Virtual Armour R&D Expo Showcases Undergrad Research



By Mary Ceron-Reyes

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Armour College of Engineering hosted its annual spring 2020 R&D Expo in April, showcasing the work of 13 undergraduate engineering students using a virtual platform due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year’s poster competition highlighted the research of undergraduate students who participated in the Armour R&D program during the spring academic semester.

The Armour R&D program supports student and faculty teams to conduct research under Illinois Tech’s Engineering Themes, which empowers students to apply their engineering skills to themes of high relevance and global impact. Every semester, through a competitive process, a selected number of students receive awards to work in engineering faculty laboratories.

Armour College of Engineering holds three Armour R&D expositions each academic year in which engineering undergraduate students present the results of their research projects. However, upon the campus closing due to the stay-at-home order in March 2020, and for the safety of the community, faculty mentors discussed alternate options with each student and helped them to apply different approaches to complete their research projects remotely during the last two weeks of the semester, while meeting all requirements.

As part of the program, students submit a report and poster describing projects and results, submit reports to Illinois Tech’s Undergraduate Research Journal, and participate in the Seventh Annual Armour R&D Expo. Every year engineering undergraduate researchers who have participated in the Armour R&D program present their posters in the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium, which was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

During this year’s virtual expo, students shared research results with faculty and peers through poster presentations covering a diverse range of engineering topics, from evaluating mechanical properties of different coating alloys to discovering optimal routing algorithms for autonomous vehicles and improving crankshaft sensors for internal combustion engines.

Students submitted electronic copies of their posters along with pre-recorded videos of their presentations, which were accessible for viewing on the date of the event. Project viewings and evaluations were conducted remotely for 48 hours to accommodate individuals participating in different time zones.

All viewers of the virtual expo were provided with the opportunity to vote for their favorite project, poster, and video presentation.  

For the first time, Armour R&D student researchers received two types of awards: one based on the traditional evaluation by an expert team of 21 judges composed of faculty and alumni, and the other based on an open public vote, which included approximately 340 participants.

Natacha DePaola, Carol and Ed Kaplan Armour College Dean of Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering, shares, “I want to thank the students and mentors for their commitment and perseverance innovating and adjusting to find ways to successfully complete their research plan for the semester under the stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to thank the judges for lending their time and expertise to evaluate the students’ work and for providing feedback.”

Congratulations to the student researchers that were recognized in the following categories:

Judges’ Voting

First Place: Yonguk Lee (MSE 4th Year)
Second Place: Yogi Patel (AE/M.Eng. 4th Year)
Third Place: Shared by Urwa Irfan (ARCE 2nd Year) and Aleksander Woody (ME 2nd Year)

Open Voting

First Place: Yogi Patel (AE/M.Eng. 4th Year)
Second Place: Shannon O’Donnell (ME/M.S. MAE 3rd Year)
Third Place: Esteban Lopez (ME ’20, M.S. MAE 1st Year)

Yonguk Lee

First Place: “Wear-Resistant Coating of Copper for Energy Applications”
Yonguk Lee with Professor Emeritus of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Philip Nash  

This research evaluated the mechanical properties of possible coating candidates at elevated temperatures. “The goal of my Armour R&D project was to investigate nickel-based alloys that can be potentially used as the protective coating layer for copper,” says Lee.

He notes that copper-based alloys have desirable features, such as high thermal conductivity; however, its low-wear resistance can sometimes make it difficult to use. To address this problem, one of the solutions is to introduce nickel-based coating on the top surface of copper.

Lee shares that he has learned the importance of collaboration throughout this research project. He adds, “I had made some mistakes, and there were some unintended errors made during the research. So for me, the research sometimes felt as a series of frustrations that made me exhausted mentally and physically.” However, Lee credits his professors for providing him with the guidance and support needed to move beyond these obstacles and for helping him understand that these challenges are an important part of the research process.

Yogi Patel

Second Place: “Inverted Pendulum Aerofoil in a Flow Field” (First Place, Open Vote)
Yogi Patel with Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Scott T. M. Dawson

Patel describes his experience as an undergraduate researcher at Illinois Institute of Technology as both diverse and rewarding. “I have a questioning mindset which always tries to read between the lines, and working on a science research problem has instilled in me a habit to get to the root of the problem,” he adds.

Patel explains that this project aims to utilize the system configuration referred to as “inverted pendulum” for energy generation using flow-induced vibrations. “When the aerofoil which is pivoted at one of its ends is placed in a flowing fluid, then it tries to stabilize in the flow direction and starts making small oscillations. By placing a controller on the pivoted end, we can potentially control the frequency and amplitude of such oscillations,” says Patel, who also won first place in the popular vote category.

He notes that simple, low-frequency input strategies can extract energy from the flow that is twice that of the input energy. Researchers can further tune the control parameter and extract more energy from the flow. In addition to the energy-extraction application, this project also examines different system-control techniques.

