Smart living in everyday life

The university's eBus and Solar Village are just two of the ways S&T is researching and implementing smarter and more sustainable ways of living. Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

The university’s eBus and Solar Village are just two of the ways S&T is researching and implementing smarter and more sustainable ways of living as part of its Smart Living signature area. Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

Missouri S&T’s Smart Living signature area concentrates on improving your quality of life. Its researchers work to transform home, workplace, transportation and energy infrastructures into “smart” environments.

Smart Living also helps expand the world’s understanding of how people and technology interact. It’s more than just creating sustainable homes. It means developing intelligent systems that will change the future of everyday life.

“Currently, there is a rapid expansion of technology that impacts our lives each day,” says Nathan Weidner, assistant professor of psychological science at S&T. “Weak artificial intelligence systems – algorithms that help us make choices throughout the day – lead us to make better decisions and are having a clear impact on society. These technologies can be so small that they are wearable but have an enormous influence on us.”

Smart Living draws on S&T’s strengths in cyber security, sustainable energy research, social dynamics, usability, big data analytics, architectural design, behavioral and environmental psychology, and transportation and infrastructure to lead research and development efforts toward a more secure and sustainable society.

“People in these new smart systems will have to learn to share resources,” says Bruce McMillin, professor of computer science and associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computing. “With that comes the need for privacy and security. This allocation of resources carries a lot of personal information in it, and we must rely on history to give us clues to help predict the future of this technological advance.”

“Trust in human-computer interaction and AI decisions is important, but there are immediate problems that need to be considered as well,” says Weidner. “For example, if a metropolis has a large number of electric car drivers, what will happen when they arrive home for the night and all plug in their vehicles at 10 p.m.? We don’t want rolling blackouts to happen to that city nightly, so energy storage needs to be considered.”

Research in Smart Living includes:

  • Smart grid and transportation systems. Intelligent peer-to-peer systems manage renewable energy resources like wind and solar, which are backed by energy storage, including fuel cells and batteries, to provide energy to buildings. S&T’s Solar Village is a “micro” example of a smart grid in operation. Transportation and energy systems interlink with improved urban planning to provide individualized, cost-efficient transportation.
  • Decision-making and governance. Smart living requires more than data and analytics. Understanding how people process, react to and interact with information and technology will lead to a sustainable shared governance of resources.
  • Privacy and security. Intelligent systems must be resistant to security attacks while maintaining personal privacy and supporting the users’ trust in the system. In Smart Living, people must adapt to the technology and the technology must adapt to the people. The result is enhanced trust and security.
  • Building materials. New smart materials turn buildings into “living laboratories” that, through advanced analytics, provide feedback to inform users as well as to adapt to human behavior. This leads to improved infrastructure, chemical or biological environments, and decision-making. Embedded sensors can monitor how efficiently a building uses energy, water or even bandwidth, empowering people to make informed decisions on how to use resources wisely.

“Usually, we think of technology as leading the charge in this area, but if we do that we risk missing the human aspects of living,” says Nancy Stone, professor of psychological science at S&T. “The human aspects have a very high potential for research, with acceptance and ethics both needing to be addressed to ensure the needs of individuals are being met.”

S&T’s Smart Living initiative is led by McMillin and Stone. Smart Living is an interdisciplinary effort pursued jointly by faculty from arts, languages, and philosophy; business and information technology; chemical and biochemical engineering; civil, architectural and environmental engineering; computer science; economics; electrical and computer engineering; engineering management and systems engineering; English and technical communication; history and political science; mathematics and statistics; mechanical and aerospace engineering; and psychological science. It also involves industry partners and other University of Missouri System campuses to make the research a statewide effort.

Story by Peter Ehrhard
Video by Terry Barner

Joe Miner’s big break

For most, summer is a time for vacations and relaxation. But at Missouri S&T, one individual sees summer as a time to get ready for the upcoming semester. Mascot Joe Miner uses every minute of down time during the break to support his students.

Before students arrive for the first day of class, Joe takes care of all the things he doesn’t have time for during the busy school year. Here’s what Joe Miner did this summer:

Getting an edge

2015_joe_miner_discover

The first thing Joe did was visit the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center to sharpen his pickax. After a long school year, it was getting dull.

[Read more…]

Racing to the sun

Letha Young, a lieutenant with the Missouri S&T police department and advisor to the university’s Solar Car Design Team, poses with the team’s car.

