Vanderbilt student engineering team’s steel-timber beam machine wins DOE national challenge

A Vanderbilt engineering team won top spot in a U.S. Department of Energy STEM competition. Team members are (L-R) Maggie Chudik, Alexandra Filipova, Arielle Kopp and Jacqueline Quirke. As the DOE challenge applicant, Kopp  presented the project at the Jan. 26-27 finals in Colorado. She has been offered a summer internship at the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

An all-women team from Vanderbilt won a U.S. Department of Energy competition that offers the winner an internship at a DOE national laboratory.

Engineering science students Arielle Kopp and Alexandra Filipova and civil engineering students Maggie Chudik and Jacqueline Quirke created a composite beam machine that makes steel-timber beams. Steel and cross-laminated timber beams provide strong, sustainable, structural support for buildings. The team says its solution helps reduce the demand for recycled steel, creates jobs, and improves air quality for communities and steel mills.

Team leader and DOE challenge applicant Arielle Kopp presented the team’s solution during the 2022–2023 final competition Jan. 26–27 with five other JUMP into STEM finalists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Kopp has been offered a 10-week summer paid internship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The undergraduate team won semi-final honors in December in the Curb Your Carbon Challenge, one of three challenges in JUMP into STEM, a DOE building science competition for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students. This year’s competition called on student teams to find equitable solutions for electrifying, decarbonizing, and increasing resiliency of the built environment.

The semi-final winners and runners up are: Curb Your Carbon Challenge: Vanderbilt University/Colorado School of Mines; It’s Electric Challenge: Indiana Institute of Technology/Georgia Institute of Technology; Sustainable and Resilient Challenge: Georgia Institute of Technology/Johns Hopkins University.

“This was another successful year for receiving high-quality submissions,” said Dr. Yeonjin Bae, ORNL’s JUMP into STEM program manager. “These students focused on developing comprehensive and innovative solutions that address climate change and energy justice, so that affordable building energy technologies can be available to all communities.”

Vanderbilt’s composite beam machine grew from a project in a Sustainable Design in Civil Engineering class led by Lori Troxel, professor of the practice of civil and environmental engineering. The challenge was to reduce the embodied carbon of buildings, said Troxel, who is also director of undergraduate studies in civil engineering. Solutions also must consider marketing and societal impact.

Environmental justice was important to the team. Steel mills and steel recycling plants are often in areas with marginalized populations that are disproportionately affected by the carbon emissions, Chudik said. In those low-income communities, air pollution and its health impacts are a major concern. They propose using renewable energy to power their beam construction. Because their design could potentially reduce mill profitability, the team realized government action or environmental initiatives must be a part the solution. That led to including incentives to aid the implementation of the steel-timber composite beam machine, Kopp said.

Students were supported by Kevin Galloway, director of Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience (DIVE) and research assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Deanna Meador, deputy director of the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s Innovation Center, Charleson Bell, director of Entrepreneurship and Biomedical Innovation at the Wond’ry and engineering research assistant professor.

Contact: Brenda Ellis, 615 343-6314