Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student Participates in Prestigious Summer Institute

Ben HallsWhile interning at Orbital Technologies Corporation the summer before his senior year at the University of Wisconsin—Platteville, Ben Halls’ supervisor encouraged him to consider graduate school. He had heard promising things about the College of Engineering (CoE) at Iowa State University (ISU), so he started digging deeper to see what opportunities were available.

He reached out to Terry Meyer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at ISU, and discovered a position was open as a graduate research assistant on a multi-university research initiative (MURI) organized through the Army Research Office focused on developing cleaner and safer fuels for rockets.

Fast-forward to today, and Halls is in his third year as a full-time PhD student in mechanical engineering at ISU. He continues to work with Meyer on the MURI, researching dense spray diagnostics for near-field sprays. Because they have utilized a variety of techniques for spray measurement, Halls has also worked with Theodore Heindel, interim chair and professor of mechanical engineering, and Song Zhang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in various lab settings.

One aspect of the project took Halls to Argonne National Labs in Illinois to use the Advanced Photon Source used to measure sprays using synchrotron X-rays. His work in a national lab setting doesn’t end there—he was also selected to participate in the Sandia National Labs 2011 Summer Institute in Livermore, California.

The Sandia Summer Institute (SSI) is an interdisciplinary research program for 20 of the top graduate students from the nation’s premier universities. The theme for the 2011 summer institute was Technology and Policy Tools for Energy in an Uncertain World. Halls’ research experience with spray diagnostics made him an ideal candidate for this exclusive, all-expenses paid opportunity, as one of the topical areas for the institute was: Measurement Uncertainty with Imaging Detectors–Focus on Optical Engine Diagnostics. The trip had many highlights, but working with some of the best and brightest scientists and graduate students in the country was Halls’ favorite part.

Halls, an alumnus of Monona Grove HS in Wisconsin has certainly has packed a lot into his time as a graduate student. Interacting with some of the top minds in the industry at some of the most preeminent facilities in the country has led to an invaluable research experience that will guide him on his next adventure.   

Mazatlan to Ames becomes a path to graduate school

Brenda Carrillo-CondeBrenda Carrillo-Conde did not know what she was getting herself into when she decided to participate in a summer research experience in the College of Engineering at Iowa State University five years ago.  The native of Mazatlan, Mexico, was a senior at Monterrey Institute of Technology (Monterrey, Mexico) and planned on a career in industry. Then she made a big decision: to travel with two of her classmates over 3,000 miles to spend the summer at Iowa State as a participant in the Biological Materials and Process (BioMaP) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) project.

During the REU experience Carrillo-Conde had the opportunity to work with Dr. Balaji Narasimhan and his research team on increasing the effectiveness of vaccine delivery systems and developing new vaccination strategies based on biomaterials.  She enjoyed working with Narasimhan over the 10-week program.  So much so, that when offered the opportunity to return to Iowa State and continue working with Narasimhan as a graduate student, she happily accepted.

Since then, Carrillo-Conde has been working on the same line of research that she began during that summer five years ago.  And the research has produced results. The team has improved the delivery vehicles to be used in vaccine formulations from polyanhydrides microparticles to nanoparticles from the same chemistry but with functional groups on their surfaces. Successful in-vivo trials have been held geared towards creating single-dose versions of existing vaccines (Tetanus Toxoid, Pneumonic Plague, Anthrax, and others).  The team is also honing in on more cost-effective production of vaccinations and the development altogether new ones (for example, to protect against HIV). 

Collaborations as part of the research have allowed Carrillo-Conde to work with experts from the Chemistry Department, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventative Medicine (VMPM), and the Immunobiology Department at Iowa State. Such interactions have been one of Carrillo-Conde’s favorite aspects of her experience.  And she knows that this interdisciplinary work has prepared her for her professional future. 

For someone who hadn’t planned on attending graduate school, Carrillo-Conde has come a long way. This summer, she will finish her PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering, with a minor in Immunobiology.

Grad student works to improve foundation design for earthquake zones

Brad Fleming, a PhD student in civil engineering at Iowa State, has been working on a project that can make a large impact—literally. Brad is working with Professor Sri Sritharan and a research team composed of the experts, resources, and testing sites from five leading institutions across the country (the University of Oklahoma; Iowa State University; San Jose State University; the University of California, Davis; and the University of California, Los Angeles) to investigate better soil improvement processes for the construction of foundation piles in earthquakes zones with soft soil.

The Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation Research (NEESR) program of NSF is funding this soil-foundation-structure interaction (SFSI) project for which Sritharan serves as the leading structural engineering researcher. In soft clay such as that available in several regions of the West Coast, including the Marina Bay of San Francisco, the current practice is to use an increased number of larger-diameter piles to provide satisfactory foundation for the structures. The research team has instead proposed improving the soil around the piles, rather than increasing the number or type of the piles. This innovative and cost-effective solution will mechanically inject cement grout into the soil around piles, improving strength and stiffness of the soil when the cement sets. This multi-institutional interdepartmental effort is breaking new frontiers in SFSI research by utilizing the NEES experimental capabilities available at Davis and UCLA (

Brad’s background researching soil compaction has been important to his contributions on the NEES project. During his work as a master’s student (also at Iowa State), he gained valuable experience working with Professor David White on a soil compaction project partnered and funded by Caterpillar. His relationships with faculty and the opportunity for hands-on interdisciplinary research are both reasons he came to Iowa State, and why he has chosen to stay. As a rising senior student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, in civil engineering, he seized an opportunity for a summer internship working with White. This experience sparked his interest in GeoTech and SFSI research and led him to graduate school at Iowa State, where he continues to excel.

For more information on this project see the award abstract (#0830328) at the National Science Foundation:


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Aerospace graduate student works in planetary defense

Brian Kaplinger, a PhD student in aerospace engineering at Iowa State, is working on something that just might protect humanity from a devastating asteroid impact someday. Working in trajectory optimization for the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State, Brian’s area of expertise is computer simulations. Using those simulations he can calculate how to minimize damages to the earth and its inhabitants should the situation arise where the use of munitions to blow up an impending asteroid is the best option.

Brian’s research interest may sound like the plot of the popular 1998 blockbuster Armageddon, but it’s not near as simple as Bruce Willis makes it look on the big screen. Not only does Brian account for the rotation and speed of the earth as it orbits the sun, as well as the speed, rotation, size, and direction of the anticipated asteroid, he also must negotiate all of these variables and figure out how the asteroid will break apart. Determining how the object will fragment is vital, because he then can calculate where those pieces will impact the earth. This goal is very much in line with that outlined by both President Obama at the Kennedy Space Station (Thursday, April 15, 2010) to conduct manned missions to near-earth asteroids and a NASA task force who also met that same day in Boston to work on a contingency plan should Earth ever need protection from a cataclysmic impact of an asteroid or comet.[1]

Brian is a native of Omaha, Nebraska, and received his BS in aerospace engineering from Iowa State in 2009. He has been working with Professor Bong Wie since he was an undergraduate student. In fact, Brian worked with Wie throughout the process of founding the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State, currently the only funded university-level center of its type in the United States. Brian is considering a career in academe but is open to the possibility of a position in industry, working in planetary defense for an organization like NASA. Regardless of where he decides to work, we will all be thankful for his efforts should the earth ever face the reality of an asteroid situation like those so popular in the movies.

[1] ©2010 The Associated Press


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German student works to help solve carbon emissions challenge

Matthias Veltman, a PhD student in mechanical engineering at Iowa State, has come a long way from a little town called Lampertheim, Germany, to work on improving clean engine technology. In his third year as a doctoral student, he is working with Professor Song-Charng Kong to evaluate the use of ammonia as fuel in a compression ignition engine. Since ammonia contains no carbon, when it is burned as a fuel no CO₂ is released into the atmosphere! This research is a great example of what the 2050 Challenge in the College of Engineering at Iowa State is all about.

Matthias, Kong, and the research team have been making great progress. The team has already designed a custom stainless steel fuel injection system that is not corroded by the constant presence of ammonia (as a typical brass or copper system would be). BOSCH has been a worthy business partner, providing supplies for the project—most notably, a custom-made electronic fuel injection valve for the system. The team has set up a modified engine in a special lab equipped with a high-pressure fuel pump that allows the apparatus to run successfully utilizing ammonia as the main fuel source. The team is now working to design and create a portable version of the highly pressurized pump that would allow them to install the ammonia-powered engine in a vehicle outside of the lab.

