NSF Grants Boost Education and Research

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $1.3 million to support enhanced education and advanced research in the School of Engineering.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $1.3 million to support enhanced education and advanced research in the School of Engineering.

Credit: Canstock Photo

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $1.3 million to support enhanced education and advanced research in the School of Engineering. More than twenty faculty members will use the funding to advance their research.

A three-year, $300,000 grant will help develop a “system view” of manufacturing— an integrated, interdisciplinary approach that incorporates every stage of a product cycle, from design to construction to enterprise resource planning.

“This approach will enable students to better understand product manufacturing as an interdependent system,” wrote the research team, which is being led by Dr. Faisal Aqlan, associate professor of industrial engineering.

Other members of the team are Dr. Qi Dunsworth, director of teaching initiatives in the college’s Center for Teaching and eLearning Initiatives; Dr. Chetan Nikhare, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Dr. Mohammad Rasouli, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dr. Matthew Swinarski, associate professor of management information systems.

The team will design a set of cohesive learning modules that explore key stages of the manufacturing process. Students will use simulation and modeling software to develop a new product —a bicycle—and select the materials and processes to build it. The teaching modules will be integrated into a new, interdisciplinary curriculum that teaches project life-cycle management.

A second NSF grant, for $588,000, will expand a tutoring method that was developed to help students write better technical reports.

The WATTS method, which stands for “Writing Assignment Tutor Training in STEM,” was developed at Behrend by Ruth Pflueger, director of the Learning Resource Center, and Dr. Robert Weissbach, a former associate professor of engineering at the college. The approach is being tested now at three other universities.

WATTS tutors use course-specific glossaries and guidance from faculty members to become more comfortable with basic engineering concepts. As they learn the material and the format of technical reports, the tutors begin to offer more—and more detailed—feedback, Pflueger said.

Students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program are required to meet with a WATTS tutor before they submit the report for their capstone project. After that meeting, most sign up for additional sessions, said Jonathan Meckley, associate professor of engineering and chair of the PLET program. He joined the WATTS study in 2016.

“The goal is for our students to become better writers,” Meckley said. “The ability to write well is essential for an engineer, or for anyone else who works in STEM. Any time you are a candidate for a position, a promotion, or a customer account, your ability to communicate well is going to be what sets you apart from the competition.”

A third NSF grant, for $412,000, funded the purchase of an atomic force microscope, which is available to all faculty members in the School of Engineering and the School of Science. Sixteen Behrend researchers plan to usethe instrument, which was purchased through the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation program.

An atomic force microscope can measure fractions of a nanometer, which is one-billionth of a meter. At Behrend, the instrument initially will be used to study fiber composites, polymer crystal formation, and solar-cell efficiencies.

“This state-of-the-art equipment can determine both mechanical properties and chemical identification measurements at nano and sub-nano scales in both hard and soft materials,” said Dr. Seyed Hamid Reza Sanei, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and the principal investigator for the project. “It will open the door to new collaborations and research endeavors while providing powerful insight into material systems that already are being studied at Behrend, including polymers, metals, and composites.”