MAE students present research at international conference

2015AIAA SciTech

The UAH student presentation team met current AIAA executive director and former NASA astronaut Dr. Sandra (Sandy) Magnus. From left are Ethan Hopping, Sandy Magnus, Markus Murdy and Nathaniel Stepp.


After winning first place in regional student competition, three University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) students advanced to present their team's technical paper at the AIAA International Student Conference at SciTech Jan. 5-9 in Kissimmee, Fla.

A fourth student, UAH MAE doctoral student Felix Ewere, presented a technical paper at the conference entitled, "Galloping Piezoelectric Energy Harvester with Bio-inspired Square Bluff Body." The paper was coauthored with his advisor, Dr. Gang Wang, and Prof. Kader Frendi at MAE.

"My research explores the controlled use of aeroelastic instabilities - galloping - to exploit wind energy for various applications using piezoelectric structures," Ewere says. In his research, a multi-physics approach was used to study the coupled aero-electro-mechanical system. In addition, wind tunnel tests were conducted to validate model predictions of a baseline galloping piezoelectric energy harvester and improved prototypes.

"Current research results enhance the physical understanding of this coupled system and lead to an innovative low speed airflow sensor concept," says Ewere. A UAH invention disclosure has been filed on the work.

"AIAA SciTech forum 2015 was a revealing experience," Ewere says. "The quality of the qualitative research works presented and the level of organization and professionalism exhibited is laudable. I also thank the College of Engineering for travel fund support to the conference."

In the conference's student presentations portion, MAE seniors Ethan Hopping, Markus Murdy and Nathaniel Stepp presented "The Design of a Cost Effective Thrust Stand for Introducing Thrust and Impulse."

The trio won the opportunity to attend the conference after placing first in the Team Division category at the spring AIAA Region II Student Conference in Memphis, Tenn. They presented at the AIAA International Student Conference at SciTech alongside other regional student winners from across the U.S. SciTech is one of the biggest annual AIAA professional conferences, encompassing several aerospace disciplines.

Felix EwereVert

Felix Ewere presented on piezoelectric structures.

"Essentially, the paper covered the technical details of the design project my teammates and I undertook when taking MAE 311 last fall, taught by Dr. Daniel Armentrout," says Stepp. "In MAE 311, students are asked to group together and design an apparatus and lab experiment to perform some kind of measurement and examine the uncertainty of that measurement."

The team undertook a project conceived on behalf of the MAE 200 course, when Dr. Brian Landrum approached Dr. Armentrout. Dr. Landrum wanted one of the student design groups to devise a sensitive thrust stand to be used by MAE 200 students. The MAE 311 group that worked on the thrust stand included Hopping, Murdy, Stepp, and a fourth senior MAE member, Steve Doyle.

The stand is designed so MAE 200 students can better test the thrust of rubber band powered airplanes they build from recycled materials as a class requirement. Students are given a rubber band and a plastic propeller to start. Once the projects are built, students perform basic performance analyses of their aircraft.

"One of the key quantities students need to evaluate and understand in order to perform this analysis is the thrust their custom aircraft can create," says Stepp. "The thrust stand we designed not only created a user-friendly lab apparatus for students to interact with and get the appropriate thrust data, but also provided a more intuitive and hands-on understanding of the underlying concepts."

Fabricating the thrust stand at UAH's Engineering Design and Prototyping Facility, one of the largest student-centered facilities of its type in the country, allowed the team to control the construction of the project, says Murdy.

"We were able to use 3D printing to customize certain features, such as a release arm, so that each startup was similar," Murdy says.

Hopping's work to enable faster data sampling was something Dr. Armentrout hadn't encountered in MAE 311 projects so far. "I applied the techniques I learned in Space Hardware Club to an academic project, with great results," Hopping says.

The conference provided the team with the opportunity to represent UAH on an international level and network with major aerospace leaders, Stepp says. Attendees included representatives and executives from NASA, Lockheed Martin/Skunk Works, The Boeing Co., Orbital Science Corp., SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

"I speak for my entire team when I say we are enormously grateful to Dr. Hollingsworth, the Student Government Association and the UAH administration for enabling us to attend this conference, supporting us as students in a global professional community, and giving us the exciting opportunity of representing UAH on an international level," Stepp says.