Matthias has been given opportunities to “take it to the next level,” as he puts it, while a graduate student at Iowa State. He says his experiences have taught him how to “collaborate with other professionals and academics to find and apply appropriate solutions to complex problems.” He has most enjoyed the community at Iowa State. Matthias feels that the learning that occurs through involvement in Iowa State’s many extracurricular activities (such as the Society of International Engineers or the Formula SAE Team; Matthias is a member of both) is invaluable to today’s students.

Matthias completed his undergraduate work (known as “diploma” in the German system) at Hochschule Mannheim (HS Mannheim) and first came to Iowa State as an exchange student while working on his MS in mechanical engineering at HS Mannheim. Matthias spent his first year as a PhD student at Iowa State working on a project sponsored by John Deere to produce cleaner emissions through the creation of more effective in-cylinder soot and NOx controls. He has been working with Kong on the current project, using ammonia as an alternative fuel, since the beginning of 2009.


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CprE student lands NSF fellowship four months into grad school

How does a graduate student receive a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship only four months into a PhD program? Hands-on internships and one-on-one mentors certainly helped. At least, that is how it happened for Cory Kleinheksel, graduate student in computer engineering.

Cory enriched his Iowa State undergraduate years with learning experiences requiring applied computer engineering skills. He had internships all four summers and one fall semester with Rockwell Collins and with Garmin, International. Cory started his internships without applied skills, but he learned plenty about software development while working alongside engineers.

During his sophomore year, Cory took an experimental course in digital logic and processor design taught by Professor Arun Somani, and Somani encouraged Cory to think about graduate school. When Cory committed to graduate school he enrolled in the concurrent program, beginning his MS before he finished his BS. In October, before receiving his BS, Cory applied for the highly competitive NSF fellowship. The experience was his introduction to writing proposals. Cory had guidance from Professor Somani and Professor Manimaran Govindarasu, both of whom reviewed and critiqued his application. Because he was not yet well versed in potential research areas, Cory extensively read research papers and relied on the research knowledge of others to help him identify an intellectually challenging problem with the potential to make a significant contribution to society. The research problem Cory developed explores integrating streaming sensor data using a modular distributed architecture with the goal of enabling real-time decision making. The NSF fellowship will provide Cory with three years of doctoral studies support.

Cory thoroughly enjoys his experience in graduate school. At the beginning of his full-time graduate studies, he split his assistantship evenly between teaching and research. For his teaching assistantship Cory facilitated labs for CprE 288, the embedded systems class. Cory found that he enjoys interacting with students and now considers faculty service to be a strong possibility for his future. His first research assistantship was to help with the development of a publisher and subscription system. He has learned that he enjoys looking at what exists and then stepping back to seek answers to such fundamental questions as, “Why are we doing this, and why this way?”

Cory received the prestigious NSF fellowship early in his academic career because he sought opportunities to enrich his undergraduate education, he welcomed strong mentors, and he has learned to maximize his time and opportunities.


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From Egypt to Iowa: One engineering graduate student’s journey

Ghada Gad, a graduate student in civil, construction, and environmental engineering (CCEE) at Iowa State University, has had to adjust to a new environment. Literally. There are plenty of cultural and societal differences between her homes in Cairo, Egypt, and Ames, Iowa, but the difference that really stands out for her is the weather. The first week Ghada was in Ames last January, the state of Iowa was experiencing record lows and lots of snow. Her major professor, Jennifer Shane, jokes that, “I half expected her to buy a plane ticket back to Cairo and tell us that we were crazy for living in Ames!” Ghada didn’t leave. She made it through the winter, and since springtime she has been enjoying weather in the Midwest much more.

The story of how Ghada came to be a graduate engineering student at Iowa State begins about a year before her snowy arrival. As a master’s student in construction engineering at American University Cairo, she had a chance to meet a few members of the Iowa State University engineering faculty. She heard through a friend, who was studying in the CCEE department at Iowa State, that several faculty members from Ames would be visiting her school in Cairo. Professors Jim Alleman (CCEE chair), Fouad Fanous, Amr Kandil, and Jennifer Shane were participating in an exchange of information with AUC faculty and to observe capstone presentations of collaborative efforts between students from both universities. The professors were impressed by Ghada. Shane recalls the feelings of the group. “Ghada appeared to be a very intelligent, well-spoken, hard-working student and all around someone that we would want at Iowa State University.” Ghada did some further investigation and was impressed by the opportunities she would have at Iowa State. She accelerated through the remainder of her program at AUC and received her MS in construction engineering. Now she is enjoying her new adventure and is working on a research topic for her doctoral dissertation. Ghada’s main area of interest is in examining the relationship between contracts and risks.

