Meet Tufts Engineers
Tufts engineers are everywhere, doing all sorts of interesting things. Take a look at what some of our current students, faculty, and alumni are doing in the School of Engineering.
Anuththari Gamage '18: Chequered Flags, Telemetry, and a Twisty Circuit to Engineering
If someone were to ask me to pinpoint the moment I realized I might want to be an engineer, I would say it was one lazy Sunday afternoon some nine years ago.
Growing up, I was a fan of Formula 1 racing (it’s like NASCAR with faster cars and twisty tracks, for anyone who’s unfamiliar). I would religiously set aside every Sunday afternoon to watch a telecast of the races – anyone who called me at the time of the race would get a polite request to call back later, and when the F1 circus came to my part of the world, I would happily skip school and take a 3 hour flight to watch the races with my family.
At this the highest tier of motor racing, cars raced at 200mph under extreme accelerations and G-forces. Back then, I had nothing more than a rudimentary grasp of the engineering that went into the design of such a car. I only understood that it was very fast, very strong, and very, very complicated to drive – the race cars resembled jets, the steering wheel itself was like a miniaturized space shuttle control panel.
But what really awed me wasn’t the massive engines or the sleek aerodynamics that went into the design of F1 race cars. Rather, it was a random shot of the pit wall, or the station where technicians monitored the condition of the cars during a race. A bunch of engineers sat in front of huge display screens, parsing a constant stream of data that was being transmitted by the race cars from miles away down the track.
Kevin Ligonde '16: Engineering for Mars
-By Cameron Harris '18
Our neighboring planet, Mars, has long been a fascination within the scientific community. As the planet in our solar system with the most similar properties to Earth, Mars has been a major focus in space exploration, and it is believed to have possibly supported life at some point in its history. Kevin Ligonde, a mechanical engineer from Petionville, Haiti, has focused his undergraduate research on developing sensors for detecting Martian wind speeds. "If we know more about the weather on Mars," Kevin explained, "we can be better prepared for space exploration in the future.
Kevin's research began when he was selected to be one of about fifty participants in Tufts' Summer Scholars Program. Through the program, Kevin lived on campus and was funded to conduct ten weeks of research alongside multiple graduate students and a faculty advisor - Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Robert White - in Tufts' Micro and Nano Fabrication Facility. Kevin titled his project "Capacitive Micro-Machined Ultrasound Transducers for Mars Anemometry."
An anemometer is a weather sensor that detects wind speed. "The challenge with using anemometers on Mars," Kevin said, "is that they require [the presence of many particle] in the air." Mars happens to be surrounded by very little particulate matter, he explained, since it has a significantly thinner atmosphere than Earth. Kevin told me: "My goal was to make it such that the sensors could work in a very low pressure: less than 1% of that of Earth." In order to achieve this goal, Kevin has been developing extremely thin sensors that use ultrasound to detect wind speeds. "We've already determined the thickness that the sensor membranes need to be in order to detect the weaker signals on Mars," he said. "Now it's just a function of being able to achieve this thickness."
Kevin has extended the research project beyond the ten-week Summer Scholars Program, and continued to work with Professor White throughout the academic year. It may not be long until Kevin's ultrasonic sensors are headed to Mars!
Camille Saidnaway E'17: Black Holes and Climate Change
As the carefree days of summer come to a close, I'm SO HAPPY to see my friends again. This summer I spent more time with my family, including my grandmother, which brings me to a new hobby of mine: explaining the iPhone to her. After watching her grandchildren become attached to their phones, she felt that now would be a good time to acquaint herself with this technology.
While taking notes on paper, my grandmother approached apps as if they were separate worlds within the phone, or black holes where she would get stuck. This was a significantly different approach than my own ideas about Apple, which forced me to look at smartphones and their features in a different light. I found the whole learning process surprisingly correlated with the research culture at Tufts. In research, “black holes” are the exciting part! The part where you learn something that no one else in this world knows.
A few weeks ago, I bumped into my Climate Change Engineering professor, John Durant. We started talking about the research of one of his post-doctoral students, Neelakshi Hudda. Neelakshi’s research focuses on air pollution levels caused by airplane traffic around Boston’s Logan Airport and she invited me to assist with her field work this summer. Using a condensation particle counter to measure ultrafine pollutants, we measured two types of pollution: “localized” pollution sputtered out from nearby traffic, and “background” pollution, which perpetually hovers over certain urban areas. The “background” pollutants, Neelakshi hypothesized, should steadily show up in higher concentrations as we approached Logan airport. Smaller than a red blood cell, hydrocarbons and other residue mix into the atmosphere after they leave the exhaust pipes of transportation vehicles. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but it was too late for me, and there were moments were I felt compelled to hold my breath.
