The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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First Year MIE Student Works to Strengthen Safety Lanyards

Bekah Perlin, a first year student in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, is doing a summer internship to test and improve lanyards. No, not that kind of lanyards! They are not the ones that have become infamous in summer camps all over the world as woven in arts-and-crafts classes by bored campers, who wear them around their neck to hold whistles or keys. These are fall-protection lanyards, which are life-saving devices for personnel working on roofs, skyscrapers, and other high sites. A fall-protection lanyard is a cord, cable, rope, or webbing attached on one end to a snug safety harness worn by the worker and on the other end to a secure anchor point.


Bekah is doing this critical research for her summer internship at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Beyond the fact that it’s rare for any first year engineering student to be accepted for a summer internship, she is also putting to work all the practical learning she got from Professor David Schmidt’s MIE 124 class in "Computational Approaches to Engineering Problems," a required freshman course for all MIE students.

Bekah is in a group of three undergraduates doing guided research about fall-protection lanyards. “We are working on revolutionizing the way these lanyards are tested by using a strain gauge and a string potentiometer to measure instantaneous force and distance,” she explains. “We are also hoping to work on improving the lanyards once we have some data to be able to better understand what is happening.”

Bekah is quickly finding out the value of what she was taught in MIE 124. “It is really fun and I am loving the research and the project,” she told Professor Schmidt by email, “but the real reason why I wanted to update you about what I am doing was because I am very excited to be using the skills I learned last semester at UMass! I am the only one in our group who knows how to use Matlab well, and I am almost finished writing my code for our experiment!”

That code will be used to intake the data and instantly plot and calculate the displacement, force, velocity, acceleration, power, and energy exerted on each lanyard.

“I also have a simple smoothing function I wrote to smooth the noise out of the acceleration, since it is a second derivative, as well as overlapping graphs to compare the different data sets,” she says. “I know this may not sound very impressive to you, but I am very excited to be in the field using what I learned in your class.”

Bekah has obviously learned her MIE lessons well. And who knows? All that knowledge might also act as her own safety lanyard in the future, when she is plotting the force, velocity, acceleration, power, and energy of her own high-rising career. (June 2011)