Letha Young, a lieutenant with the Missouri S&T police department and advisor to the Solar Car Design Team, poses with the team’s car. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Missouri S&T’s Solar Car Team will line up on Sunday, July 26, to compete against 16 other teams at the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2015 in Austin, Texas. Letha Young will make sure the students get there safe and sound.

Young, a lieutenant on the police force at S&T, has traveled with the Solar Car Team to competitions since 2008. With a team-made badge designating her “Team Mom/Advisor,” she helps the team stay organized and fed and makes sure members follow all safety procedures.

“In 2008, I was on evening shift and would stop in to the student design area (a metal building that was located on a section of the present-day Havener Center parking lot) and check out how they were doing,” says Young. “The team members asked me to help them out with the competition and I said sure. I have been going ever since, because that is why I am here, for the students.”

Young has a strong dedication to the team and its students. She uses her vacation time from work to travel with the team and frequently checks in with team members. In 2013, she was formally named a staff advisor to the team, which now operates out of the Kummer Student Design Center.

Besides stopping by the design center on her weekend shifts and making sure the team is on track with its build, Young serves in various other roles. First aid, radio operations and driving a scout car in front of the solar car caravan to protect it on long-distance drives are a given, but the job also comes with some unexpected duties.

“One of the duties of the scout car is to clear the road of debris, so whenever there is something in the road or on the shoulder, a student team member in my passenger seat would have to hop out and move it,” says Young. “I had what the team calls the ‘Shovel of Death’ in my family van during one practice drive and along with it comes the smell. They use it to clear roadkill away from the car’s path.”

But there are benefits to being with the team as well. Young says one of her favorite memories with the team was during the American Solar Challenge in 2010. After finishing the 665-mile race, the team ran along with the car as it crossed the line to finish fifth. Young was there with the team crossing as well, but behind them picking up dropped hats and lost flip-flops. “Because I’m the mom,” she says.

“I am excited to go with the team this month and am really looking forward to it,” Young says. “I already have the first dinner planned – I will barbecue.”

By Peter Ehrhard

Below the Earth’s surface

Nathan Bashir, a graduate student in both geology and geophysics, and geological engineering, studies limestone formations, for which he says Missouri, is an ideal location.

Nathan Bashir, a graduate student in both geology and geophysics, and geological engineering, studies limestone formations, for which he says Missouri, is an ideal location. Photo by Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

Nathainail “Nathan” Bashir is more at home in the field than in the classroom. The graduate student, who is earning a master’s degree in both geology and geophysics and geological engineering, constantly travels around the state studying bedrock variations and perfecting ways to find their depth.

Bashir is studying the Burlington and Keokuk limestone formations in the southwest Missouri town of Brookline. “Missouri is a great place to be for my studies. All around the area are caves, limestone deposits and other surface data to help me find bedrock.”

Bashir uses two main mapping techniques to find bedrock’s depth: multichannel analysis of surface waves and electrical resistivity tomography. After performing these tests, he combines the results. This process helps Bashir cut through the “clutter” of false readings that can be caused by caves and sinkholes, and identifies the differing levels of bedrock depth.

The geology of the area he studies is quite different from that of his hometown. A native of Nonar, Pakistan, Bashir studied at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, prior to moving to the United States.

“I love being in the field and seeing what we actually study in classes,” Bashir says. “There are so many interesting places that are close by, you have to go see them.”

Last summer, Bashir was on co-op at Engineering Consulting Services (ECS) in Virginia. His work dealt mainly with structural geology and included analyzing a construction site for a new National Science Foundation facility.

Besides his research, Bashir serves on the International Student Council at Missouri S&T, sings in the choir at the Campus Christian Ministry and is a part-time clothing model.

“I starting modeling back in Pakistan to help out a friend who had designed clothes for a university event,” says Bashir. “After that, I would occasionally be asked by others who saw the photos to model. It is a fun hobby and something that lets me see a whole new industry.”

By Peter Ehrhard

Miner munchies

Alumna Catherine Swift, pictured in front of the Frito-Lay display at the Spring Career Fair, is just one of a handful of Miners who work in the company’s Topeka, Kansas, plant.

Alumna Catherine Swift, pictured in front of the Frito-Lay display at the S&T Spring Career Fair, is one of a handful of Miners who work in the company’s Topeka, Kansas, plant. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Frito-Lay’s Topeka, Kansas, plant operates 24 hours a day, so while most of us are sleeping, Catherine Swift is monitoring 10 production lines and 59 automated packaging tubes that take raw ingredients and turn them into bagged snack foods, ready for supermarket shelves.

