Carnegie Mellon University
May 13, 2011

Press Release: CMU Engineering Students Win Education Category at University Alliance Design Competition Sponsored by Sandia National Labs

Graduate Researchers Cited for Innovative, Computer-Aided Micro-Machine Design for Use in Various Industries

Contact: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University mechanical engineering students Vitali Brand, Henry Kung, Sam Powers and Emrecan Soylemez will be honored for a unique computer-aided micro-machine design May 17 at the prestigious Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. Micro-machines are mechanical objects that are fabricated in the same general manner as integrated circuits.
“This is a wonderful honor for such an innovative and hardworking team,” said Maarten de Boer, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the team adviser. “The students created a pressure-sensitive valve at the micrometer-scale that ultimately could be used in a variety of industry sectors including aerospace, marine transport and biomedical engineering. It is a micro-plumbing component that can steer a gas, for example, to a collection surface or to a sensing surface.”
De Boer said that each year the Sandia-sponsored University Alliance Design Competition challenges participants to develop novel or educational microelectromechanical (MEMs) systems, which are very tiny mechanical devices driven by electricity.   
This year, the Carnegie Mellon team entered a microvalve in the education category to demonstrate how valves can be designed and tested when scaled down in size. Sandia will fabricate the design and send it back to CMU for testing in the fall.
“We experienced so many new challenges while working on this project, but the opportunity to create our design using the Sandia Lab micro-machine process gave us an entirely new vision of MEMs development,” said Powers of Palm Harbor, Fla., who this month earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and coincidentally begins work for Sandia Labs in N.M. later this summer. “I’m very excited about the opportunity,” he said.
Brand, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering and team leader from Ames, Iowa, said the work and award are a culmination of good solid design and the ability to turn academic theory into practical solutions. “We had good support and direction from our faculty adviser and excellent teamwork,” said Brand who wants to teach and ultimately work in industry.
Other schools participating in the University Alliance Design Competition include The Air Force Institute of Technology, Texas Tech University, the University of New Mexico, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Utah.