Ghada is impressed by the similarity between the educational systems here at Iowa State and at her alma mater, American University Cairo. Additionally, Ghada is happy to find fellow Egyptian students also studying at Iowa State. Being over 6,000 miles from home, it is nice for her to be able to talk with people who share similar experiences. Her story illustrates the diverse backgrounds of Iowa State graduate engineering students. Engineering graduate students have the opportunity to develop an invaluable global network of engineer associates while studying here, and that is just what Ghada is doing.


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MS student researches seismic design of deep bridge pier foundations

Coming from Wisconsin, graduate student Aaron Shelman is not afraid of the cold. In fact, he likes it so much that he is using liquid nitrogen to create subzero temperatures year round. As a civil engineering graduate student with an emphasis in structural engineering, Aaron has been researching the effects of seasonal freezing on soil-foundation-structure interaction.

Aaron’s major professor, Sri Sritharan, introduced him to the need for more research and better construction of bridge columns that extend into the ground and act as foundations. The main research objective is to design these foundations to withstand seismic activity under both warm and wintry conditions, which are experienced in several seismic regions of the country. This is especially important because some of the largest earthquakes in the history of the United States—such as the 1811–1812 New Madrid series of earthquakes and 1964 Great Alaska earthquake—have occurred during winter months. Funded by the Alaska University Transportation Center and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, his research has examined how these columns will respond to movements in the earth when subjected to seasonal freezing. Aaron’s focus is on the development of an analysis model that can account for the changes in material properties in this frozen state and their impact on seismic response of the foundations and bridges.

In the lab, he has been running tests on confined concrete samples at cold temperatures to examine their structural properties and comparing them with current models developed for warm conditions. The idea is to ensure that concrete “goes with the flow” at all temperatures, so that structures will maintain the same weight-bearing capacity but can withstand the large movements typically associated with earthquake loading. His labors will result in safer, more reliable construction of these types of columns in the future.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin Platteville with a BS in civil engineering, Aaron was drawn to Iowa State’s graduate engineering programs by the opportunities that would be available to him. Some of his peers from Platteville had already begun their graduate work at Iowa State, and he was especially impressed by the civil, construction, and environmental engineering department. He thinks one of the best things about his experience has been expanding his knowledge through his coursework and by observing his peers’ research in other areas of civil engineering.

Aaron will finish his master’s degree this semester and plans to immediately begin a doctorate in civil engineering with an emphasis in structural engineering. As part of his thesis he has created an analysis method for structures in cohesive soils because that is where the largest deficiency in current practice exists. As he continues his graduate career at Iowa State, he will expand his research to examine how this issue applies in other soil and foundation types.


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Internships provide opportunities for Chinese IMSE graduate student

Xiaoli Yang had earned a bachelor’s degree in management information systems in China and also took some graduate level courses. He was eager for an opportunity to apply his textbook and coursework learning. He found that opportunity at Iowa State as a full-time graduate student in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering (IMSE), ranked by U.S.News and World Report as a top 25 program. Within two years after arriving from Zhongshan, China, Xiaoli enjoyed two excellent internship opportunities, and he has also applied his data mining expertise.


In his first year of graduate studies, Xiaoli was offered an internship with Proplanner, a company located at Iowa State University Research Park that develops IT solutions to streamline and automate production for industrial engineers. In his second year, Xiaoli accepted a six-month internship with Whirlpool in Amana, Iowa. There he was involved in multiple projects including supply stream improvement, supplier development, just-in-time receiving/shipping schedules, and other lean manufacturing practices.


In China, Xiaoli had developed an interest in data mining and its applications, a major topic in enterprise informatics, which also happens to be one of the research focuses of the Iowa State industrial engineering program. Sigurdur Olafsson, Xiaoli’s major professor, is recognized for his expertise in knowledge discovery and data mining, stochastic optimization, and simulation.


While completing a master’s degree, required of IMSE students before starting a PhD, Xiaoli applied data mining techniques to a national database maintained by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. His goal was to discover the root causes of different types of underground mining accidents and injuries. In the long term, Xiaoli is hoping to work closely with domain experts in the mining safety area to put into practice what he found, thereby reducing accidents in the mining industry. He also hopes to work with his major professor on methodologies and algorithms that can better utilize incident database for root cause extraction and pattern recognition.


