UAH hosts 3rd Annual Engineering Showcase to celebrate Engineers Week 2024

Engineerng Week 2024 logo.
The third annual UAH Engineering Showcase was held during Engineers Week 2024 in the Student Services Building, featuring students from Senior Design, Student Organizations/Competition Teams and Undergraduate Research presenting their projects.
Courtesy UAH

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, hosted the third annual UAH Engineering Showcase during Engineers Week 2024, Feb. 18 – 22. Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, E-Week is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of, and interest in, engineering and technology careers.

"Our February 2024 Third Annual Showcase event featured 235 undergraduate students representing 42 projects/teams,” says Dr. Shankar Mahalingam, dean of the College of Engineering. “Our students did an outstanding job in communicating with great enthusiasm a) what their organizations have accomplished with plans for competing regionally or nationally later this year, b) where they are in their senior capstone design process and c) what were the major findings of their undergraduate research. I would like to extend a special word of appreciation to our dedicated faculty for enabling our students to achieve the very best.”

Events during the week included the Engineering Showcase, a Lego Building and Design competition, Art Night and the annual week-long Take a Prof to Lunch event.

"We are truly grateful for the nearly 100 guests representing 50 companies, governmental organizations and/or UAH alumni for engaging with our students,” Mahalingam noted. “Huntsville and Madison County have an amazing culture of community support which is an incredible benefit for our students, faculty and staff in the College of Engineering."

The celebration concludes with a recap of the following highlights from the past year that best display how the College of Engineering and UAH research centers are working to positively impact the Huntsville community, the state of Alabama and beyond.


Dr. Guangsheng Zhang, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, led research focused on why and how lithium-ion batteries may suddenly fail energetically, causing smoke, fire or even an explosion, a phenomenon called thermal runaway. The researcher’s work in explaining this hazard earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award totaling $598,181.

Dr. Gabe Xu, associate professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Dr. Jason Cassibry, a professor with the UAH Propulsion Research Center, won research awards totaling $750,000 to collaborate with the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to advance knowledge toward plasma fusion energy, a key component to achieving breakeven fusion, which could one day lead to abundant clean energy. The researchers also won a grant totaling $457,963 to study 3D magnetic reconnection, a phenomenon at the heart of many solar events, to examine this celestial process in the laboratory, which could ultimately lead to significant advances in space propulsion.

Dr. Gang Wang, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Dr. Moonhyung Jang, a postdoctoral research assistant, Sean P. Rabbitte, an undergraduate research assistant and Dr. Yu Lei, chair and an associate professor of chemical and materials engineering, created a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) that produces electricity through the use of limestone putty at a considerable cost savings over conventional nanotechnology. TENGs harvest power for use in small, wireless devices like heart monitor implants, biochip transponders or sensors that alert a driver when tire pressure is low.

Dr. Lei was also named a Fulbright U.S. Scholar and traveled to the Czech Republic to research the development of new catalysts using atomic layer deposition, a three-dimensional thin film deposition technique for manufacturing microelectronics, such as central processing units, computer memory and hard drives, to produce more powerful and smaller smart devices.

Michaela Hemming, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is using a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship to make advances in propulsion. Hemming designed a small-scale rotating detonation engine as part of a joint research effort. The innovative engine burns fuel rapidly through a supersonic detonation wave that promises to enhance the range, speed and affordability of these engines when compared to traditional rockets.

Swarnalatha Kathalagiri Vasantha Kumar, a doctoral candidate in aerospace engineering, received an Amelia Earhart Fellowship from Zonta International, a global organization of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. Kumar developed two different analytical methods to model the nonlinear dynamics of acoustic waves, beneficial in the study of combustion instability of liquid rocket engines. The $10,000 fellowship is awarded annually to up to 30 women worldwide.

Dr. Avimanyu Sahoo, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was awarded three federal grants totaling $650,000 to support projects to advance personal protective equipment through smart technologies; enhance networked collaborative control tasks in dangerous environments like marine exploration and disaster management; and develop AI robotic inspection platforms to improve the sustainability of energy infrastructure.

Dr. Bryan L Mesmer, an associate professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering and Engineering Management, is teaming with academics, other researchers and postgraduate students from four countries on a $1.26 million project supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Science for Peace and Security Programme to develop pioneering solutions for disaster relief using multi-agent drone systems.


Neil Laya, an aerospace engineering graduate student, received a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities Fellowship to pursue the goal of revolutionizing space travel. Laya’s research involves magnetic reconnection, a physical process occurring in highly conducting plasmas in which magnetic energy is converted to kinetic energy, thermal energy and particle acceleration to produce thrust for space propulsion.

UAH undergraduates participated in the ninth annual Research Horizons Poster Session. A total of 34 projects were presented by the students who conducted the work, with selected projects recognized for excellence in research and creative scholarship. Each year the poster session highlights the wide variety of research activities underway at UAH, as well as giving students a chance to practice their presentation skills and gain feedback from faculty, staff and fellow students.

UAH students took second place in Heat 3 of the national Defense Logistics Agency Defense Data Grand Prix competition put on by the Acquisition Innovation Research Center. The Data Grand Prix is designed to encourage collaboration among academic teams, as well as government and corporate sponsors. Students tackled real-world problems with data science in semester-long competitions.

A UAH team placed first in the 2023 NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. The competition tasks college and high school teams from around the nation and the world to design, develop, build and test human-powered rovers capable of negotiating difficult terrain, as well as a task tool for completing various mission tasks. The UAH rover competed with 49 teams from 20 states and eight countries.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering seniors claimed the top prize for both the 2023 Human Exploration Rover Challenge and the 2023 Student Launch Challenge, a historic achievement, as no other university has ever won two NASA Artemis Student Challenges in the same year. The competitions support NASA's return to the Moon under the Artemis program in preparation for human exploration of Mars.

