Four engineering students receive awards at Graduate Student Showcase

Four engineering students took home cash prizes at the Graduate Student Showcase on November 11. This annual event is a showcase of research and creativity – a one-day conference for students to present their work, connect with industry representatives and other graduate students and faculty at CSU, and learn about other disciplines and gain conference experience. The Graduate Showcase celebrates interdisciplinary collaboration.

Mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Ciprian Dumitrache received one of two Drivers of Innovation awards from CSU Ventures for his work to improve combustion efficiency in engines with the use of laser ignition. Dumitrache felt that the Drivers of Innovation award was the perfect fit for his project, because it “was an innovation project focused on our novel approach to laser ignition.” After graduation, Dumitrache hopes to become a professor, and pursue research that combines his expertise in aerospace, engines and combustion, acoustics, and lasers and plasma.

Breadth of Work

The remaining three winners received the College of Engineering All-Stars award for three very different research projects:

Aaron Drake, a mechanical engineering master’s student, took a CSU-spirited approach to his study of the ramming of male bighorn sheep. By simulating the impact of these ramming events, Drake discovered which components of a bighorn sheep skull play a role in energy dissipation and acceleration mitigation during impact. His findings have significant implications for minimizing the likelihood of brain trauma during concussions in humans. Because of this project, Drake has a newfound interest in concussion research, and upon graduation, hopes to pursue a career in research and development.

Students Kevin Westhoff and Aaron Drake received their Grad Show awards.

Another mechanical engineering student, Kevin Westhoff, a master’s candidate, chose to explore an unconventional approach to minimize overheating in lithium-ion batteries. While current thermal management systems cool down the battery packs from the outside, Westhoff is working to incorporate a technique that is built into the internal structure of each individual battery cell, allowing for more effective temperature management. Westhoff chose this project because of its interdisciplinary nature (mechanical engineering paired with chemistry), and hopes to utilize his expertise in industry after graduation.

Ali Tasdighi is a civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. student with a passion for improving water quality worldwide through his research. His project aims to determine the viability of water quality trading in different contexts, suggesting a framework for quantifying trading ratios for point-nonpoint source trades under uncertainty using Bayesian inference. During this research, Tasdighi is working with his advisor Dr. Mazdak Arabi on developing a stochastic approach for modeling the pollutants from nonpoint sources and evaluating the effectiveness of different conservation practices in reducing them. The results will be used to create an index of water quality trading viability for point and nonpoint sources throughout the country.

Interfacing with Industry

All four student winners valued the Grad Showcase as an opportunity to interface not only with other students, but also with judges and industry representatives. Introduced to the Grad Show for the first time last year when his wife, a human development student, participated, Dumitrache especially enjoyed the opportunity to be exposed to and interact with a wide variety of people and research projects. Drake encourages other students to submit work in the Grad Show, as “it’s a great way to get exposed to other students’ work, and it’s an opportunity you may not otherwise get because of the ‘heads down’ nature of the last year of the [engineering] program.” Similarly, Westhoff enjoyed the opportunity to “practice being a salesperson instead of a scientist,” which is a crucial skill needed for success in any industry.

Aaron Drake receives his award from the dean of the College of Engineering Dr. David McLean.

The Grad Show was not only a valued experience for the student participants, but also for the judges, who were each responsible for evaluating 5 of the 30 total engineering posters. Mike Applegate, civil engineering alumnus and president of Applegate Group, Inc. thought the event was well-organized and a good opportunity to “bring our heads up from our own worlds to see what others are doing.” Impressed by the level of maturity of the students, Applegate especially appreciated that the students he spoke with were able to admit what they didn’t know: “I admire the drive to push themselves into new boundaries of study with an attitude of learning from both success and failure.”

Also impressed by the level of sophistication of both the students and their projects was Dave Randall, CSU business administration graduate and business operations manager for Hewlett-Packard. Randall is spearheading the enhancement of HP’s relationship with CSU, and chose to judge at the Grad Show in order to give back to the industry and build on the core missions of both CSU and HP.

The Grad Show was a prime opportunity for students and judges alike to experience research from a wide range of fields. For the students, it was an opportunity to meet their peers in engineering and in other colleges; for the judges, it was an opportunity to be exposed to cutting-edge research while also meeting the students responsible for these innovations. The next Graduate Student Showcase will take place in fall 2016, and if you are considering attending, let Dave Randall convince you to “make some time because you’re going to be enriched by the experience.”

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