The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Six MIE Alums Land Academic Faculty Positions in Banner Year

Jongyun Lee

Jongyun Lee

Zana Cranmer

Zana Cranmer

As Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department Head Sundar Krishnamurty says, “We had a banner year this year with six of our alums taking up faculty positions” at various institutions. Banner year indeed! Robert Hyers’ student, Jongyun Lee, is now an assistant professor at Iowa State University. Zana Cranmer, an IGERT student with Erin Baker, has moved on as an assistant professor at Bentley University. Rachel Koh, IGERT student with Matthew Lackner and Robert Hyers, is currently an assistant professor at Lafayette University. David Schmidt’s student, Maija Benitz, is on the faculty at Roger Williams University. Krishnamurty’s student Lieselle Trinidad has landed as a teaching assistant professor at the University at Buffalo. And Siby Samuel, Don Fisher’s student, is at Waterloo University.

This influx of former UMass MIE students into academia is no fluke, for each has an impressive background of accomplishments.

Much of Lee’s research at Iowa State focuses on thermomechanical and thermophysical properties of metals and ceramics. “Basically I’m at the border of mechanical engineering and materials science engineering,” says Lee. “I’ve been using the tools of mechanical engineering to solve the problems in the field of materials science.”

One part of Lee’s research uses the “non-contact methods” to study the properties of different materials, mostly metals. He uses electrostatic and electromagnetic levitators to suspend a sample material in the air and then uses a laser to heat and eventually melt it. This research takes place on the International Space Station, and Lee takes the data from his experiment to use it for future simulations. Another part of Lee’s research is cold spray, which consolidates micron-sized metal particles accelerated by a supersonic nozzle to conduct promising research with military applications such as in the gear box of the Seahawk helicopter. Now that he’s at Iowa State, Lee hopes to expand his research to include additive manufacturing.

While at UMass Amherst, Cranmer was the 2013-14 recipient of the Kenneth A. Lloyd Fellowship, awarded annually to a qualified incoming doctoral student in the MIE department who shows exceptional potential for success in his or her field, with a preference given to female applicants. While still at UMass Amherst, she also did summer research in Finland on offshore wind energy.

Cranmer's research at Bentley focuses on modeling the economic and environmental value of renewable energy technologies. In addition to her doctorate in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at UMass Amherst, Cranmer also holds a Master's in Engineering and Public Policy from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor's degree in Material Science and Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. In addition, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa.

At Lafayette Koh is researching sustainability in mechanical engineering. “My main research is in discovering new ways to use biomaterials that are renewable and can be harvested in Pennsylvania, such as wood, hemp, and flax,” says Koh.

Koh says that “We talk about engineering as objective, but engineering is not objective at all. In my first-year class, we talk about what’s happening in the news and how it relates to engineering. [For example,] as hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been in the news, we’ve talked about how engineering interacts with ‘natural’ disasters…Every few classes, though, we manage to dig a little deeper. It turns out that ‘natural’ disasters have a lot to do with climate change, which has a lot to do with mining and manufacturing emissions, from the steel in our buildings to the rare metals in our smartphones…We start seeing that these things are all connected. To me that is where things get really interesting.”

At Roger Williams College, Benitz says, “My research focuses on the hydrodynamics of floating platforms for offshore wind turbines. I use a Volume of Fluid method to simulate floating platforms in waves and current in an effort to examine the motions and loading on the structures in the ocean environment. The work is part of a larger effort to validate and improve the hydrodynamics module of FAST, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's wind-turbine, computer-aided engineering tool.”

In pursuit of that research, Benitz has published at least 10 journal and conference papers since 2015 on related subjects, such as “Hydrodynamics of offshore structures with specific focus on wind energy applications,” written with Lackner and Schmidt and picked up by Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 44.

Trinidad says that “My research centers around mechanical design and optimization using biomechanics-based applications to rehabilitative and assistive devices. My research started with engineering modelling, analysis, and optimal design of custom foot orthotics.” This work involved creating a finite element model of custom foot orthotics, analyzing the effect of the heel cup and arch height, and then optimizing the design to make the prescription process easier. 

Trinidad adds that, at the University of Buffalo, “My current research involves a collaboration with the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Lab and Locomotion Research Group, who together form the Dynamic Joint Alignment Research Group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, looking at the redesign and optimization of lower limb prostheses. We are in the stages of initial exploration of modelling with FEBio (biomechanics finite element modelling software), and OpenSim in order to develop predictive simulation of the lower limb prostheses.”

Before going to Waterloo University, Samuel was a research assistant professor in the MIE department and co-director of the Arbella Human Performance Lab, a multi-disciplinary research facility that, since its founding in the 1980s, has focused on driver behavior and driver safety.

During Samuel’s time at the lab, its research has contributed to the understanding of driving and the identification of factors which: increase the crash risk of novice and older drivers; impact the effectiveness of traffic signs, signals, and pavement markings; improve the interface of in-vehicle equipment such as vehicle automation systems, forward collision warning systems, backover collision warning systems, and music retrieval systems; and influence drivers’ understanding of advanced parking management systems, advanced traveler information systems, and dynamic message signs. (December 2017)