Engineering students Paige Berg and Michaela Hemming were among nine scholars nationwide who received scholarships in academic year 2023-2024 from Women In Defense (WID), a National Defense Industrial Association affiliate founded to engage, cultivate and advance women in all aspects of national security. The students were recognized at the WID Scholar celebration and workshop held in Washington, D.C.

Chemical engineering students won awards at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Southern Student Regional Conference. The ChemE Car Team won fifth place in the competition and advanced to the national round. The ChemE Jeopardy Team advanced from the group stage to the semifinals of the competition, ultimately tying for fourth place. Undergraduate chemical engineering student Daniel Duke won second place in the scientific presentation, as well.

Caleb Blair, an Honors electrical engineering major, received a $30K Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-for-Service. Blair spent this summer as a research assistant at Autonomous Aerospace Research to help solve software systems engineering and integration to solve problems presented by today’s advanced rotorcraft ground and airborne systems, unmanned aerial systems and space and airborne payloads.

The Space Hardware Club (SHC) turned in strong finishes in two international aerospace competitions, the International CanSat Competition and the University Rover Challenge. SHC CanSat teams placed first, fifth and sixth internationally against 40 university teams, as well as picking up first, second and third place finishes nationally. The UAH rover team ASTRA placed 18th internationally and eighth nationally in the 2023 competition. The team competed against 38 university teams.

Awards won by UAH students participating in the 2023 Summer Community of Scholars (SCS) include the Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship; National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates DAAD Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) Germany and a NASA Solar System Ambassador. McClellan Buckhalter, a student majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering, designed a pendulum pulse test stand for hybrid rotating detonation engine testing. In addition, 15 student research posters were selected for top Dean’s and Alabama Space Grant Award honors at the end-of-program Summer Community of Scholars poster session.

Dr. John Bennewitz, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has been awarded a $650,000, 45-month Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant to develop an advanced propulsion system that will facilitate surveillance of space between the Earth and the Moon by the United States Space Force. This region is called cislunar space, out to approximately 385,000 kilometers, beyond the traditional geosynchronous orbits traveled by satellites orbiting the Earth.

Dr. Gang Wang, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, Dr. Yu Lei, department chair and associate professor of chemical and materials engineering, Dr. Ryan Conners, an associate professor of kinesiology and Dr. Moonhyung Jang, a postdoctoral research assistant, designed a wearable biosensor that measures human muscle activation to prevent injuries and enhance athletic performance. The breakthrough design is a new type of triboelectric nanogenerator that converts mechanical or thermal energy into electricity and is self-powering, light-weight, disposable and will cost less to manufacture than traditional nanotechnology.

Dr. Gabe Xu, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, won the 2023 University of Alabama System McMahon-Pleiad Prize, a $75K award recognizing contributions to teaching, research or service. Xu is a lead investigator for a $20 million National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research Future Technologies and Enabling Plasma Processes grant that is funding a 10-member university and industry space plasma science consortium created to contribute scientific knowledge, technologies and workforce to Alabama’s aerospace, manufacturing, advanced materials, medical, bioscience and agricultural sectors.


Electrical engineering students Nicole Barnes, Noah Girkin, Audrey Simms and Mary Stewart designed an automated chlorine dispenser to upgrade the water supply for a village in Sabana Larga, Nicaragua. The project was performed in conjunction with the UAH chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a non-governmental organization that performs engineering-oriented international development work.

Dr. Tingting Wu, an associate professor of environmental engineering, and Ph.D. student team members Sepideh Mansoori and Amir Ahmadi Zahrani, won $99,998 in research grant funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to develop a low-cost household water filter that removes per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances from drinking water to promote clean drinking water supplies in small, rural, Tribal and disadvantaged communities. The grant is part of the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet Program.

UAH hosted the 2023 Girls in Science and Engineering Day for nearly 400 students to promote interest in the STEM fields for third through sixth-graders at the Shelby Center for Science and Technology.

UAH launched the Rocket Booster Summer Bridge Program, a high-school-to-college transition program for eligible incoming freshmen who plan to major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. The two-week program aims to increase the number of students who successfully complete STEM baccalaureate degrees.


UAH held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Raymond B. Jones engineering facility, an 80,000-square-foot commitment which received initial approval by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. The facility will provide cutting-edge resources to support the largest college at UAH, comprising more than 2,850 students, as well as 90 faculty and staff, ensuring UAH continues to meet the state’s workforce needs.

Graduate programs in engineering were recognized for excellence in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the 2023-2024 Best Graduate Schools. UAH’s College of Engineering is ranked #2 among Best Engineering Schools in the state of Alabama. Its national ranking is tied at #73.


Michael Wicks (MSE, Mechanical Engineering, ’94), was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame for providing innovative engineering and technical services to the nation’s defense, both as a United States Army civilian and as a private contractor for the Department of Defense. Wicks founded Summit Research Corporation and i3 and later joined Houston-based Diakonos Research as president to develop state-of-the-art cancer immunotherapies.

Dr. Andrew James Ventre, an alumnus of the College of Engineering (MS, 1971, and Ph.D., 1976 in electrical engineering), made a $3.1 million gift to provide full graduate scholarships to recipients that will enable the college to attract the best engineering students locally and around the world through the endowed Andrew and Betty Ventre Memorial Fellowship Fund.

Dr. Virginia “Suzy” Young, director of the UAH Research Institute, was elected to the 2023 Hall of Fame under the Order of Prometheus by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Pathfinder Chapter. The Hall of Fame recognizes outstanding achievements in the field of uncrewed systems, in addition to advancing community goals within this field.


Kristina Hendrix