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Once Again Engineers Stand out on List of Rising Researchers

Rising Researchers

Fall 2016 Rising Researchers

Victor Champagne and Robert Johnston

Victor Champagne and Robert Johnston

In a continuing pattern of outstanding undergraduate research, two of the six students chosen as Rising Researchers at UMass for the fall of 2016 are engineers. The Rising Researcher program celebrates undergraduate students who excel in research, scholarship, or creative activity. This semester’s outstanding engineering undergrads named on the biannual list are mechanical engineering major Victor Champagne and physics and chemical engineering major Robert Johnston. Having multiple engineering representatives among the Rising Researchers has become something of a tradition over the past few years.

As Karen J. Hayes '85 reported in the latest Rising Researchers writeup, every few years an undergraduate researcher comes through Alejandro Briseño’s laboratory with extraordinary talent. Such scientists, says the polymer science and engineering professor, are in the top one percent of the research population. According to Briseño, Champagne ’17, a mechanical engineering and Commonwealth Honors College student from Dudley, Massachusetts, is one of those researchers.

“Victor is a brilliant engineer. We need to support young talent like this, as they will be the future generation of outstanding scientists that will change our world through their scientific and engineering contributions,” says Briseño.

Champagne’s extraordinary abilities are evident from his research accomplishments in the development of high-performance, organic, single-crystalline nanostructures for use in electronic devices. His research centers on the investigation of single-crystal organic nanopillars for applications in energy harvesting/storage, sensors, and antibacterial surfaces.

“As a result of his research on antibacterial coatings, we have prepared a manuscript for publication of his work and our collaborators on campus. Victor also received an invitation to present his work at the Council on Undergraduate Research in Washington, D.C.,” notes Briseño. Champagne is also a recipient of the Jack Welch Scholarship at UMass. Welch scholars are chosen for their academics, leadership, and social responsibility.

In her Rising Researchers article, Hayes also included the following information about Johnson. Commonwealth Honors College student Johnston ’17, a double major in physics and chemical engineering from Pepperell, Massachusetts, spends his time working on experimental nuclear physics. He’s currently investigating ways to measure how much a sub-atomic particle, called the “pion,” stretches when you apply an electric field to it. The experiment, says Rory Miskimen, professor of physics and Johnston’s research advisor, will help us understand the fundamental symmetries of nature that are responsible for the presence of complex nuclei in the universe.

Johnston has been leading the effort to design and construct relatively small prototype multi-wire proportional chamber (MWPC) detectors, which range in size from 10 to 20 inches. He’s been working on the mechanical design and the construction of the electronics used to read small electrical currents caused by the passage of subatomic particles on the detector.

"Our detector electronics utilize a 'trans-impedance' amplifier circuit. It was Bobby’s job to design the printed circuit board (PCB) used to carry the electronic components, to install the components on the PCB, and then to test the assembled electronics. He is now finalizing our electronics design, and is getting the final CAD files ready for PCB manufacturing and assembly,” says Miskimen.

Although Johnston had limited electronics experience when he began his research, Miskimen notes he was able to quickly pick up those skills by interacting with other students and by teaching himself. “Bobby’s a fast learner and one of the strongest students I’ve had in my lab. His level of expertise and accomplishment are unparalleled for an undergraduate, at a level usually seen in master’s-level electrical engineers and PhD-level physicists working in national laboratories,” says Miskimen. (November 2016)