As advice to international students considering studies in the United States, Xiaoli encourages students to throw themselves into American society rather than focusing merely on school. Xiaoli has come to understand that for engineering students to be successful they must go beyond class and textbooks. In his case, two internships early in his graduate career have proven this to be true.


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Interdisciplinary opportunities attract Chem E grad student

When Bret Ulery finished his undergraduate education at the University of Iowa with a BS in biochemistry and a BSE in chemical engineering, he found himself in high demand as a prospective graduate student. Bret considered offers from engineering programs across the country. Ultimately he chose Iowa State because of the opportunity offered for interdisciplinary research.


During a prospective graduate student visit at Iowa State, Bret met with Professor Balaji Narasimhan, who had recently received a grant requiring bioscience and chemical engineering research. Accepting the opportunity to work with Narasimhan placed Bret as a chemical engineering graduate student on the interface with immunology, microbiology, chemical, and materials engineering research.


In a lab on central campus, Bret works with Narasimhan, four other graduate students, and one postdoc to design degradable polymer particles for vaccine delivery for biodefense applications. At the Iowa State veterinary college, Bret works with a second research group consisting of two faculty, two immunology graduate students, and one research associate to complete the in vitro and in vivo aspects of the research.


The interdisciplinary components of Bret’s research have opened myriad opportunities for presenting and publishing. So far, Bret has presented at meetings of the Biomedical Engineering Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Society of Microbiology, and the Society for Biomaterials. His first peer-reviewed journal article was published in Pharmaceutical Research. By the time Bret finishes his chemical engineering PhD he will already have submitted numerous articles to peer-reviewed journals. Eventually Bret hopes to become a professor.


Bret has two suggestions for prospective engineering graduate students: (1) find a major professor you really get along with, and (2) find a project you love. With those key components in place you will find it easy to work hard.


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ABE graduate takes three-cornered approach to busy schedule

When Martha Zwonitzer started graduate school in agricultural and biosystems engineering (ABE) she joked that she had donned a hat with three corners-mother of four children under 10, wife of a busy husband working full time in corn breeding, and a full-time graduate student. She “turns her hat” as she changes roles. Martha does so well at maintaining balance in her life that she has been asked to present on this subject to groups on campus.


Martha was attracted to graduate studies at Iowa State because it is a land-grant institution where her research can be applied in agriculture to help farmers. She chose ABE because she wants to generate practical solutions to issues and problems encountered by farmers. Within four months of starting her graduate program, Martha was selected for an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel to attend the Dahlia Greidinger International Memorial Symposium, a conference on research relating to climate change, environmental risks, and water scarcity. During this conference Martha saw creative approaches to solving global problems on a regional scale. She observed high-level collaboration among researchers seeking to apply one another’s discoveries to their own research to solve a global problem. Martha took two posters to this symposium and earned second place with one of them in the poster competition.


As a graduate student, Martha is benefitting from an interdisciplinary major. Two professors are collaborating with her: Michelle Soupir in ABE and Laura Jarboe in chemical and biological engineering. Martha’s research examines E. coli from swine systems to learn about antibiotic resistance. A widespread agricultural practice is to feed antibiotics to swine at sub-therapeutic levels as a growth promoter. Microbes coming out of these systems are showing resistance to a wide range of antibiotics, both veterinary and human pharmaceuticals. Martha is examining the antibiotic resistance of the microbes, the ability of microbes to attach to the soil, and the propensity of the microbes to be pathogenic. She is seeking to answer the questions, “What is the long-term effect of having these microbes in the environment?” and “How can farming practices be better adapted to prevent any negative long-term effect?”


At times her work with bacteria requires that Martha spend long hours in the lab, where she is also serving as the lab supervisor. Sharing family time is a priority for Martha. She says she never seems to take her hat off, but just turns its corner toward the priority of the moment.


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ME grad student works to benefit society through biofuel research

Mark Mba Wright grew up in Equatorial Guinea, Africa. He came to the United States as an undergraduate to study mechanical engineering with a particular interest in hydrogen and fuel cells. He was attracted to Iowa State’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) because of its national ranking and long history of engineering innovation.