“As a core plant, we produce major products like Doritos, Lays, Sunchips, Tostitos and Fritos,” says Swift, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering at Missouri S&T in 2010. Each year the Topeka plant produces over 175 million pounds of snacks.

Swift, who has been with Frito-Lay for almost five years, started out as an undergraduate intern. Now she is a manager on the plant’s third shift.

Swift helps closely monitor the plant’s production process for moisture and oil levels, and each shift compares its batches to a reference product for appearance, flavor and texture. Swift ensures that the snacks that leave the Topeka plant are the same quality as the ones made in other locations.

“We ship directly to stores, so our warehouse operation is very similar to large delivery companies,” Swift explains. “For our process, shuttle robots run through our aisles finding products and getting them ready for shipping to stores throughout the country.”

When Swift isn’t working, she coaches a local high school girls’ soccer team, making use of skills she honed as a Lady Miner goalkeeper for four years at Missouri S&T. She also frequently makes trips back to Rolla.

“Since graduating, I haven’t missed a career fair yet,” says Swift. “I return every spring and fall to recruit other Miners.”

No matter where she goes, Swift says she is always asked about her favorite snack. “I used to like the nacho cheese Doritos best, but something about working third shift has me really starting to like Funyuns.”

Several other Missouri S&T alumni work in the Topeka plant with Swift, including:

  • Chris Emesih, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2014
  • Kori Louvall, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2013
  • Everett Moore, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1986
  • Ryan Schmidt, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2013
  • Aimee Snell, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 2013
  • Brooke Ryan, who earned a bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering in 2011
  • Amiel Weerasinghe, who earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 2010 and an MBA in 2012.

By Peter Ehrhard

Adapted from the Spring 2015 issue of Missouri S&T Magazine

Straight outta Bombay

Sid Panchal works the window and serves authentic Indian street food out of his St. Louis-area food truck, Bombay Food Junkies.

Sid Panchal works the window and serves authentic Indian street food out of his St. Louis-area food truck, Bombay Food Junkies.

Inspired by a reality television show and missing the foods from his homeland, Siddharth “Sid” Panchal, who earned a master’s degree in computer science from Missouri S&T in 2003, opened Bombay Food Junkies in 2013. The Mumbai, India, native and his wife, Krupa, serve vegan and vegetarian meals from their food truck at St. Louis-area hospitals, industrial parks and college campuses, dishing out authentic Indian street food.

The business idea started when the couple watched “The Great Food Truck Race” on the Food Network. That was enough to spark the idea of delivering authentic street food to the people of St. Louis.

The samosa chole - pictured here - is the biggest seller at Bombay Food Junkies.

The samosa chole – pictured here – is the biggest seller at Bombay Food Junkies.

Panchal started scouring Craigslist for vehicles that could be converted into food trucks and called local food truck operators for tips and hints. After finding a truck, the couple launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised the necessary funds to get the truck wrapped in banners and fully modified. Less than two years after opening, Bombay Food Junkies took second place in a Best Vegetarian Food Truck competition sponsored by mobile-cuisine.com.

“The key to our success is finding what foods sell and where,” explains Panchal. “Our samosa chole is the biggest seller, while veggie burgers were a surprise flop. Picking the right location is important too; not all scenes are looking for a vegetarian option.”

The Panchals park their Bombay Food Junkies food truck for lunch, dinner and special occasions at locations throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, including the corporate headquarters of Wells Fargo Advisors.

The Panchals park their Bombay Food Junkies food truck for lunch, dinner and special occasions at locations throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, including the corporate headquarters of Wells Fargo Advisors.

Krupa runs the day-to-day operations of the truck, while Sid, a senior consultant for project management at Daugherty Business Solutions in St. Louis, helps out at the truck some weeknights and on weekends.

“My wife was used to driving a Honda Civic, and suddenly she had to learn to drive a 28-foot truck filled with two refrigerators, a three-compartment sink and two pizza ovens,” says Sid. “But we haven’t had any accidents yet and are still going strong. The business is now over two years old.”

Story by Peter Ehrhard

Photos by Sam O’Keefe

Adapted from the Spring 2015 issue of Missouri S&T Magazine.

Panning for gold

Deanna Fitzgerald, a senior member of Missouri S&T's 2014 world champion women's mucking team, pans for gold during the international Intercollegiate Mining Competition last year at the Experimental Mine in Rolla. This year, the team is traveling a little further — to Kalgoorlie, Australia — to defend its crown.

