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

Taking the Earth’s temperature

Since installing 144 geothermal wells on campus over the past two years, Dr. Curt Elmore, professor of geological engineering, has led a couple of ongoing geothermal research projects.

Since installing 144 geothermal wells on campus over the past two years, Dr. Curt Elmore (center), professor of geological engineering, has led two ongoing geothermal research projects. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

On the surface, it looks like nothing more than a turf-covered soccer field. But the ground beneath Missouri University of Science and Technology’s intramural field houses a complex system of 144 wells, each one 400 feet deep, that supply the campus’s Gale Bullman Building with heating and cooling using geothermal energy.

That well field is also home to two ongoing geothermal research projects led by Dr. Curt Elmore, professor of geological engineering at Missouri S&T. The first project is designed to monitor possible long-term changes in the Earth’s temperature that could result from the operation of a large-scale geothermal system.

With funding from the geological engineering program and in partnership with the physical facilities department, Elmore and his team outfitted one of the wells in the center of Missouri S&T’s intramural field with eight pairs of thermocouples placed every 50 feet to measure temperature at various levels throughout the 400-foot well.

Wires connect the sensors to a small flush mount vault that looks like a water meter you might find in your yard. Nearly every day, Charlie Smith and Jordan Thompson – two students working with Elmore on the project – connect equipment to read the temperature measurements that the sensors recorded. An additional well, drilled 20 feet from the geothermal well field, provides baseline readings for comparison. Thompson, a junior in geological engineering, is working on the project as part of the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experiences program (OURE).

Before the geothermal system went live, the researchers collected about six weeks of background temperature data. Once the system was operational, they began to notice a change in the ground temperature.

“We observed that the average temperature did increase over the course of the summer as energy from the building was transferred to the subsurface,” says Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in geological engineering. “We are now observing the cooling of the subsurface as energy is being removed to assist in the heating of the building. We would like to record data during several full heating and cooling cycles to fully see any long-term overall warming or cooling trends.”

Over time, changes in ground temperature could effect the performance of a geothermal energy system, Elmore says.

“A ground source geothermal system works by taking heat from the air and sending it into the ground,” Elmore says. “Or we take heat from the ground and send it into the air. Here, cooling is predominant. If the ground is warmer, it can’t take on as much heat and that could effect the performance of the geothermal system,” he says. “Let’s say you want to chill a bottle of Coke, for example, and you’re used to putting it in cold water for 10 minutes. If your water gets warmer, it will take longer to cool your Coke. If it’s really cold, it will cool faster.”

An expert in groundwater remediation, Elmore is also working on a project to see if geothermal energy could be used in place of electricity to treat water as a part of an innovative desalination process.

“Geothermal energy has the potential to heat and cool water during the treatment process, thus reducing the amount of water wasted and reducing the amount of energy required to treat the water,” Elmore says.

To pilot the project, Elmore is designing a small desalination system that will fit on a utility trailer towed behind a pickup truck.

Elmore is working on the project with Dr. Mostafa Elsharquawy from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia. They hope to build a water treatment facility that uses geothermal energy.

“Saudi Arabia spends millions of dollars every year changing sea water into drinking water,” Elmore says. “Geothermal energy could provide a much more cost-effective treatment system.”

Missouri S&T’s geothermal energy system – one of the most comprehensive in the nation – provides heating and cooling to 17 buildings on campus and chilled water to the majority of campus buildings. Completion of the system allowed S&T to decommission its World War II-era power plant last spring. The system is expected to cut energy usage by 50 percent and reduce the university’s carbon footprint by 25,000 metric tons per year.

By Mary Helen Stoltz

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