Starke, Ed.D, associate vice provost of the Institute for Student Success. Laurent Michel, professor of computer science and engineering, and Elizabeth Schifano, associate professor of statistics and undergraduate program advisor for mathematics-statistics and statistics majors, also will participate in the program as senior personnel in support of students.
A recent UConn Today story notes that approximately 30% of incoming UConn students have family incomes that qualify them for Federal Pell Grant aid.
“A scholarship up to $15,000 per year for a student makes a tremendous impact on the affordability of college and can be transformative for their ability to persist and complete their degree,” Burkey said.
In addition to the computing majors, the grant also will support students in the Data Sciences, which has new majors in both the College of Engineering (Data Science and Engineering) as well as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS – Statistical Data Science and Applied Data Analysis).
“These majors are critical to supporting the growing demand for graduates with these skillsets, both here in Connecticut and nation-and-world-wide,” Burkey said. “Many of these fields are looking at 10 to 20% growth in the coming decade. By attracting and supporting students in these in-demand fields, UConn is poised to be a leader in workforce development in these areas critical to the state’s continued prominence in high-tech industries.”
The application for the program will be open for students starting in Fall 2024.
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
For making “new and novel contributions to computer aids in chemical engineering education,” the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) is honoring University of Connecticut’s Castleman Term Professor in Engineering Innovation Daniel Burkey with the 2023 David Himmelblau Award for Innovations in Computer-Based Chemical Engineering Education.
Burkey, who also serves as the associate dean of undergraduate education and diversity, and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, co-created a computer game titled Contents Under Pressure that teaches students about chemical process safety and risk management skills.
“The challenge is, you can give students problems to work through, but you can’t put them in a chemical plant and make things go wrong and see how they respond,” Burkey said. “Our answer to that was [to create] a game, a platform where students could interact with virtual characters but still get to make authentic processing decisions in a safe environment. We wanted to give them a way to reflect on their decision making processes, make them aware of the connections between process safety and ethics, and hopefully develop skills that will serve them in the future.”
Players, who would likely be chemical engineers or chemical engineering students, assume the role of a senior process engineer managing a chemical plant. To achieve a high score, players are challenged to balance four metrics—time, personal reputation, plant productivity, and process safety—to avoid plant and personnel failures.
“We wanted the game to focus on making ethical process safety judgements in chemical engineering,” Burkey said. “People sometimes think that process safety is solely technical, but process safety also involves ethical reasoning. You’re evaluating complex choices that have potentially complex outcomes.”
Burkey collaborated on the game with colleagues Matthew Cooper, teaching professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University; Daniel Anastasio, associate professor of chemical engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; and Cheryl Bodnar, associate professor of experiential engineering education at Rowan University. After working on the narrative and character development, the colleagues teamed up with digital studio Filament Games of Madison, Wisconsin to build and launch the game.
Burkey uses the game in his own senior-level chemical engineering design course, and it has also been used at the partner institutions that helped to co-develop the game. The team is in the process of expanding access to other academic and industrial partners and has submitted a follow-up grant to continue the development of the game.
Sponsored by the Computer Aids for Chemical Engineering Education (CACHE) Corporation, the David Himmelblau Award is funded by colleagues and family of the late David Himmelblau, who worked 42 years as a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin and penned more than 200 articles on sensor validation, artificial neural networks, and process analysis and optimization. Burkey is the second UConn professor to receive the award; In 2010, Michael Cutlip, professor of chemical engineering, emeritus, was a recipient.
The award will be presented at the CAST Division dinner at the AIChE Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. in November 2023. Burkey will receive a plaque and $1,000.
Contents Under Pressure was developed as part of an Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), under award numbers DUE#1711376, 1711644, 1711672, and 1711866.
To learn more about Contents Under Pressure and the team, visit the game’s website.
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
As the incoming director of the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) at the University of Connecticut, Zhou aspires to catalyze the widespread adoption of clean energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote environmental stewardship by focusing on the development of advanced materials, efficient processes, and innovative solutions.
“My goals as director of C2E2 revolve around achieving elevated research outcomes, empowering students through education, fostering effective partnerships, making a positive environmental impact, and expanding outreach efforts,” he said. “I also plan to create enriching experiences for undergraduate and graduate students by involving them in cutting-edge research and providing opportunities for skill development in the field of sustainable energy.”
He’ll also focus on rebranding C2E2 into a university-wide institute to amplify its influence and reach. This expansion “will allow us to engage a broader range of academic disciplines—such as chemistry, physics, agriculture, economics, and policy—and industries, accelerating the adoption of sustainable energy technologies,” he said.
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
A new, state-of-the-art weather and climate facility led by researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) and the University at Albany (UAlbany) will help safeguard the energy industry of the future.
Backed by grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Center for Weather Innovation and Smart Energy and Resilience (WISER) is UConn’s newest Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC). IUCRCs are designed to help corporate partners and government agencies connect directly and efficiently with university researchers to conduct high-impact research, drive innovative technology development, and develop a high-tech, skilled workforce.
WISER aims to leverage the research and expertise at UConn and UAlbany to create advanced weather- and climate-based solutions for the energy industry, now and in the future.
Emmanouil “Manos” Anagnostou, director of UConn’s Eversource Energy Center, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, and Eversource Energy Endowed Chair in Environmental Engineering, and Chris Thorncroft, director of UAlbany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, are leading WISER for their respective universities.
“We envision WISER to become a leading energy industry-academia partnership, advancing research and cutting-edge technologies to continually improve power grid efficiency and reliability in the face of a changing climate and transition to clean energy,” Anagnostou said.
“The IUCRC program was created by the NSF to generate new and innovative research through engagement between academic researchers, government agencies and industry partners,” said Thorncroft, who also directs UAlbany’s Center of Excellence in Weather and Climate Analytics and the New York State Mesonet. “WISER will fulfill this mission by advancing 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.”
WISER’s research direction will focus on renewable energy (solar, hydro, and wind), power outage management, electrical grid resilience brought on by extreme weather, and ways climate change impacts power producers and power distributors.
“We’ll use artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive modeling, and remote sensing to provide real-time climate and weather information,” Anagnostou said. “This data-driven approach will allow us to predict how weather extremes and vulnerabilities may affect power outages and let energy companies better prepare for emergency responses.”
To date, 14 companies including Eversource, IBM, National Grid, and Avangrid have elected to join WISER as industry partners, and 16 faculty from UConn’s School of Engineering, School of Business, and the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources are on the WISER research team. Anagnostou and Thorncroft welcome additional industries and faculty to join WISER and collaborate on projects and share ideas.