“Think of a situation when the rocket is taking off, then the rocket must maintain its vertical orientation despite strong wind gusts and other disturbances. The rocket can do that because the engine placed at the rear end neglects the disturbance effect and maintains the correct vertical orientation,” explains Patel. “Similar to the rocket example, we are controlling the trailing edge of the aerofoil and potentially neglecting the disturbance effect. The combination of the open- and closed-loop stabilization technique makes it possible to control any angle of disturbance.”

Research experience has helped Patel to further strengthen his understanding of the subject matter. He adds, “This helped me improve my academic performance as I became more and more involved in research work and added great value to my professional relationships.”

As a next step, Patel and team members will work toward publishing their research in a peer-reviewed journal. In terms of his academic career, Patel will begin a doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in fall 2020. He will focus on understanding the transitional flow behavior of different aerofoil designs, while developing a power-optimized and wake-optimized rotor used in helicopters.

Urwa Irfan

Third Place: “Radiator Energy Modeling with Wireless Open-Source Sensors”
Urwa Irfan with Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Brent Stephens

Using wireless sensors developed by the BERG lab under Stephens, Irfan performed calibration of temperature sensors and then deployed them on an office radiator in Alumni Memorial Hall, along with commercial heat flux sensors. With the data from the open-source sensors, Irfan was able to develop a relatively accurate model for calculating the heat flux output of the radiators.

Irfan says that the research results were positive and that “these wireless sensors are a good and inexpensive replacement for commercial sensors which are costly, require more equipment, and cannot be monitored as easily as their open-source counterparts.”

She adds, “I would like to take more technical classes so that I’m able to perform more detailed research in the future.”

Aleksander Woody

Third Place: “Route Congestion and Its Effects on Energy Efficient Vehicle Pathing”
Aleksander Woody with Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Baisravan HomChaudhuri

“The goal of my research topic was, in essence, to figure out an optimal routing algorithm for autonomous vehicles of various energy sources, specifically from electric, hybrid, and conventional vehicles, while taking into consideration route congestion and travel distance,” Woody explains.

Based on his analysis, research shows that a certain amount of congestion is beneficial in routing algorithms for certain autonomous vehicles.

“From this experience I was able to develop many skills that I wouldn’t have been able to learn in the classroom, such as utilizing graphical user interfaces with MATLAB and about the overall research process,” adds Woody.

He plans to participate in additional research projects to further his learning and to pursue a career in academia.

Shannon O'Donnell

Second Place, Open Vote: “Improving Crankshaft Position Sensors”
Shannon O’Donnell with Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Carrie Hall

The overall goal of the research project was to develop a relatively inexpensive crankshaft position sensor that has similar capabilities to laboratory-grade sensors. A crankshaft position sensor attaches to an engine’s crankshaft and collects the crankshaft’s position and speed data.

“To reach our goal we analyzed the data collected from an expensive, lab-grade crankshaft position sensor and compared it to the data obtained by our prototyped sensor. I learned that, with a sufficiently high precision, a crankshaft position sensor can be used to determine the start of combustion within an engine’s cylinder and to identify any unusual occurrences such as a piston experiencing excessive friction,” says O’Donnell. “In addition, I found it interesting how much the crankshaft’s rotational speed profile changed depending on other engine conditions.”

O’Donnell is currently continuing the research by calibrating the prototype sensor’s data using the lab-grade sensor’s data. She adds, “We are also planning to run another experiment with an improved version of the prototyped sensor. An in-depth analysis of the prototype sensor’s data has allowed us to identify the design factors that most heavily contribute to the quality of data.”

Upon graduation, O’Donnell plans to secure a job involving product design and development.

Esteban Lopez (ME ’20, M.S. MAE 1st Year)

Third Place, Open Vote: “Application of Reinforcement Learning for the Control of  a Boundary Constrained Swarm Robot”
Esteban Lopez with Associate Professor of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering Ankit Srivastava

“My goal with this team was to implement a reinforcement learning algorithm in our simulated version of the robot,” says Lopez. “Many things were learned, including how to properly select data that assists the neural network in learning, which algorithm to use for learning and parameter updates, the nitty-gritty of reinforcement learning and its coupling with neural networks, how to simulate a system using simulation tools, computational resources and tools, and more.”

Lopez shares that the next step will be to advance this research within tougher environments and larger systems. The original system consisted of only three robots connected by springs moving to a targeted location without any obstacles but has progressed to a system of 10 robots maneuvering through gaps and obstacles. He adds, “The goal is to have a system with hundreds of robots that learn to perform tasks on their own.”

In addition, Lopez has recently been selected to receive the Thomas and Josette Morel Graduate Fellowship and will continue this research for the next two years under Srivastava in the Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering, furthering his investigation of data-driven control methods and looking into wave propagation research.