UAH student team designs project for Special Operations Forces


A 10-member team of capstone design students from UAH has created a torpedo-like device with the goal of stopping suspect sailboats while they are under engine power by fouling their propellers.

Advised by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering lecturer Dr. Christina Carmen and headed by team leader Dustin Coffman, the students are working on the Dept. of Defense project for the U.S. Special Operations Forces (USSOF). The project is made possible through the Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC).

"The U.S. Special Operations Forces (USSOF) have specific needs and, via the Stevens Institute of Technology Systems Engineering Research Center, the Dept. of Defense is able to specify their needs that, in turn, are made available to universities via Capstone design class projects," says Dr. Carmen. "It is always exciting to see what senior engineering students will create. They are not, in any way, inhibited in exploring unique solutions. It's an honor for UAH students to work on this project and aid the USSOF as they protect the security of our nation and our allies."

After a detailed design process, the UAH team devised the tubular device that can be dropped over the side of a pursuing boat or ship and guided by remote control to cross in front of the craft to be stopped.

"When we first started, we almost approached it with a James Bond approach. We initially designed a very complex device that had bladders and motors and a propulsion system," Coffman says. "The design we originally had would have taken us at least three years to develop and test."

"This was a complex project and I was immediately impressed by each team member, as they understood the challenges that they would face in the design of this disablement system," Dr. Carmen says. "They also knew that they had to fabricate a working prototype and present it to the USSOF, and that takes true dedication.


Students turn $250 wheelchair into geo-positioning robot


Talk about your Craigslist finds! A team of student employees at UAH's Systems Management and Production Center (SMAP) combined inspiration with innovation to make a $250 motorized wheelchair do the work of a $20,000 robot.

As its first official task, a remote-controlled version of the robot built on the cheap photographed a room and interior catalog of UAH's new Charger Union building for inventory and insurance purposes for the university's Physical Plant Administration Department. Equipped with a Ricoh panoramic camera on a mast, the machine rolls into position and snaps the shot, which is stitched together in an app and viewable on a smartphone within seconds.


UAH professor’s protein crystal experiment set to fly to ISS

Dr. Joseph Ng

A UAH biology professor's experiment that is set to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) could shed new light on the roles enzymes play in biological processes.

Developed by UAH-owned company iXpressGenes in association with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and utilizing a grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the experiment is among the cargo flying to space aboard the SpaceX-3 cargo resupply mission scheduled to launch to the ISS today.

The experiment, Protein Crystals for Neutron Crystallography (PC4NC), studies an enzyme inorganic pyrophosphatase (IPPase). The microgravity environment of the ISS may be essential to Dr. Ng's neutron diffraction study of IPPase to determine how it functions in cells. IPPase plays a critical role in DNA replication, gene expression processes, fatty acid synthesis and other critical biological reactions.

By studying the diffraction of neutrons from an IPPase protein crystal, researchers can locate the positions of hydrogen bonds in the enzyme, which will help determine how the molecule works in a cell.

"This is important because if you are designing an antibiotic or drug to interact with these enzymes, you first have to know how these enzymes work," said Dr. Ng. "It's the first time that we are going to try to decipher the mechanism of this enzyme's reaction.

"It's sort of like back in the days before they had cameras, when they would try to figure out how a horse runs," he says. "It wasn't until they developed cameras and slow-motion that they actually could see how a horse runs.

"We are trying to do that now with neutron crystallography to answer the question of how protein molecules work," he says. "We are trying to capture still shots of the enzyme reactions at certain stages. We are taking still photographs at atomic detail level so we can then put them together and get a sort of mechanistic view of how things work, in a sort of movie sense."


UAH ‘on leading edge’ in offering Lean Healthcare practices course


UAH is on "the leading edge of higher education institutions nationally" by combining its research, educational and training functions to offer Lean process instruction to healthcare practitioners, says a nationally known Lean instructor.

Dr. Hugh McManus, senior special projects engineer at Metis Design and associate director of the LAI (Lean Advancement Initiative) Educational Network (EdNet), travels extensively to train the trainers who will be giving instruction in Lean principles.

Dr. McManus was on campus April 3 for a course to familiarize university staff, graduate students and Huntsville Hospital representatives with the one-day training so they could instruct others. UAH is a charter member of EdNet, which was founded at and collaborates with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


UAH sophomore’s product drawing investor attention


Nestegg Bio, a 3D printing start-up founded by University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) student Tanner Carden and collaborators Devon Bane, Gavon Carden, and Tim Gualdin, has been selected to participate in the GIGTANK Accelerator program by The Company Lab (Co.Lab) in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Co.Lab will invest $15,000 toward accelerating development of Nestegg Bio, a company that leverages an innovative 3D printing process to lower the cost of producing cellular structures used in drug testing. Advised by Biology Department Chair Dr. Debra Moriarity, the developers of CarmAl were earlier awarded $9,948 in UAH Charger Innovation Fund support.


UAH Rover Challenge team hopes to engineer a victory

Rover Challenge

Hoping to engineer a victory, UAH's Rover Team is in final preparations for Thursday’s start to the inaugural NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge.

Set for Thursday through Saturday, April 10-12, at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Rover Challenge is a new engineering design competition that will focus creativity and innovation on NASA's current plans to explore planets, moons, asteroids and comets.

Formerly called NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race, the Challenge will focus on designing, constructing and testing technologies for mobility devices to perform in these different environments.

The UAH team is headed by Charles Boyles, a 24-year-old graduate mechanical engineering major from New Mexico, and Elizabeth Woodard, a 22-year-old native of Huntsville who is a senior astrophysics major graduating in May 2014 and is also one of two athletes who will pedal-power UAH's rover.