Once at Iowa State, Mark discovered biofuel research and began work as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of Anson Marston Distinguished Professor Robert C. Brown. Mark took advantage of the concurrent BS/MS program, completing the BS requirements in spring 2007. His research is in technoeconomics of biofuels. Mark compares the costs of small-scale and large scale biomass-to-liquid (BTL) process systems to determine when each is technologically and economically viable for commercial use. One model Mark is studying is that of distributed biofuel manufacturing plants. These co-op sized plants are capable of producing bio-oil that can be upgraded to transportation fuel and would be shared by local farms. The cost of shipping biomass suggests that small operations may be more efficient.


Mark is currently a PhD student in ME and is a recipient of the George Washington Carver Award from the Iowa State Biorenewable Resources and Technology program. The award honors Iowa State alumnus George Washington Carver by recognizing exemplary initiatives in practical applications of research for the betterment of society. The Biorenewable Resources and Technology program is an interdisciplinary Iowa State program and is the first graduate program in biorenewable resources in the United States. Mark is working to find strategies to make biofuels economically competitive so they will be useful to society.


One highlight of Mark’s graduate experience was the opportunity to attend the international conference of SCOPE (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment) Biofuels in Gummersbach, Germany. He sat at the table with Nobel laureates and was able to gain a global perspective of the value of biofuels research.


By studying at one of the few universities with advanced research in technoeconomics of second-generation biofuel technologies, Mark has access to top researchers and many world-class research instruments on campus, all of which allow him to continue his quest to identify thermochemical biofuel research applications of greatest value to society.


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Shift to mechanical engineering directs student toward research career

A colorful CT scan of the fluid column Joshua is standing beside can be seen on the computer screen to the right.

Joshua Drake enrolled as a PhD student in mechanical engineering even though he didn’t have an engineering background. Instead, he has a master of arts in teaching with an emphasis in science, and his bachelor’s degrees are in math and in physics. What brought Joshua to study mechanical engineering? He has enjoyed tinkering in mechanics since his youth and was seeking a practical degree with industry applications. His interest in fluid dynamics was piqued by a Discovery Channel special on the history of massive glacial lakes in Montana. Lakes as large as Lake Superior broke 10,000 years ago and released hundreds of cubic miles of water across the steppes. The resulting fluid dynamics created extensive landforms that can be seen today.

The graduate experience has been satisfying for Joshua; his coursework is engaging, and his research captivates his interest. He carried a full course load his first year, supported by a Galloway Fellowship covering his tuition and living expenses. Since that first year, a graduate research assistantship has supported Joshua, paying tuition, insurance, and a living stipend.

Joshua conducts his research in the Experimental Multiphase Flow Laboratory with Professor Ted Heindel as his major professor. Joshua has spent hundreds of hours developing CT scans of the hydrodynamics of fluidized beds in a one-of-a-kind x-ray flow visualization facility designed and built specifically for this lab. He jokes that after the hours it takes to develop a CT scan, the analysis takes five minutes.

Joshua is enthusiastic about the “phenomenal research facilities” in engineering at Iowa State and is appreciative of the financial support provided for graduate students and the research laboratories. He plans to complete his PhD within the next year and hopes to continue at Iowa State as a postdoctoral researcher.


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PhD student’s interest in teaching sparked by industry experience

Cara Dienes, PhD student in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering (IMSE), knows from experience the importance of being prepared. After graduating from Purdue University’s industrial engineering department, she worked in industry for over three years as part of a team that used systems engineering models in the management of defense systems design. Even while working full time as a systems engineer, she pursued a master’s degree in operations research from Georgia Tech.

As part of this industry experience, Cara trained new employees to use systems engineering tools. As she did so, she discovered her interest in teaching. Fully aware that faculty positions usually require a research element, Cara directed her ambition toward pursuing a PhD in industrial engineering at Iowa State University.

Cara was awarded a 2050 Challenge Fellowship from the College of Engineering at Iowa State. The fellowship supports PhD students whose research addresses engineering issues related to sustainability and quality of life over the next four decades. These are students who have the potential to become the world’s next generation of insightful thinkers and problem solvers.

During her first year of graduate study, Cara is already helping to write research papers for submission to peer-reviewed journals. She has been working with Assistant Professor Lizhi Wang on applying optimization techniques, and their work, “Determining Optimal Schedule Requirements for Green Hotel Renovations,” was recognized with an honorable mention in an interactive session at the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) 2008 annual conference in Washington, D.C. INFORMS is the largest society in the world for professionals in the field of operations research.

Cara is excited about the IMSE program at Iowa State because of its focus on how to improve decision making. In less than a year, the IMSE department has provided opportunities for her to participate in research, identify research problems, and share findings with the international research community.