WISER also will recruit graduate and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups to increase minority participation in science and engineering and especially interdisciplinary collaborations and exposure to industry-academia partnerships.
Several faculty have already proposed WISER studies. Malaquias Peña, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is partnering with Zongjie Wang, assistant professor at the Eversource Energy Center on a project titled “Power System Optimization Designs to Spur Renewable Energy Sources Adoption in a Changing Climate.” In this study, the duo will develop an evaluation method of power management algorithms that could guarantee reliability, lowest costs, transparency, and flexibility in present and future climate change scenarios.
Robert Fahey, assistant professor of natural resources and the environment, is the PI on a proposal titled “Incorporating Dynamic Vegetation Structure and Tree Biomechanics into Outage Predication and Resilience Investment Modeling.” Fahey will explore how invasive pests and diseases are impacting forest health by weakening trees and their predicted associated damage to utility infrastructure under storm scenarios.
And Anagnostou himself will work with colleagues at UAlbany on a project titled “Effectively Integrating Disparate Operational Data Sources into Research, Products, or Action.” This group proposes building a visually-pleasing data management framework that concisely displays integrated meteorological and operational information to support utilities in making the most effective decisions.
Initially, Anagnostou hopes WISER will complete between eight and 12 projects a year, but he welcomes and encourages additional industry partners and UConn researchers to join WISER and collaborate on projects. The research teams also will recruit UConn students to assist with research and expose them to industry-academia partnerships.
“We’re not committed to any number of proposals, and we’re always open to any new ideas that can be pushed forward,” he said.
The new center will be supported by a $750,000 NSF grant for each institution and a five-year, $3.7 million industry partnership membership fee. The NSF also awarded WISER with a $20,000 grant in 2022 that was used to host a WISER planning meeting at UAlbany with energy industry executives.
WISER is UConn’s fourth IUCRC to be funded by the NSF. The others include the Center for Novel High Voltage/Temperature Materials and Structures (HVT), the Center for Hardware and Embedded System Security and Trust (CHEST), and the Center for Science of Heterogenous Additive Printing of 3D Materials (SHAP3D).
“We’re thrilled to be the NSF’s latest IUCRC and look forward to working with our industry partners on innovating predictive systems and technologies for clean energy,” Anagnostou said. “We aim for a more reliable electric grid in the face of climate change, all while working toward a greener future.”
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
“You’re going the wrong way!”
Not if researchers at the University of Connecticut can help put a stop to it.
As part of the state’s strategy to bring attention to wrong-way driving detection and prevention, faculty from the School of Engineering are developing and testing a new driving alert system that could help prevent, or stop, drivers from going the wrong way on state roads. In 2022, wrong-way driving crashes in Connecticut tripled; a staggering 567 motor vehicle crashes involved wrong-way drivers, resulting in 23 fatalities and 35 major injuries.
“The state is seeing more and more of these wrong-way driving crashes,” said Eric Jackson, associate research professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) and director of the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center (CTRSC). “Studies have shown that wrong-way driving crashes are 100 times more likely to be fatal than other types of crashes and the School of Engineering is already working on a solution to help combat this growing problem and help keep Connecticut roads safer for our families and friends.”
On June 13, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed Public Act 23-51 into law, which expands the use of wrong-way driving alert systems. The act requires the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) to expand efforts to implement wrong-way driving countermeasures, and they’re looking to a team at UConn for guidance.
In 2020, Jackson, along with CEE Professor Jeongho Kim, alumna Sukirti Dhital ’21 PhD (ENG), and former graduate student Toby Poole developed a new, in-ground Wrong-Way Rumble Strip (WWRS) design. WWRS are designed to alert drivers when they are traveling in the wrong direction though dynamic vibration feedback. Their design is an extension of a study completed at Auburn University in 2020.
“[The researchers at Auburn University] had the rumble strip at the ground surface. We selected one of their proposed patterns and extended the study by changing the design of the rumble strip in terms of shape, length and depth,” Dhital explained.
By using a technology called finite element analysis, the team set out to design an optimum WWRS that produces maximum vibration at the driver’s seat while ensuring minimal damage to the tire.
The team used a dynamic simulation software called Adams Car to test multiple rumble strip designs of varying shapes (triangular, curved, and trapezoidal); lengths (9 and 12 inches; and depths (2 and 2.5 inches). In Adams Car, the team used a default sedan to traverse the strips at 10, 20, 20, and 45 mph in both right-way and wrong-way directions.
“A predictive model drastically reduces the cost and time required to prototype WWRS,” Kim explained. “The software provides the most effective design selections of the rumble strip before any field tests are done.”
The research team additionally performed a statistical “t-test” to compare differences in vertical and longitudinal acceleration, and an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test to understand how variations in the cross-sectional geometry of the rumble strip effects the amplitude of vibrations at the driver’s seat.
Ultimately, the team concluded that a 12-inch-wide, 2-inch-deep, trapezoidal obstacle—located below the road’s surface—would make the most effective WWRS design.
“We were pleased with the overall outcome,” said Dhital, who presented the group’s findings to the Transportation Research Board in 2022. “The curved and trapezoidal profile provided similar results. However, we selected the trapezoidal shaped rumble as that would be easier to construct in the field. We also changed the length and depth of each shape. The increase in length and depth did increase the overall vertical acceleration experienced by the driver in both right and wrong direction. But we would require field tests to give us more confidence in our findings.”
The WWRS team and CTSRC now have the go-ahead to develop a proposal and then begin field tests. The legislation set aside $20M for wrong way driving projects, UConn will work with CTDOT to allocate some of that funding towards developing construction methods and evaluating materials for prototypes. After creating prototypes, researchers will deploy the rumble strips in a controlled test environment on UConn’s Depot Campus, where the researchers can analyze and validate the simulation results.
“If successful, the results of this project could result in a new, novel, low technology-based application to alert drivers they are traveling in the wrong direction,” Jackson said. “There may also be benefits for drivers traveling in the correct direction. They will be alerted when approaching an intersection at the end of the off ramp.”
After UConn completes its testing, researchers will share their findings with CTDOT. CTDOT must submit a report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2025, which will highlight the test results and make recommendations for installing WWRS and other wrong-way driving alert systems statewide.
The research is part of the state’s larger strategy of bringing public awareness to the dangers of wrong-way driving as part and reversing the catastrophic recent increase in wrong-way crashes and deaths.