Deanna Fitzgerald, a member of S&T’s 2014 world champion women’s mucking team, pans for gold during the international Intercollegiate Mining Competition last year at the Experimental Mine in Rolla. This year, the team is traveling a little further — to Kalgoorlie, Australia — to defend its crown. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

A group of Missouri S&T students is preparing to travel over 9,000 miles to defend two world championship titles in events based on old-fashioned mining techniques generally known as “mucking.” Missouri S&T’s men’s and women’s teams both earned first place at last year’s competition, and this year they will head to Western Australia School of Mines to compete in the 37th international Intercollegiate Mining Competition in Kalgoorlie, Australia, as formidable contenders.

Not only is the women’s team defending world champion, it has a legacy of success, having won the title in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

The competition’s events are comprised of:

  • Gold panning. Students must find five flattened lead shot or copper BBs in a pan full of dirt and mud.
  • Hand-mucking. Students run an ore cart down a 75-foot section of track and fill it with “muck” — a combination of gravel and dirt — using shovels.
  • Hand-steeling. Students drill into a block of concrete using a 4-pound hammer and a 7/8-inch-wide steel chisel.
  • Jackleg drilling. Students drill into a vertical rock or concrete wall using a pneumatic air-drill.
  • Surveying. Students are given a starting point and must report the coordinates of a finishing point using an old-fashioned Vernier transit.
  • Swede sawing. Students saw through a 6-by-6-inch piece of pine timber with a 36-inch bow saw
  • Track-standing. Students must set up and tear down a five-meter section of track, including sleepers, rail, connection plates and bolts.

Although the women’s mucking team has a tradition of placing well, this year it’s up against a team with a strong home-field advantage.

“Australia is on home turf and, as far as I know, no one has ever beaten them there,” says Deanna Fitzgerald, a senior member of the team. “We have high hopes, but we know the competition is going to be fierce and we will have to be at our best if we want to earn a good result.”

Missouri S&T’s teams will be in Australia March 20-April 4. While there, the team members will not only compete but visit with several Missouri S&T mining engineering alumni who currently work in Australia’s mining industry.

“The team has been practicing track-standing the most,” says Kelsey Garrett, also a senior member of the team. “It is a team effort and has helped us develop better communication and teamwork.”

Missouri S&T will take four mucking teams to the competition: one women’s, two men’s and one co-ed. Approximately 40 universities from around the world will send teams to compete at this year’s events.

By Peter Ehrhard

Guiding the next generation

Aysen Malone, a freshman engineering student, mentors a member of one of Rolla High School's FIRST Tech Challenge robotics teams.

Aysen Malone, a freshman engineering student, mentors a member of one of Rolla High School’s FIRST Tech Challenge robotics teams. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Freshman engineering student and Rolla High School alumna Aysen Malone knows that a strong mentor can leave a lasting impression on a person. Inspired by her first mentor, she returns to Rolla High School twice a week to help support its robotics teams.

The teams compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), a nationwide robotics competition involving teams of up to 10 students between the ages of 14 and 18 in grades 9-12. Each team designs, builds and programs a robot for a tournament-style competition.

Malone is a three-year veteran of the robotics competition, having joined her sophomore year at Rolla High School.

During Malone’s first year, the Rolla team won the Inspire Award, given to the team that the judges feel embodies the “challenge” of FTC to involve young minds. That award qualified the team for the FTC world championships. Once Malone experienced the fierce competition at a worldwide level, she was hooked on improving the team’s robot.

But she wasn’t always as enthusiastic about the group. Malone credits one of the team’s advisors with getting her fully involved in the competition.

“When I first joined the team, I was shy and kind of intimidated by talking with the other members,” recalls Malone. “But then Philip Allen, one of the team’s mentors, walked up to me and asked me all about what I was interested in and helped introduce me to the team. He was a close friend to everyone on the team and was always willing to go the extra mile to help the students. He is also the main reason I chose to go to Missouri S&T.”

 

During Malone’s first semester at S&T, Allen, a 1994 mechanical engineering graduate of S&T, died in an automobile accident on Oct. 10, 2014. The shock of losing a beloved mentor to the team was difficult for everyone, including Malone.

In Allen’s memory, she continues his legacy of mentoring young minds interested in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Despite her busy schedule at S&T, where she has a job and is president of the Turkish Student Alliance, Malone insists on visiting the teams as often as she can.