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Undergraduate preparation reaps big rewards for NSF fellow

Sasha Kemmet, National Science Foundation fellow and graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, has already discovered something: her undergraduate activities at Iowa State not only prepared her for graduate school but also paved the way for her prestigious NSF Fellowship.

As an Iowa State undergraduate student, Kemmet assisted with an undergraduate course, EE 185 (Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Problem-Solving), designed to introduce first-year students to the EE program and problem solving. She felt that serving as a teacher’s assistant for this course was the most rewarding academic experience of her undergraduate career, and she valued helping other people understand a concept or idea while she became more fluent in the subject area. EE 185 is taught by Mani Mina, who mentored Kemmet as she completed her undergraduate curriculum, applied for graduate school, and received the NSF Fellowship. He now serves as her major professor.

Kemmet successfully applied for the NSF Fellowship during her senior year. She brought outstanding credentials to the application: service as a teaching assistant in an undergraduate course, strong leadership as president of the Iowa State Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers student chapter, service on the Dean’s Student Advisory Council, experience in undergraduate research during her senior year, an internship with John Deere, and a summer experience in Washington, D.C., where she wrote a policy paper on wind energy.

Kemmet’s first year as a PhD student in electrical engineering was exciting. Her research involves developing a fiber optic switch to generate on/off signals for optical communication using magnetic material. At Mina’s suggestion, Kemmet submitted an abstract to an international conference on magnetics. As a result, she traveled to Spain for a poster presentation, meeting other researchers and learning about the latest magnetics technology.

Kemmet maintains an interest in policymaking related to technology. As she looks ahead, she sees herself becoming a professor at a research institution and mentoring students as she has been mentored.


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Persistence leads to success for NSF fellow

Mike Steffen, in his second year as an Iowa State University graduate student in computer engineering, is a newly designated National Science Foundation (NSF) fellow. A year of experience proved valuable for Steffen, who was unsuccessful in his first try for the fellowship.

Rather than be discouraged, Steffen resolved to reapply. He distinguished himself during his first year of graduate study. Steffen taught more than 100 freshman engineering students as a teaching assistant, maintained a strong academic performance, worked on refining his research interests, and revised his NSF application for resubmission. Through his teaching experience, Steffen was able to demonstrate his broad impact on engineering students. He also was able to write with greater knowledge about his research plan. Joseph Zambreno, assistant professor in ECpE, is Steffen’s major professor and a past recipient of an NSF fellowship. He provided invaluable mentoring to Steffen during the application process.

Persistence paid off. Steffen’s prestigious NSF fellowship will provide his tuition, a stipend, and an educational allotment for three years. His goal is to develop expertise in computer graphics architecture at Iowa State that will benefit future engineers. The vision and support of the NSF is helping him to attain his goals.

Networking has also been invaluable to Steffen, as can be seen in his decision to become a computer engineering graduate student at Iowa State. When it came time to choose a baccalaureate institution, Steffen chose Valparaiso University, a small Lutheran college in Valparaiso, Indiana, recognized for integrating a liberal arts education with professional preparation. Valparaiso has no graduate program but offers one-credit courses in which faculty present an overview of their research. Steffen enrolled in a course on virtual reality offered by Associate Professor Jeffrey Will in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Steffen had an interest in computer graphics and expressed to Will his interest in knowing more. Will, working under an NSF grant to research virtual reality in education, invited Steffen to work with him. Steffen developed his own undergraduate research project, during which he created a virtual environment of an agricultural site in Sapporo, Japan, and was able to use a 3-D stereovision virtual environment in Indiana to operate farm machinery in Japan. Steffen made the most of this opportunity, traveling to Japan for two weeks and presenting his research at two national conferences.

Two Iowa State University alumni on the faculty at Valparaiso, Peter Johnson (ME’03) and Richard Freeman (BSECpE’88/PhDECpE’04), encouraged Steffen to look at Iowa State for graduate school. They thought his interest in designing architecture for computer graphics was a good match for the computer engineering program at Iowa State. Steffen is enthusiastic about the opportunities he is discovering at Iowa State as he pursues his interests in computer graphics architecture.