“It is shocking how quickly the number of wrong-way driving incidents has accelerated over these last couple of years, and we need to do more to prevent them,” Governor Lamont said in a recent press release. “Reversing this trend requires a comprehensive approach that not only involves infrastructure upgrades using advanced technology, but also requires a heightened awareness by drivers every single time they are entering a highway. This is an issue that we cannot take lightly, and we must continue researching new and emerging methods of preventing wrong-way driving incidents.”
Students enrolled in the spring 2023 semester course ENG 1166: Foundations of Engineering recently participated in the “Marshmallow Challenge.” As part of this exercise in design, testing, teamwork, and time management, students pair off to build a self-supporting tower in just 18 minutes, using only uncooked spaghetti, masking tape, and dental floss. A marshmallow must be affixed at the top. Prizes are awarded to the team(s) with the highest stably mounted marshmallow, and separately for the most creative design(s).
“This was an in-class engineering design problem that required students to work in teams and come up with a few design iterations for the spaghetti tower,” explained Fayekah Assanah, assistant professor in residence of biomedical engineering, and one of the course instructors.
ENGR 1166 consists of 400 first-year students from all engineering fields. Students are divided into two sections of 200 students in each lecture held inside the new Science 1 building’s active learning classroom. Donning a chef hat for fun, Bryan Huey, department head and professor of materials science and engineering, served as the competition’s judge.
Additional photos of the event are below:
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
Desen Ozkan recognizes that engineering is traditionally thought of as using math and science to solve problems in the world.
But what is missing from this definition—and the engineering curriculum—she says, are the contexts in which engineers interact in a world of political, social, and economic consequences.
“When engineering is portrayed as a field that encompasses various contexts and is influenced by social and technological factors, it can have a positive impact on the individuals who choose to pursue a career in engineering,” she said. “If engineers fail to consider the social and political aspects surrounding their work, they may unintentionally contribute to existing problems and inequalities.”
Ozkan, a new tenure-track assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering (CBE), will join the University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering this fall. In addition to her own CBE scholarship and instruction, in the future, Ozkan will develop a preliminary curriculum for new initiatives in engineering education and experiential learning.
This graduate-level program will offer students a solid understanding of engineering education theory, cultures, and research methodologies. Students will learn about evidence-driven ways to engage students in engineering concepts while conducting empirical research and analysis to uncover patterns, trends, and effective approaches in engineering education.
“By incorporating theoretical foundations and practical applications, the potential program equips graduates with the skills and knowledge necessary for a diverse range of careers,” explained Daniel Burkey, associate dean of undergraduate education and diversity, Castleman Term Professor in Engineering Innovation, and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “Professor Ozkan will help the School of Engineering with designing a curriculum framework that promotes deeper learning, integrates interdisciplinary approaches, and reflects current industry needs while generating new knowledge to advance the understanding of how engineering education can be improved.”
In addition, Burkey said experiential learning is a valued tenet of the university and offers students a hands-on practicum to better serve their industry and our society.
Ozkan comes to UConn from Tufts University where she’s a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) and the Institute for Research on Learning and Education (IRLI). She also created and taught the courses “Deconstructing Engineering Design, Data and Power in Surveillance,” and “Power and Politics of STEM Education” for students of all majors.
At UConn, Ozkan hopes to teach a course for engineering and liberal arts undergraduates alike. Students would engage with a topic, for example, renewable energy, and spend the semester exploring the theme through cross-disciplinary and historical perspectives. Ozkan would assign readings from The Birth of Energy by Cara Daggett or Carbon Democracy by Timothy Mitchell along with National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) reports on the energy transition.
“From there, students would engage in different practices that come into play in an energy transition—topics could range from energy storage, grid infrastructure, union and non-union labor, etc.,” she said. “Lastly, students would work to define a problem they want to address through a project.”
Ozkan hopes to partner with faculty in other schools and colleges when building on experimental learning and engineering education initiatives. UConn’s Neag School of Education will be among her go-tos for faculty collaborations.
“I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting many folks from across the School of Engineering who have been doing critical work on ethics and engineering, engineering and human rights, and renewable energies,” she said. “This political and societally relevant content will be critical to integrate into the engineering curriculum.”
In her own work, Ozkan wants to emphasize the importance of teaching engineering courses through a “context-rich” and “sociotechnical” lens. “Context-rich” acknowledges that engineering projects and solutions are developed within specific environments—such as cultural, economic, and environmental contexts. And when engineering is seen as “sociotechnical,” it emphasizes the interplay between social and technical elements and encourages engineers to consider the societal, ethical, and human aspects of their work.
While Ozkan’s primary focus this fall will be developing a curriculum for the new initative, she’ll also continue her efforts investigating the topic of offshore wind engineering and education.
In May 2022, three Connecticut state legislators invited a research team from Tufts, led by Professor Eric Hines, to conduct a scholarly study on equity in offshore wind industry job development. Ozkan was a key contributor to the project after working on a similar report for Maine in 2021. The team’s research, titled “Developing a Diverse, Equitable, and Just Offshore Wind Workforce in Connecticut” is supported by a 2022 Tufts CREATE (Climate, Renewable Energy, Agriculture, Technology and Ecology) Solutions grant.
“At UConn, I intend to explore this through a transdisciplinary approach,” she said.
Ozkan earned a Bachelor of Science in chemical and biological engineering at Tufts in 2013 and a doctorate in engineering education from Virginia Tech in 2020. Before venturing into the field of engineering education, Ozkan served as a graduate research assistant for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Virginia Tech, and as a wastewater reclamation research assistant at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
She’s already the co-author of eight refereed journal articles on engineering education, transdisciplinary collaborations, and study abroad leadership teams. Her work has been published in Studies in Engineering Education, the Journal of International Engineering Education, the Journal of Advanced Academics, among others.
In addition to teaching and research, Ozkan is an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). During the 2022 ASEE Conference & Exposition, her paper, titled “Perspectives of Seven Minoritized Students in a First-Year Course Redesign toward Sociotechnical Engineering Education,” won the “Best Diversity Paper Award” for the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society division.
For these reasons, and others, Burkey feels confident that Ozkan will fill a much-needed niche in the School of Engineering.
“We’re elated that Professor Ozkan has accepted our invitation to join us here in the SoE,” Burkey said. “Her expertise in engineering education, research contributions, interdisciplinary background, and teaching and grant-writing experience will be valued immensely by our faculty and contribute to our mission of providing the highest-quality engineering education possible to our students.”
A new focus on engineering education and experimental learning may serve as a campus-wide collaboration hub for catalyzing new work. Burkey envisions interdisciplinary projects developing between the Neag School of Education, the Human Rights Institute, and the Vergnano Institute of Inclusion, specifically benefiting engineering education research; first-year engineering education; graduate education; continuing and professional education; justice, equity, diversity, and inclusivity research; K-12 STEM education; faculty pedagogy; and more.