“All the Rolla High School robotics teams like competition,” says Malone. “There isn’t a huge rivalry between the three, but everyone wants to be the best they can be. There is a legacy to continue, but all the teams know they have to earn their way with results.”

She also says she respects all the mentors and advisors who help the teams.

“All of the volunteers work so hard and freely give up their time to help the students, no matter if they have other obligations,” she says. “I will always be grateful for the footsteps that Phil left for me to follow.”

All three Rolla High School teams have qualified for the state championships, which will be held at the Gale Bullman Building on campus Saturday, March 7.

More about the upcoming competition can be found here.

By Peter Ehrhard

Improving rural drinking water

Danielle West

Danielle West, a Ph.D. student in chemistry, is screening Missouri drinking water for contaminants and seeking new treatment techniques that could minimize the impact of harmful byproducts generated by disinfectants used in water treatment operations. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Disinfectants used in water treatment operations could generate harmful byproducts that are unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But Danielle West, a Ph.D. student in chemistry, is screening Missouri drinking water for contaminants and seeking new treatment techniques that could minimize — or even eliminate — those byproducts.

With grants from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the EPA, West is helping to develop a rapid, sensitive and cost-effective method to detect perchlorate and bromate in drinking water, as well as a technique for removing perchlorate. The advanced detection method will play an important role in the monitoring of drinking water quality in the future.

“There are just so many chemicals that have potential to get into water,” West says. “Many harmful chemicals aren’t currently regulated and can be potentially found in many communities’ drinking water. Our goal is to minimize the formation of these chemicals or find technologies capable of removing them to ensure safe drinking water.”

Disinfectants like monochloramine could generate harmful byproducts that are unregulated by the EPA. West and her colleagues are researching the use of an alternative disinfection agent to treat the water. The disinfectant could provide an economical approach to limiting the formation of contaminants. They believe that incorporating this disinfectant into current water purification processes will improve drinking water safety.

Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry, and Honglan Shi, associate research professor of chemistry, are West’s advisors.

By Peter Ehrhard

Persistence pays off

Nuclear engineering senior Dylan Prévost was awarded the Pursuit of Life Scholarship from Team Orion.

Nuclear engineering senior Dylan Prévost was awarded the Pursuit of Life Scholarship from Team Orion, a group of three young alumni who founded the scholarship with funds left over from their senior design class. Photo by Sam O’ Keefe

Dylan Prévost, a senior in nuclear engineering from Wickenburg, Arizona, learned who he really is by overcoming adversity. His decision to attend Missouri S&T was a huge leap of faith in himself and his family.

Prévost’s father was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, almost 11 years ago. His father was unable to continue working due to the illness, while Prévost’s mother stayed at home to help care for him. As the family downsized, the possibility of a college education became more and more uncertain.

“Finding the financial backing to attend college has been a challenge,” admits Prévost. “But I dream big and want to be able to help my family in the future.”

Prévost applied for dozens of scholarships hoping to study nuclear engineering. Once he chose Missouri S&T, he moved to Missouri to qualify for in-state tuition.

Last fall, Prévost was awarded the Pursuit of Life Scholarship from Team Orion, a group of three young alumni who founded the scholarship with funds left over from their senior design class. The alumni, each of whom overcame immense adversity to get to S&T and graduate, agreed that the best use of the leftover money would be to give it to a student in need. Team Orion awarded two scholarships to students who demonstrated perseverance and ambition, and overcame adversity in their lives.

In addition to his coursework, Prévost has worked various jobs on campus since starting at Missouri S&T in 2011. As a research assistant for Ayodeji Alajo, assistant professor of nuclear engineering, Prévost currently works to design a liquid thorium-fueled modular nuclear reactor that would be safer than existing reactor technology. He hopes to continue his education through graduate school to study computer-computational transport and how to improve the design of nuclear reactors.

“Nuclear energy is going to play a large part in the future of the world’s energy production,” says Prévost. “I want to dedicate my life to promoting cheaper, cleaner energy for everyone.”

In addition to his research, Prévost is a counselor at Missouri S&T’s Nuclear Engineering Summer Camp. He has been president of the American Nuclear Society student chapter at S&T for two years and is a member of the Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity.

“My family has been through some struggles, but nothing is stronger than family and I have had great support from them,” says Prévost.

Read more about Team Orion and the Pursuit of Life Scholarship in the latest issue of Missouri S&T Magazine.

By Peter Ehrhard

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