Professor Babak Moaveni
If you even come to campus for a Tufts tour, you'll begin your route on a seventh-story footbridge connecting Dowling Hall to the Academic Quad. If you happen to see a handful of civil engineering students jumping up and down on this bridge, don't be alarmed; likely you've stumbled across Professor Babak Moaveni's Structural Health Monitoring course.
"Students lay out sensors on the footbridge and collect data by [jumping on] the bridge," explained Professor Moaveni. "ultimately [they] predict the dynamics of the bridge from their measured data." This is a smaller application of Moaveni's research - recently he went to Nepal to investigate buildings that crumbled in the earthquake, and he is also involved in intentional demolitions of buildings in the United States.
Much of his work was funded by an early career grant from the National Science Foundation, which he uses to help assess and estimate the remaining useful life of public structures. You can find out more about his research here.
A Jumbo Feat of Engineering
Four alumni and a professor do some heavy lifting on behalf of sustainable energy
A first-in-the-nation $100 million port being built near Cape Cod is showcasing Tufts talent. Half the engineers managing the development of the port, which will boost offshore wind projects in Massachusetts, are Jumbos. But most had never met before.
The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal is being designed to support the construction, assembly, and deployment of offshore wind projects. The port must be able to bear wind-power components that weigh as much as 500 tons, a colossal feat of engineering. “The parts are extremely heavy—ten times heavier than the maximum payloads for the huge container cranes you see along the Boston or New Jersey shoreline,” says Eric Hines, a Tufts engineering professor of practice and head technical consultant on the project.
A common thread
Hines and project manager Christen Anton, E12, work for the owner of the project, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), a public agency dedicated to growing the clean energy industry in Massachusetts and financed by a small surcharge on electric bills. The project is funded by MassCEC and the state.
Jumbos joining Hines and Anton are estimator and construction advisor Allen Waller, E74; geotechnical project manager Diane Yamane Baxter, E90; and civil engineer John McAllister, E03, all part of a consulting team led by Apex Companies, LLC, the lead design team hired by MassCEC.
Anton was a student of Hines’s. None of the other engineers had ever met before.
“We graduated decades apart, but there’s a common thread,” says McAllister. “We each have very different areas of expertise but share the methodological mindset, critical thinking, and ability to problem solve that’s necessary to succeed in a project like this. Tufts taught us that.”
Adds Baxter, “Coming from Tufts, you’re capable of doing anything you want to. Our little group illustrates that there are so many opportunities and career paths you can take.”
As Hines’s student and capstone advisee, Anton worked on the terminal project as an undergraduate. “Eric ran his own capstone project around the terminal,” she says. He also brought in other engineers from the project to mentor his students and support them through the semester as they attempted to design the structural bulkhead of the terminal. “To our best extent as students, we tackled the most challenging part of the design.”
Ready and raring to go
Having hands-on experience prior to graduation was invaluable for Anton. “Thanks to Eric and my other professors who were really invested in us students, I wasn’t only prepared, I had a huge head start on an actual project,” she says.
As renewable energy projects get off the ground, Hines sees Tufts graduates playing a central role in their design. “Sustainability is one of the major focuses of the engineering school, and students are being prepared to work on the cutting edge of global issues,” he says.
|Allen Waller, E74, and Christen Anton, E12, discuss the design of the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal.|
While these five Jumbos will wrap up their work on the project by the end of the year, the impact may be felt for decades.
The hope is that the terminal will create a significant new industry in New Bedford and surrounding communities. After suffering a decline like so many other port cities, New Bedford has been making a comeback in the past few years, and residents are excited about the additional boon anticipated by the opening of the terminal. “I live just across the river and it’s one of the biggest things going on in the area,” says McAllister. “People corner me at parties to pepper me with questions about how the project is coming along. It’s cool to be a part of that.”
This article first appeared here on the Tufts Giving website
Jumbo Engineer, Tufts' engineering magazine, features profiles of many other Tufts faculty members and students doing amazing research. Check out the full issue by clicking on the link above to learn about Ming Chow, Paul Lehrman, and Chris Rodgers' project to create music composition applications, Matthias Scheutz and the Human-Robot Interaction Lab, or Daniele Lantagne's work to make water treatment products more approachable and easier to use.