“The idea of ‘engineering education’ is inherently multi- and cross-disciplinary, and it aligns with many key University strategic areas, including strengthening undergraduate and graduate education, research in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusivity topics, and sustainability education,” Burkey said. “We’ve seen similar initiatives launched at other public, R1 engineering programs including Purdue, Michigan, Florida, Ohio State and Virginia Tech. So by implementing a similar enterprise, we’ll bring the School of Engineering’s offerings to the forefront of the field.”
And while Burkey values the skills Ozkan will bring to the School of Engineering, Ozkan is eager to develop relationships with her new colleagues.
“In the first few years of my time at UConn, I’m excited to learn from the broad expertise of faculty, staff, and students, so I can continue building on the strong interconnectedness of the community,” she said.
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
At the University of Connecticut, Leena Alam ’25 is immersing herself in all-things material science and engineering (MSE).
Alongside her pursuit of pursing a degree in MSE, she’s the outreach chair for UConn’s materials science club Material Advantage; the treasurer for the Metal Working Club; an incoming teaching assistant for the MSE 2101 course; and a MSE social media contributor.
And now, through the opening of the new Science 1 building, she’s able to combine her academic and extracurricular interests under one roof while being enveloped by a community of like-minded materials science students and faculty. Science 1 is now home to the Institute of Materials Science (IMS) and the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Department.
On June 15, faculty, students, state representatives, and industry partners gathered at the new state-of-the-art research and teaching facility on King Hill Road for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, tours, and symposium.
Since the 1960s, IMS and the MSE Department occupied the north wing of the Edward V. Gant Science Complex. Even with multiple renovations, the building became ill equipped to house the needs of the growing programs. Research labs, undergraduate labs, faculty offices and classrooms were housed on different floors—and in some cases different buildings—which made for a hindered learning and teaching environment.
“Gant North was a wonderful facility for us for many reasons, but we were also bursting at the seams,” said MSE Department Head and Professor Bryan Huey.
“I personally love that we have an entire building dedicated to our field,” Alam said. “MSE is a huge up-and-coming field in terms of research and technology, and I’m glad we get a new space to fully explore all the projects we do here at UConn.”
With an impressive 198,000 square feet of space spanning three stories, the new building includes 11 core user-facilities labs available to both campus users and regional industry partners, equipped with state-of-the-art instruments and equipment; the university’s 2,000-square-foot “clean room,” which offers a contaminate-free controlled environment for experiments; a 204-seat “active learning room” for campus-wide instructional use; office and administrative space; a machine shop; chemical and supply storeroom; meeting rooms for up to 50 attendees; and open spaces—called “neighborhoods”—that promote collaboration and social connections. The sun-lit lobby features a café, and overlooks a meandering landscaped pedestrian pathway designed to capture rainwater.
Crucially, four ground-floor teaching labs interconnected with a centralized teaching and project area are specifically for materials science and engineering undergraduates. The Materials Advantage, 3D Printing, and Metalworking clubs also gather in this space. Visible through a glass wall in the Science 1 lobby—”Science on Display!”—this integrated teaching facility promotes hands-on experience with instruments and processes that are critical in the materials industry centered around four themes: structure, processing, properties, and applications.
“Collectively, this is a profound improvement which will absolutely improve the quality of the undergraduate experience, dramatically improve materials education for our undergraduates and graduates, and make us even more of a destination for industry and other worldwide collaborators,” Huey said.
MATERIALS SCIENCE: FORGING AHEAD
It’s no secret that MSE programs—nationwide—generally have smaller undergraduate cohorts compared to other engineering disciplines. Here at UConn, less than 100 of the 3,576 engineering students chose to pursue a degree in materials science and engineering in 2022-23.
But this statistic has nothing to do with a lack of jobs.
“It’s simply a matter of prospective students—and more broadly the general public—not knowing enough about the importance of materials,” said Huey, who also serves as the current chair of the nationwide association of materials department heads University Materials Council. “Our students find plenty of internship opportunities, and our alumni do incredible things in aerospace, semiconductors, metallurgical, biomaterials , energy and the environment, product design, and so many other fields.”
Fortunately, in Connecticut, Huey explained, both political and institutional leadership are attuned to how crucial materials engineering is to the economic engine of the region—especially strength in advanced materials and manufacturing.
And this is why Science 1 was built, he said.
“Materials and their manufacture are critical for all of the technologies society relies upon every day, and which we need to keep improving to meet the technical and environmental needs for the future,” Huey explained. “We’re talking stronger, lighter, and more durable materials for space exploration, air travel, and self-driving vehicles; implantable materials for biomedical applications and even regenerative engineering; more cost-effective materials manufacturing, including resource recovery and recycling; down-to-atomic-scale control in semiconductor fabrication for ever-more demanding computing needs; improved energy sources like hydrogen fuel cells and next generation solar cells; and so many other examples.”
Furthermore, everything “that is amazing in a modern mobile phone”—screen, battery, antenna, computing power, embedded sensors, camera, and more—relies on advances by material engineers, Huey said.
Science 1 is one of the largest projects in Next Generation Connecticut (NextGenCT), a state initiative that aims to expand educational opportunities, research, and innovation in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines at UConn while helping to build Connecticut’s future workforce, create jobs, and invigorate the state’s economy.
“Science 1 is transforming the way we educate,” UConn President Radenka Maric said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We want to be at the top of innovation in Connecticut. I always tell people Connecticut is a state of innovation, we are just too humble to tell people how innovative we are.”
Although the majority of MSE’s academic efforts will take place in Science 1, the department will continue to network with UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) and the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2).
Equally, IMS and the MSE Department will continue to welcome researchers from more than 100 groups campus-wide—including faculty from UConn Avery Point and UConn Health—to use the advanced facilities and ample collaboration space in Science 1.
IMS not only supports students specializing in materials science and engineering, polymer science, and materials science, but several other programs needing to conduct materials-related research as well. The Institute oversees the Industrial Affiliates Program, an industry outreach initiative designed to assist Connecticut-based companies in enhancing their research and development endeavors; the Electrical Insulation Research Center; and the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Materials Analysis (CAMMA) Laboratory as well as the X-ray facility located in the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB).
“The interdisciplinary and multi-purpose use of the IMS Science 1 facility allows collaboration among researchers from many schools and colleges at UCONN including the School of Engineering; the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources; UConn Health; and others,” said Steven Suib, IMS director and UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in chemistry. “The opportunity to have different researchers from different areas to have offices and labs together is a unique feature which promotes research collaborations of all members of IMS, MSE, and other units.”
