Carnegie Mellon University
May 05, 2016

CEE Students Present Impressive Research at CMU Meeting of the Minds

CEE Students Present Impressive Research at CMU Meeting of the Minds

Angela Ng with her project advisor Professor Kelvin GregoryAngela Ng with her project advisor Professor Kelvin Gregory

As finals week comes to a close and students prepare for summer break, they know better than to expect stereotypically warm and sunny summer weather in Pittsburgh. The only predictable thing about the city’s weather is that it’s unpredictable, but CEE undergraduate Madelaine Ku (CEE ’16) decided to ask the question: has it always been this way?

Ku embarked on a senior honors research project that analyzed Pittsburgh’s weather data over the last 40 years. “Most of the project was thinking of different ways to look at the temperature and precipitation data, since annual averages hide the details of months, and monthly averages hide the details of daily extremes,” says Ku who is advised by professor and CEE department head Dave Dzombak. She was able to track Pittsburgh’s changing climate and detect seasonal shifts in temperature changes and an increase in precipitation.

Ku and other CEE undergraduate students shared their impressive research with the campus community at this week’s Meeting of the Minds, CMU’s undergraduate research symposium.  Also in attendance were CEE undergraduates Angela Ng (UG ’16), Amelia Jones (UG ’16), Renee Rios (UG ’18), and Shucheng Chao (UG ‘16).

Making a Difference in Developing Areas

CEE and BioMedical Engineering (BME) double major Angela Ng presented not one, but two research projects that improve life for people in developing countries. The Drinkable Book, advised by professor Kelvin Gregory, is an easy water purification system that uses paper to filter out E. Coli, bacteria, and other pathogens. Ng has been working on adapting the design to fit cultural needs in developing areas such as Bangladesh.

Her other project, a low cost transfemoral prosthetic, is an inexpensive prosthetic leg for amputees in impoverished areas worldwide, where landmines, industrial and environmental accidents, and inadequate healthcare make the amputation utterly debilitating. “This prosthetic will offer users a chance to continue their day-to-day activities like caring for themselves and engaging in the workforce,” says Ng. This group project was part of her BME senior design course.

Climate Change and Water Quality

For her senior honors project, Amelia Jones, also advised by Dzombak, investigated how climate change would affect the drinking water in the Fairbanks, Alaska area, as the melting permafrost exposes metamorphic bedrock to the water, producing toxic arsenic. Her research found that overall, both active layer thaw depth and arsenic concentrations in groundwater wells were increasing in the area, posing a threat to the people in Fairbanks who rely on the groundwater for 100% of their drinking water.

“I'm hoping that people find my topic both interesting and easy to understand,” says Jones, “while also recognizing the broader impact of the study in terms of the impact climate change could potentially have on water quality in the Fairbanks area and in other Arctic communities.”

Sustainable Building Materials

Renee Rios, advised by Newell Washburn (Chem), presented her research related to replacing cement, the production of which accounts for 5-7% of CO2 emissions, with a clay material called metakaolin. Rios and her team worked tirelessly to improve the workability of metakaolin without sacrificing strength and durability, to produce an environmentally safe cement substitute.

“It’s exciting because that means metakaolin has plenty of opportunity to be used in concrete now,” says Rios.

Training Energy

Shucheng Chao wants to change the way we monitor changes in voltage and current running through a house by monitoring only the flicker of an incandescent light bulb instead. To do this, he mapped relationships between the light intensity spectrum and the voltage/current signatures of different electrical appliances, and studied how light intensity reacted to specific noises in voltage signals with the help of a power line communication kit.  

With Chao’s research, automated appliance identification may replace the standard nonintrusive load monitoring method of monitoring electricity. “The entire research process was not easy,” explains Chao. “I invested a lot of time trying to figure out the principles behind flickering so that the results can be more general and applicable to further research work in related topics.”

The students presented their research at a poster presentation at the Meeting of the Minds event. All were excited to see what research their peers had conducted and to share the research projects they had worked so hard on.

“I'm pretty excited to just show my work since I have put in so much time on it, and when you put so much time and work into something, it ends up meaning a lot to you, which ended up happening with my research,” says Rios.