Besides serving as a team leader, Boyles other responsibilities include lead engineer and lead machinist. Leader Woodard's other responsibilities include composites design and manufacturing, final assembly, graphics and serving as team athletic and driving trainer.

Aiding in the propulsion effort will be Brian Mixon, a 21-year old junior mechanical engineering major from Montgomery whose responsibilities include composites manufacturing, assisting with design and final assembly. He designed the fenders, the hinge locking mechanism and the improvements on the composite wheel layup process. Mixon trains for race day every day at 6:30 a.m. with his co-rider, Woodard.


UAH climbs in R&D expenditures, according to latest NSF figures

R&D Rankings

UAH has climbed in multiple national rankings for research and development expenditures according to National Science Foundation (NSF) fiscal 2012 data, which are the most recent available.

Overall nationally, UAH advanced to 130th in federally financed higher education R&D expenditures in fiscal 2012 from 135th in fiscal 2011. UAH ranked No. 91 in federally financed R&D expenditures among public institutions of higher education.

UAH rose to eighth from 13th in federally financed business and management research expenditures and advanced two positions to 17th in federally financed atmospheric sciences research.

In federally financed computer sciences research expenditures, UAH moved up one position to 13th. UAH peers include Arizona State (12th), Columbia (13th), the University of Michigan (15th) and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (16th).

The university retained its No. 5 ranking in federally financed aeronautical and astronautical engineering research. Johns Hopkins University, Utah State, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Colorado-Boulder were listed ahead of UAH. Following UAH in rank are MIT and Penn State University.

UAH ranks at No. 25 in federally financed political science research expenditures.

"We were very pleased with the latest research expenditure rankings received from NSF. UAH has a long history of science and engineering research and working with our federal government partners," said Dr. Ray Vaughn, UAH vice president for research. "This year's rankings also recognize our strong performance in the College of Business and within our Dept. of Political Science. When considering the size of UAH as compared to larger universities, our performance record is quite astounding."


Tank UAH junior helped fabricate is about to be tested by NASA

Markus Murdy

A UAH undergraduate student will be closely watching as a huge composite fuel tank he worked on is unloaded today from NASA's Super Guppy aircraft to undergo a series of structural and pressure tests.

Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is about to begin testing the large composite cryogenic fuel tank that it says could be a game changer and enable NASA's deep space exploration missions. It is one of the largest all-composite cryogenic fuel tanks ever constructed and could yield significant cost and weight reductions on future launch vehicles.

UAH aerospace engineering junior Markus Murdy worked with the MSFC Composites Manufacturing Development team on a portion of the revolutionary new tank. As part of a 10-week NASA summer internship managed by the Alabama Space Grant Consortium (ASGC), Murdy helped with the tank's sump door fabrication at MSFC's branch of the National Advanced Manufacturing Center.

"Two Jacobs ESSA contractors and I did the hand-fabrication of the door that goes at the bottom of the tank," Murdy says. "This tank is unique because the type of composite used does not require an autoclave cure, reducing manufacturing costs. Also, the joints are full composite-to-composite joints. This allows the tank to be made lighter and cheaper."


Launchpad awards $35,000 to UAH search engine developers

Complexity Engine

An Internet search engine developed specifically for use in schools by two University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) professors has received $35,000 from Alabama Launchpad, the largest award received in this round.

Complexity Engine was conceived by Dr. Philip Kovacs, an associate professor of education who is collaborating in its development with Dr. Ryan Weber, an assistant professor of English. Complexity Engine uses a sophisticated algorithm to search websites for content and delivers customized and age-appropriate reading materials to users.

"This means we'll be ready to sell Version 1, hopefully within 90 days," said Dr. Kovacs. "The Launchpad money is awesome, but the entire experience and the feedback we got from really successful industry leaders from throughout the state is what is really valuable. We just learned a lot in the past few months."

Eight teams at Alabama Launchpad competed for a total of $100,000 in awards. The award matched the amount Dr. Kovacs and Dr. Weber had requested for further development. Complexity Engine previously received a $10,000 development grant from the UAH Charger Innovation Fund.

"Ryan and Philip did a great Launchpad presentation," said Kannan Grant, director of UAH's Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). "It was a compelling case."

Alabama Launchpad is a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama to promote, reward and increase the pipeline of high-growth, innovative ventures that have the potential to grow and thrive in the state.

The professors have worked for four years developing Complexity Engine and worked closely with OTC on the financial elements for the Launchpad competition, Grant said.


More mature, confident teen girls less likely to risk sex, study shows

Kelly Arnold

Girls and young women ages 14-19 who are focused on their futures have higher levels of maturity and more confidence in their beliefs and are less likely to be sexually active, a study by a UAH senior psychology student indicates.

The research, "Attitudes and Confidence Regarding Sexual Activity in Teenaged Girls Assessed from Language in Social Media," was presented at the Mid South Psychology Conference (MSPC) and to the Committee on Equality of Professional Opportunity (CEPO).

Advised by assistant psychology professor Dr. Aurora Torres, Kelly Arnold spent six months monitoring posts on Internet forums used by teen girls to assess their degree of maturity and confidence related to their sexual behavior. Arnold noted the screen names of the girls and, following observation of their posts, categorized them according to their attitudes about sex.

The girls' attitudes toward teenaged girls engaging in sexual behavior were categorized as either believing sexual activity was wrong, believing it was OK, or having already become active but feeling guilty about it. Then their posts were analyzed according to whether they were asking for information and advice or giving information and advice. Grammatical and spelling errors were also noted.