NEEDED: SPACE FOR RESEARCH AND COLLABORATION
Materials is a lab-heavy discipline, Huey explained. “Some of us need vibrationally stable ground floor space, others need high-bay facilities, some have extensive power and air handling requirements, and others need fume hoods and wet-labs. In Gant, we had all of that functioning at a basic level. Science 1 maintains—and indeed enhances—such purpose-built functionality. But it is also designed with a much more modern philosophy and aesthetic that is really centered on encouraging collaboration.”
Alam, who is “super interested in renewable/alternative energy and biodegradable plastics” is working as an undergraduate researcher for MSE Professor Rainer Hebert’s Thermal Expansion Lab. The lab, formerly housed in Gant, reopened in Science 1 in January, prior to the formal building dedication this June.
“The lack of space in our labs [in Gant North] generally made it harder to move around, so I’m super glad there’s enough space for all the equipment we do research with,” Alam said. “I also appreciate the design of the new building and how it supports collaboration and teamwork in research.”
MSE major Steiny Duong ’24 is an undergraduate researcher in the Material Dynamics and Electron Microscopy Lab in Science 1 where he works with MSE Professor Mark Aindow on materials characterization utilizing various techniques with an emphasis on electron microscopy.
“I think the MSE labs in Science 1 are indeed a vast improvement over the old labs in that they provide much more space for studying and learning,” he said. “Also the rooms are more accessible in that they are close to each other and contain all the required equipment and instruments for lab work. I think in this way it presents a much more student and professor friendly atmosphere.”
Like Alam and Duong, Audrey Larson ’25, who is double majoring in MSE and civil engineering, will use the laboratories in Science 1 for research. She’s already worked with Douglas Adamson, professor of chemistry, in his Polymer Composite Lab in Science 1.
Science 1, Larson says, represents the next generation of innovation and creativity at UConn.
“The Science 1 building is designed for collaboration, and I can’t wait to utilize the space for networking, brainstorming, and group work. The collaborative classroom space and study spaces lend themselves to pushing students closer together,” she said. “It also houses labs that have the capability to change materials science and advanced manufacturing as we know it.”
THE EVOLUTION OF MATERIALS SCIENCE
Engineering at UConn dates back more than 140 years as a program within the newly established Storrs Agricultural School. In the 1880s, courses were available in surveying, mechanical drawing, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. In 1901, the school began offering a two-year program in mechanic arts.
At the time, classes were held in the basement of (the now razed) Whitney Hall, UConn’s first building named in honor of Edwin Whitney. By 1920, classes moved from the basement of (now razed) to the Mechanic Arts Building on North Eagleville Road (currently UConn’s Islamic Center).
By 1916, the renamed Connecticut Agricultural College offered a four-year, Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering; Earl R. Moore was the first graduate in 1920.
In 1939, the institution was again renamed—from Connecticut State College—to the University of Connecticut. That same year, the Engineering I building (later named the Francis L. Castleman Jr. Building after the late dean) was completed, and by 1950, more than 230 students graduated from UConn with a degree in engineering.
Initially, the Mechanical Engineering Department and the Chemical Engineering Department offered formal instruction in metallurgy. But in 1967, UConn began offering graduate degrees in the newly-named Metallurgy Department.
“LinkedIn data suggests that more than 1,600 UConn alumni graduated with degrees in metallurgy or materials science since 1969,” Huey said.
According to Owen Devereux, a former professor of metallurgy, the Metallurgy Department attracted several new faculty in the early 1990s who brought with them new areas of research, notably ceramics, compositive materials, and solid free-form fabrication. This encouraged the development of viable classroom programs in these areas and a department name change: The Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering.
In the early 2000s, the Metallurgy and Materials Engineering Department was renamed the Materials Science and Engineering Department to reflect the broadening role of polymers, composites and other materials in industry and medicine. UConn simultaneously unveiled a curriculum for a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering—the only undergraduate materials science and engineering degree program offered by a public university in New England.
The BS in MSE will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2024.
Students joining this degree program are exposed to an applied and tailorable curriculum. Like most engineers, they take General Chemistry, Differential Equations, Calculus I and II, Physics for Engineering I and II, Programming, Applied Mechanics, Intro to Engineering, and Intro to Materials I and II. More focused materials courses include Thermodynamics and Phase Transformations, Mechanical Behavior, Transport Phenomena, Electronic and Magnetic Properties, Materials Characterization, and a one-year, industry-sponsored Capstone Design team project. Students then choose five materials elective classes, three other STEM-related classes, and general education and free electives.
“And most important of all: MSE students are fortunate to take lots of memorable hands-on labs. In fact, the MSE bachelor’s degree program includes more lab sections than any other engineering major, and this is consistently one of the favorite aspects of our major for our students and especially our alumni,” Huey said. “Our students are so well prepared to jump right into internships, jobs, grad school and apply what they’ve learned.”
Courses are taught by 18 core faculty and 16 affiliated faculty, scholars, and advisors. Maric is among the core faculty and is an expert in novel materials for high temperature fuel cells.
Larson is excited to begin the fall semester in the new space.
“By placing the Materials Science and Engineering Department in Science 1, UConn is showing its commitment to the field and further emphasizing how important materials research will be to the future of UConn, Connecticut and the whole world,” she said. “The Science 1 building represents a new level of commitment to Materials Science and Engineering that is so exciting to witness. I cannot wait to be part of the first group of students, researchers and faculty who get to walk the halls.”
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
Researchers at the University of Connecticut are scratching beneath the surface to supply renewable energy to an affordable housing development.
Funded by a $700,000 clean energy grant, a team from the Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering (IASE) is designing an innovative geothermal heating and cooling system which uses natural heat stored under the Earth’s surface.
When implemented, the system will save a staggering 155 tons of CO2 emissions annually while improving air quality for the 21 handicapped, 19 elderly, and 100 female-headed households who call Ulbrich Heights in Wallingford, Connecticut home. The unit will serve at least 50% of the heating and cooling loads of the 132-unit complex.
“That’s true, measurable, and direct impact!” said George Bollas, director of the IASE and Pratt & Whitney Endowed Chair Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “The project will strengthen UConn’s green energy and climate change research portfolio, engage and support communities within the state, and translate systems engineering research to practices that have direct impact on Connecticut buildings’ decarbonization efforts.”
The Ulbrich Heights project was funded this spring by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is one of 11 communities nationwide to receive $13 million in support. The projects are part of President Joe Biden’s Justice40 initiative, which supports disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.