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MSE graduate student’s research puts rare earth magnets to work

Nathaniel Oster, a PhD student in materials science and engineering, is part of a research group developing rare earth magnets that can be used at temperatures around 200 degrees centigrade. The work has important implications for the auto industry because in electric motors a stronger magnet facilitates greater efficiency. The magnets currently used in electric, hybrid, and experimental fuel cell cars lose about half of their power when they are heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

The characteristics of rare earth magnets, based on a mixture of neodymium, iron, and boron, can be altered by adding other elements. Challenges include finding an alloy with desired properties, producing a magnet powder, and consolidating the powder.

Working under Iver Anderson, adjunct professor and senior metallurgist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, Nathaniel is part of a research group of three principal investigators, two additional PhDs conducting data collection, and an assistant scientist who holds a master’s degree. They are working on metallic “super glue,” seeking to add metals to get better adhesion without detracting from the magnetism. This Ames Laboratory project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy through EERE (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) and the FreedomCAR (hybrid electric car).

A second project Nathaniel is working on relates to isotropy of powders. His research group is working on developing anisotropic powders, which magnetize in only one direction. The resulting magnets are much stronger. This research is tied closely to the automotive industry. These magnets will improve the efficiency of high torque electric motors, particularly necessary for hybrid and electric cars.

Being affiliated with the Ames Laboratory provides excellent opportunities for Nathaniel as he performs cutting-edge research on materials. The research is well funded, facilities are excellent, Nathaniel has access to research instruments not commonly found on a college campus, and his work is conveniently located on campus.

Nathaniel’s future offers several options. He might pursue a postdoctoral position, choose an industrial experience with a company that produces magnets, or become a professor at a large research university.


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Summer internship leads to PhD study in ABE

Lidia came to Iowa State for a two-month reciprocal internship and stayed to earn PhD in agricultural and biosystems engineering.

Lidia Esteve Agelet, PhD student in agricultural and biosystems engineering (ABE), understands the importance of new experiences. Originally from Lleida in the autonomous community of Catalonia, Spain, Lidia has had the opportunity to gain not only an educational experience different from the one she received in Spain, but also a broader perspective on life.

Lidia attended the University of Lleida, where she received her bachelor’s degree in food processing and agricultural engineering and her master’s in agronomy engineering. While completing her master’s, she came to Iowa State for a two-month reciprocal internship program that Iowa State has with the University of Lleida. As she worked at the agronomy department’s Soil Testing Laboratory, Esteve observed the numerous resources that Iowa State could offer for research and knowledge development. While she studied theory and many other subjects in Spain, she did not have as many opportunities to apply what she was learning to real situations. Her experience at Iowa State had a positive impact on her life—after working in the lab and observing the atmosphere, she found herself wanting to acquire new knowledge focused on practical applications.

As she was conducting research for her master’s thesis, Lidia returned to Iowa State for five months to study tylosin antibiotics leaching through Iowa soils under the supervision of Amy Kaleita and Matthew Helmers, assistant professors in ABE. Her short stays at Iowa State convinced her that there were many opportunities for learning and growing; the campus demonstrated an enthusiasm for learning, innovation, and richness from cultural diversity that she wanted to be part of. After the completion of her master’s degree in Spain in 2004, Lidia, feeling there was still more to learn, applied for Iowa State’s graduate program. In order to familiarize herself with the available technology and programs, she began working on her second master’s degree with her major professor, Charles R. Hurburgh, and was introduced to near infrared spectroscopy (NIR). Her master’s thesis analyzed the permeation of PVC pipes using NIR for which she received the Iowa State University Research Excellence Award in fall 2006.

Lidia currently conducts her doctoral research in the Grain Quality Laboratory, where she works with NIR technologies to analyze corn kernels and soybean grains. Her goal is using imaging NIR to analyze biomass and determine its quality for bioethanol production. Biomass is very heterogeneous, which makes the bioethanol process more difficult to optimize, so being able to determine the biomass composition or degree of heterogeneity can help adjust the production process or classify biomass for other purposes.

Having been at Iowa State for five years, Lidia summarizes her experience as growth in both the professional and personal areas of her life. In her profession, she is learning about technologies and programs that she had never used in Spain, such as Matlab and near infrared spectroscopy. Personally, she is discovering more about her likes and dislikes and is gaining new knowledge of cultural diversity.

Lidia expects to graduate in summer 2010. Because she enjoys teaching and the academic atmosphere, her goal is to someday return to Spain and become a professor, perhaps at her alma mater; however, due to the current economic situation, she will most likely seek a postdoctoral research position to gain more experience and wait for an opportunity in Spain.


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