University of Massachusetts Amherst

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The College of Engineering welcomes five new faculty members for the fall semester of 2013: Boris Lau and Gouping (Gregg) Zhang, who will join the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department; Christos Dimitrakopoulos, joining the Chemical Engineering Department; Zlatan Aksamija, who will be a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department; and Stephen Nonnenmann, in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department.

The key to sustainable alternative energy sources such as biofuels, hydrogen, synthetic hydrocarbons, and fuel cells is the catalytic processes that drive the energy conversion pathways. Now Ashwin Ramasubramaniam, a faculty member in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has received a five-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study electocatalysts in direct methanol fuels cells and proton exchange membrane hydrogen fuel cells and then suggest revolutionary ways to improve them.

Donald Fisher, head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and director of the Arbella Human Performance Laboratory, was the prime source in a June 28 New York Times article about schools using driving simulators for driver’s education. In the article, Fisher championed the use of driving simulators, such as the ones developed in his lab, and explained why teenagers in particular need the software instruction. “I call it the Lake Wobegon Effect — everyone learning to drive believes they are above average,” Fisher told the Times.

The UMass Supermileage Vehicle (SMV), a streamlined, three-wheel car with a featherweight aluminum frame and a plastic shrink-wrap shell, rolled smoothly through the Society of Automotive Engineers Supermileage® competition in Marshall, Michigan, while getting a tightfisted 1,010 mpg and finishing in fourth place out of 28 colleges. “We ended up rebuilding, significantly improving, and competing in the car we drove last year,” says faculty advisor Jonathan Rothstein of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department.

The fact is that most great discoveries come from sideways thinking. To wit, a hitch with the Hubble space telescope was fixed when a NASA engineer took a shower in a German hotel and repurposed the design of the shower head. Likewise, Alexander Graham Bell borrowed his idea for the telephone from the human ear. Sideways thinking is the bailiwick of Innovation Accelerator, a startup company that creates software to help companies solve their worst nightmares, design their best products, and create their brightest inventions in a scientific, systematic, effective way.

Research by Donald Fisher, head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and director of the Arbella Human Performance Laboratory, is cited by editorials in the Salem News and Newburyport Daily News calling for stricter monitoring and ticketing of drivers who text while behind the wheel.

Wystan Carswell, a doctoral student in the UMass IGERT Offshore Wind Energy Program, has been in Norway for the past five months serving on a research post at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute in Oslo. Carswell was the subject of a feature story on the website of her alma mater, Lafayette College. “The ultimate goal of my research is to reduce the cost of generating offshore wind energy, making it more economically appealing,” says Carswell. “Renewable energy is only going to gain importance in the global paradigm.

A collapsible, portable, multi-purpose tower made for U.S. Army base camps in the field won first prize in the competition for the best senior capstone design project in the Mechanical and Engineering (MIE) Department this year. The competition was held on May 1, when 15 teams of seniors demonstrated the prototypes of their useful, inventive, and brilliant designs. The winning team of Joseph Boisvert, Michael Covino, Christopher Dinan, Brandon Hicks, and Kyle Pereira conceived, designed, and built the scale model of a mobile tower for the U.S.

On May 23, the last day to vote on the national IGERT Online Video and Poster Competition, Principal Investigator Erin Baker of the UMass IGERT Offshore Wind Energy Program issued an urgent message for the entire College of Engineering Community: “We are in the top five vote-getters [out of over 200] in the NSF video poster contest. Please watch the video, hit the public choice button, and vote for us.

Hari Balasubramanian of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been issued a $400,000 grant from the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. The award represents the 34th NSF CAREER grant issued to faculty members from the UMass College of Engineering, and the fourth during the 2012-2013 academic year.