UConn’s role in the project is being spearheaded by geothermal energy expert Ravi Gorthala, IASE associate director of research programs, professor-in-residence of mechanical engineering, and mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate Prathamesh “Prat” Patil. The duo also serves UConn’s Southern New England Industrial Assessment Center (IAC), which helps small manufacturing companies save energy, improve productivity, and reduce waste by providing no-cost technical assessments conducted by university-based teams of engineering students and faculty.
Gorthala, the assistant director, and Patil, a student industrial energy auditor of IAC, previously worked together on a similar energy-saving project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy where they managed and installed more than 300 sensors at 10 different sites in Connecticut to monitor heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment over a three-year period.
“Geothermal or ground-source heat pump systems are highly efficient compared to conventional air-source heat pumps,” Gorthala explained. “The relatively constant temperature of the Earth makes this technology very efficient. This technology is essential for decarbonization and electrification of buildings.”
The Ulbrich Heights geothermal system will collect subsurface heat—300 feet below ground level—through a borehole field. This energy will be captured inside a geothermal distribution loop and circulated and transferred to the residences by an electric heat pump. In the warmer months, the process is reversed, and heat is extracted from the building and transferred to the ground for cooling.
Once a contract is put in place by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) from the U.S. Department of Energy, UConn will be tasked with leading the geothermal system design, also known as Phase I of the project. Phase I is one year in duration and will include the development of geothermal heat pump model, site survey, drilling a test well for determining the thermal properties of the soil, and identifying a mechanical contractor for the detailed design. DEEP will lead the efforts on community outreach and engagement, and the workforce needs for the technology in Connecticut.
In May 2024, the DOE will review the design, and if selected, the Ulbrich Heights project will enter Phase II. During this period, the UConn/DEEP team will begin implementing and installing the community geothermal heat pump system.
As a student with several years of energy-research experience, Patil is eager to get started.
“Through my studies at UConn and efforts with the IAC, I’ve learned how to model geothermal systems, produce simulations, develop a techno-economic analysis, conduct energy audits, and manage engineering projects, all of which will be useful for a project of this scale,” Patil said. “The [Ulbrich Heights] project is definitely an exciting opportunity and I hope to learn the true cost and performance of a geothermal vertical borehole system to hopefully spin-off on another project or develop a better system that is of a greater efficiency and lower cost.”
UConn is partnering on the Ulbrich Heights project with CT DEEP, Wallingford Housing Authority (WHA), Wallingford Electric Division, and Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP). “Supporting the design and deployment of geothermal heating and cooling will expand the uses of clean energy in decarbonizing our communities,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in a DOE press release.
Gorthala’s interest in renewable energy dates back more than 35 years to his undergraduate years at the National Institute of Technology, Trichy, in India. There, he focused his senior design project on using solar ponds for power generation. In fact, his first name—Ravi—means “sun” in Sanskrit.
“I haven’t strayed from energy efficiency and renewable energy since then,” Gorthala said. “Renewable energy is essential for the existence of humanity until at least our star, the sun, expires.”
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
Photos courtesy of Doug Willoughby/SAE and the UConn FSAE team
The University of Connecticut’s Formula SAE (FSAE) team is defining “life in the fast lane.”
During the FSAE intercollegiate competition, held May 17-20 at Michigan International Speedway, the student-run motorsport club placed in the top 10% of 121 teams from the U.S. and Europe. This was UConn’s 13th year competing.
“As a whole, this year’s competition was one of the most successful in the team’s history,” said UConn FSAE President Abhimanyu “Abhi” Sukumaran ’24 (MENG). “The car and team both performed immaculately, and everyone knows that we brought one of—if not the fastest—cars to competition.”
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 three-day event, teams are awarded points for participation in three static events (cost presentation; design presentation; and business presentation) and five dynamic events (acceleration; skidpad; autocross; fuel economy; and endurance).
UConn’s vehicle—the CT-14 (Connecticut, version 14)—scored an impressive 28/30 for its cost analysis presentation and 88/100 points for the design presentation.
“This year we had very tough judges who grilled us quite a bit and really tested our knowledge,” Sukumaran said. “Luckily we had done a lot of prep work and we managed to get some of the highest scores of the day!”
But the true test of the CT-14 was measured during the dynamic events. UConn’s team scored 12th in the “figure-eight” skid pad event; seventh in the 45-second timed autocross event; and first place in the 75-meter acceleration event—with a time of 4.17 seconds.
“We had been prepping for months trying to get the car setup right and squeeze the most performance out of it,” Sukumaran said. “We were almost a 10th of a second ahead of second place, so we were thrilled with that result. This was the first time in the team’s history that we have ever won an event and we did it convincingly.”
More than 70 students worked on the CT-14 during the 2022-23 academic year; 50 of whom went to the competition in Michigan. Team members learn to design, fabricate, assemble, manage budgets, acquire sponsors, and market themselves and their vehicle.
More experienced members, such as recent alumnus Simon Getter ’23 (MENG) frequently take on leadership roles. Getter joined the FSAE team as a freshman—seeking an extracurricular activity where he could learn practical engineering skills alongside like-minded students. As a sophomore, Getter served as the team’s control systems lead, and during his senior year, he served as the controls and ergonomics lead.
As the controls system lead, Getter’s group made the vehicle’s steering, brakes, seat, and pedals.
“In that position I got a ton of very important experience leading and communicating with other systems of the team,” he said. “Engineering wise, I was able to create parts and validate designs with [Computer Aided Design] software and [finite element analysis]—things we touched on in classes but were greatly expanded on during my time on the team.”
While member participation varies, Getter clocked more than 20 hours a week working on the project—but the dedication paid off. Not only did the team place 11th in the competition, he and 11 other graduating seniors, who were members of the 2022-23 FSAE team, had job offers or plans to continue their education well before graduation in May.
“The experience we gain through FSAE complements the more theoretically-based classes at UConn. This keeps our team members balanced and helps us to become the best engineers the school has to offer,” Getter said.
Thomas Mealy, adjunct professor of mechanical engineering and FSAE senior design advisor credits the team’s success to an overwhelming passion for creating the best car possible.
“UConn’s Formula SAE team embodies a spirit of excellence, determination, sacrifice, and collaboration,” Mealy said. “They have not only demonstrated remarkable technical prowess in designing and building a cutting-edge race car, but they have also cultivated a culture of innovation and teamwork that sets them apart. This team stands on the shoulders of hundreds of students that preceded them, many of whom come back and offer their advice and experience. As the advisor of this exceptional team, I am immensely proud of their accomplishments, and they are setting the bar high for future teams.”
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
Photos by Christopher LaRosa, Media Producer
Jeremy Bronen ’20 (ENG) knows firsthand the struggles of living with discomfort. For the past decade, the 26-year-old, who majored in mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut, has suffered from chronic back pain after sustaining three separate injuries, which for brief periods of time, had rendered him unable to walk.
Bronen, like 11.1% percent of adults in the United States with mobility issues, makes adjustments to his lifestyle by altering his standing, sitting, and sleeping positions for comfort. But when nature calls, toileting can be among the most agonizing struggles of daily living.
“When pain is associated with going to the bathroom, it’s not just hard on you physically, but emotionally,” Bronen said.
Bronen is hoping to alleviate the pain and exertion of bathroom breaks with his invention, the SedMed Toilet Lift Assist. The ergonomically designed tool helps older adults and those with physical disabilities get a lift on and off the latrine.
The Toilet Lift Assist is the first product to be launched by Bronen’s Woodbridge, Connecticut-based startup company—SedMed Inc. Bronen founded the business while a senior at UConn and he made his first sale this May.
“My hope is that the Toilet Lift Assist not only alleviates physical discomfort but also empowers individuals with disabilities and older adults to reclaim their independence in the bathroom,” he said.
A BUDDING ENGINEER AND ENTREPRENEUR
Bronen developed an interest in engineering early on, with a subtle push of parental encouragement. In his hometown of Woodbridge, Bronen and his father would devote their leisure time to creating, crafting, and constructing multiple mechanical projects in the family’s workshop. Together, the father-son duo manufactured a wooden chariot, a lap desk, and an oversized wooden Swiss watch, among other projects.
“I cherish those memories of building and fixing things with my dad,” Bronen said. “I was always fascinated with the creativity and innovation of new things.”
Bronen found more innovation inspiration exploring new products on the global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. He developed a fascination with start-up businesses, and this led to an internship—the first of many—at the Yale School of Medicine. There, he 3D printed patient brains with intracranial electrodes for epilepsy surgery planning.
So, when it came time to apply for colleges, Bronen was immediately drawn to UConn’s School of Engineering. “All things pointed me to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering,” he said.
BUILDING A PARTNERSHIP
Three years into his studies at UConn, and knowing he had a knack for both engineering and entrepreneurship, Bronen reached out to Jennifer Mathieu, executive director of Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI). CCEI, a center within the UConn School of Business, offers business model coaching, training, financial support, and a summer fellowship to help students launch their entrepreneurial ventures.
Mathieu suggested he attend CCEI’s Get Seeded program as a guest judge, and that is where Bronen met graduate student Timothy Krupski ’15 (ENG), MBA ’21, MENG ’21. At the time, Krupski was hoping to find a solution to help his wheelchair-bound and close family friend “Grandma Grace” with bathroom independence. Following a recent stroke, Grace was struggling to use the toilet without assistance from family and friends.
At Get Seeded, Krupski—who was pursing his master’s in business administration and master’s in engineering at the time—was hoping to sponsor a Senior Design Project with the expectation of creating a product that could help Grace and others suffering from similar tasks of daily living. The Center for Disease Control reports that almost 15 percent of all bathroom injuries occur while using the toilet, and for people over the age of 85—toilet slips and falls account for 50 percent of all injuries.
Bronen was up for the challenge and the duo became not only senior design teammates but business partners.
“There were two characteristics I identified in Jeremy that I knew could set a course for a future partnership in our entrepreneurial journeys,” Krupski said. “First, Jeremy is resilient! He has a ‘never say never’ attitude which, combined with a strong work ethic, made him a valuable asset as a student and even better business partner. Second, Jeremy remains humble in his approach, he can accept constructive criticism while firmly advocating for his beliefs on propelling the business to the next level.”
Bronen and Krupski took full advantage of what the CCEI had to offer. Bronen first led his Senior Design team through CCEI’s Accelerate UConn program (UConn’s NSF I-Corps site) to conduct customer discovery. The team was then selected in a competitive pool of candidates for the CCEI’s Summer Fellowship Program (UConn’s startup accelerator) in 2020. And ultimately, the toilet lift assist team was selected in the top five to participate in the Wolff New Venture Competition.
The programs provided the team with a solid business acumen needed to launch a startup while allowing Bronen and Krupski to solidify their partnership. As a result, SedMed was born.
“I still remember the first meeting I had with Jeremy and how impressed I was with his maturity and thoughtfulness,” Mathieu said. “I have helped to launch and grow more than 500 startup teams and small business ventures over the last six years. Jeremy stands out at one of the very best entrepreneurs that I have had the privilege to support. He has always been incredibly coachable, curious about how things work, passionate, and willing to take risks. I am so proud of all he has accomplished with SedMed and I am grateful to be a mentor to support him throughout his entrepreneurial journey.”
After only one year of development, Bronen and advisor Krupski debuted their electric toilet lift prototype at UConn’s Senior Design Demonstration Day in 2020. Although he presented virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project took third place, which left Bronen encouraged and eager to do more.
For the next three years, he incessantly morphed the lift assist to meet the needs of his future clients.
“We went through the wringer of changing the product based on customer discovery. We’d take the product to stakeholders, investors, manufactures, and ask, ‘What do you think?’ We did that 1,000 times, and I swear by that. It’s so important to keep your ear close to the ground and feel out what other people are thinking,” Bronen said.
Initially, Bronen engineered an electrical lift, but discovered the wire could become a tripping hazard. He explored alternative powering methods, and ultimately chose to use gas springs as a mechanism for lowering and lifting.
Now, it’s the only non-electric toilet lift on the market that mounts onto a toilet and provides effective help for anyone weighing between 70 and 275 pounds.
“There’s no battery, there’s no motor. The gas springs are like something you’d see in a car trunk or screen door that lets you slowly lower, or slowly close,” Bronen explained. “It’s designed to lift 80 percent of your body weight and take the work out of it for you.”
In addition to altering the powering device, Bronen spent countless hours scrutinizing every component on the lift assist and asking experts how he could make parts more natural feeling.
“There’s so much I didn’t know. For instance, while it’s easy to run my finger across most surfaces without any problem, older adults have fragile skin that can tear easily. Things like that needed to be taken into consideration,” he said. “Every small detail has been methodically and exhaustively looked over. I’m constantly asking myself, ‘how can I make it safe, comfortable, and ergonomic as possible?’”
The project recently caught the attention of Associate Dean Daniel Burkey, Castleman Term Professor in Engineering Innovation, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
“As a dean, I’m very proud to hear that Jeremy’s business, which he started as a student, is taking off,” Burkey said. “His entrepreneurial spirit and unwavering commitment to improving lives exemplify the transformative power of engineering innovation. His efforts will resonate far beyond the realms of mobility and healthcare, inspiring us all to pursue empathy-driven solutions that make a profound difference in the world.”
HELPING THE HELPERS
While the lift assist can help individuals reduce the risk of falls and injuries inside their own homes, Bronen hopes hospice and health care workers—who help patients get on and off the toilet—also will benefit from the product. The lift assist can prevent workers from obtaining serious injuries on the job, which may lead to workers compensation claims, lost labor, and institutional liability, Bronen said.
“Health care workers and health care institutions are also at the forefront of our vision of a safer, easier work environment,” he said.
GIVING BACK TO THE SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
Three years have passed since Bronen and his sponsor Krupski debuted their initial toilet lift during UConn’s Senior Design Demonstration Day.
And on April 28, Bronen returned to the Gampel Pavilion sponsoring his own team of undergraduates.
“Being a sponsor is a good way to pay it forward,” said Bronen, who’s advising four students majoring in mechanical engineering (ME) and computer science and engineering (CSE). The team is designing a “smart toilet,” a tool that tracks the frequency of usage on the toilet and reports any falls to 9-1-1.
“We made good progress so far, and it’s been a fun project. We’re getting a good jump on product development,” Bronen said.
Two-and-a-half years after starting their SedMed partnership, Krupski decided to part ways with the business. The new father handed the full reigns over to Bronen last January, and has been busy raising his now 7-month-old son.
Now that SedMed is awaiting a shipment of 250 products and making his first sales, Bronen’s goal is to grow the business’s team. He recently hired an engineer is and presently seeking a sales manager and other team members. This summer, Bronen hopes to recruit a UConn student to fulfill the role of SedMed’s first marketing intern and continue networking with like-minded engineers and entrepreneurs.
Connecticut Small Business Development Center and CTSBDC Business Advisor Denise Whitford helped SedMed to secure over $1 million in funding, including $931,000 raised in a seed round, led by Connecticut Innovations, along with an additional $115,000 in grant funding from organizations like CTNext, FORGE, the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, UConn IQ, and the UConn School of Engineering.
“For now, we’re slowing extending our reach, but our long-term vision is for SedMed to become a [brand] standard for people who struggle with daily living.”
By Olivia Drake, Written Communications Specialist
In high school, Justin Coe always had a knack for math and science. So, when he began thinking about college, the University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering became top-of-mind.
Now a rising junior, Coe is pursuing a materials science and engineering major and minor in manufacturing.
“At first, I was unsure of which discipline I wanted to pursue,” Coe recalls. “I actually was first enrolled in biomedical engineering, however, the more I was exposed to other disciplines at UConn, I eventually switched to MSE because I really loved the hands-on work within the major, especially metallurgy and failure analysis.”
Coe—who holds a cumulative GPA of 3.96—is among 16 UConn students recently inducted into the prestigious engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi (TBP).
Founded in 1885, TBP is the nation’s second-oldest academic honor society and recognizes those who have “conferred honor upon their Alma Maters by distinguished scholarship and exemplary character as students in engineering” and who “foster a spirit of liberal culture in engineering colleges.” The creed of Tau Beta Pi, adopted in 1991, is “Integrity and Excellence in Engineering.”
The Connecticut Beta Chapter at UConn is among 255 collegiate TBP groups nationwide and will celebrate its 75th anniversary in January 2024. To be eligible for membership, students must be a junior by class standing or older. Juniors must be in the top eighth of their class, and seniors top fifth of their class.
For the year of 2021-2022, those eligibilities ranged from a 3.875-4.0 cumulative GPA for juniors, and 3.865-4.0 GPA for seniors. “These are the typical ranges and they’ve only varied by plus or minus 0.1 GPA points for the past few years,” said mechanical engineering major and TBP Chapter President Jarred Drickler-Bourgart.
The initiation ceremony, held in March, was attended by Drickler-Bourgart, a UConn junior; Daniel Burkey, Associate Dean, Castleman Term Professor in Engineering Innovation, and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; Natalie Turco, Tau Beta Pi District Director; Kanisha Desai, chemical and biomolecular major and UConn Chapter Treasurer; and others.
The new inductees include Coe; mechanical engineering majors Daniel Andrade, Dax Avery, Alexandra Calabro, Dwaritha Ramesh, and Benjamin Roy; chemical and biomolecular engineering majors Jacob Crow, Thanasi Dimopoulos, and Cristian Rodriguez; materials science and engineering major Christian Sabatini; civil and environmental engineering majors Carson Kehmna, Daniel Parillo, and Devin Rhoads; computer science and engineering major Sabrina Schlusselberg; environmental engineering major Louis Spencer; and environmental engineering and computer engineering double major Dominik Kulis.
“We’re extremely proud of our newest Tau Beta Pi inductees,” said Burkey, who serves as UConn’s TBP chief advisor. “Their dedication to academic excellence and passion for engineering is a testament to their exceptional character and potential for greatness.”
While community service isn’t a requirement of UConn’s TBP membership, Burkey noted that several initiates are deeply involved in engineering-related extracurriculars. Coe, for example, is secretary of both the UConn Material Advantage (UCMA) Student Chapter and UConn Foundation Metal Working Club, and he’s also a member of the UConn Woodsmen Team and Werth Innovation Zone Maker Mentors. In addition, Coe will be a teaching assistant next fall for the MSE II course, and he’ll be attending the Institute of Materials Applications and Testing (IMAT) conference in October as a Heat Treating Society Strong Bar competitor. “That will involve heat treating a steel bar that has proficient bending strength as well as ductility,” Coe said.
Like Coe, new TBP initiate and rising senior Andrade aspired to pursue engineering during his senior year in high school. “I wanted something challenging, so engineering [at UConn] was an easy choice for me,” said Andrade, who holds a 3.96 GPA. “I enjoy the fast pace and challenging course load that some of the engineering courses have to offer.”
Formerly a member of UConn’s Student Branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Andrade now focuses specifically on research. His work involves using an Analytical Target Cascading method to create an optimal system design.
The official emblem of the TBP—“the bent”—is monumented front and center of the Francis L. Castleman Engineering Building on the Storrs campus. This badge, which resembles a pocket watch key in the form of the bent of a trestle, is presented to TBP inductees as a wearable pendant and is frequently engraved with the member’s last name, chapter, and class.
“Being a member of Tau Beta Pi is an incredible achievement,” Burkey said. “I look forward to seeing what these students will contribute to the field of engineering in the future.”
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