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Solutions 2012: Education

Vanderbilt University School of Engineering provides academically demanding and in-depth instruction in a wide variety of traditional and cutting-edge engineering disciplines. Its engineering students are valued for their expertise, intellectual independence, communication skills and leadership ability. Each year, students participate in projects and courses that advance knowledge, increase their skills and serve others.


The Power of Wind and Sun


Residents in Nashville's Love Circle community have some new neighbors: a small wind turbine, a wind monitoring station and frames for solar panels. They're the result of a collaborative wind-solar alternative energy research and teaching project between the School of Engineering's mechanical engineering department and Nashville Metro Water Services. The project, overseen by Amrutur Anilkumar, professor of the practice of mechanical engineering, examines the feasibility of alternative energy production and provides practical training for mechanical engineering undergraduates as part of their energetics laboratory course. Nashville officials are using the hilltop site to explore whether similar turbines and panels atop office buildings might power government facilities. The turbine and panels are expected to generate about 30kWh of energy daily—which is also the average daily consumption of electrical power per U.S. household. The electricity generated will be sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority and distributed through the local power company's grid.

The Love Circle project under the direction of A.V. Anilkumar received support from Metropolitan Government of Nashville Water Services of Davidson County, Tenn., (VU DSR 21986 COEUS IP #11030717).

Shown: Wind-solar research station 


Technological Compassionbroscher

A team of 12 biomedical engineering students put their hands-on engineering skills to the test when they spent a week in Guatemala working at hospitals and exchanging presentations with peers at Universidad del Valle. Part of a biomedical engineering service-learning course taught by Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Cynthia Paschal, the trip allowed students to see firsthand low-resource health care and the need for medical equipment that works in low-resource settings. The students were charged with evaluating and repairing poorly functioning and nonfunctioning medical equipment. They prepared in advance by researching the medical equipment; studying basic, engineering-relevant Spanish; and acquiring service manuals and tools. Among the pieces they restored were an endoscope light source, infant warmers and suction regulators for the NICU, a pulse oximeter, the printer for an ECG patient monitor, a surgical headlamp, a computer, oxygen/carbon dioxide monitors, and ventilators, including one immediately put into use for an infant. The students say they spent their spring break well. As one student put it, their reward was the new chance at life given to those dependent upon the equipment they serviced.

Vanderbilt's Center for Latin American Studies provided support through U.S. Department of Education funding that helped defray housing expenses in Guatemala.

Shown: Junior Britney Broscher with medical equipment she repaired for use at Hospital Nacional Bethancourt, Guatemala


Real Needs, Real Experience

senior design dayAfter two semesters working on a capstone project, it came down to this: more than 50 interdisciplinary student teams presenting their senior design projects to faculty, peers and members of industry. The seniors tackled design challenges and real needs from businesses that included Nissan, Denso, U.S. Department of Energy, Northrop Grumman, GAF, Schneider Electric, Roche Diagnostics and local and international engineering firms. From determining the root-cause solution for intermittent noise in the Nissan Maxima to developing software for a remote electric power meter measurement app, the students took on the challenges and gained real-world work experience in design, project management and even customer relations.

Shown: Students discuss their projects with faculty and industry leaders during Senior Design Day 2012


Graduated Interest

Vanderbilt faculty and students rave about the school's graduate and Ph.D. students—but they aren't the only ones. National and international organizations are weighing in with honors.

Bethany Smith, a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering, has been awarded first place in the U.S. Department of Energy's Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Awards competition. Her award-winning research paper, "A Comprehensive Radiological and Chemical Risk Assessment of the Open Nuclear Fuel Cycle," was presented at the American Nuclear Society Annual meeting in June 2012. Smith focused on developing a methodology and model to assess radiological and metabolic fluxchemical risks from the open nuclear fuel cycle currently in place for the U.S. and four advanced nuclear fuel cycle options for evaluating future national decisions regarding nuclear energy applications.

Lara Jazmin, a second-year graduate student working with Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jamey Young, received a Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Fellowship award. Jazmin's work involves enhancing and redirecting metabolic flux in photosynthetic microbes. The end goal is to demonstrate the feasibility of converting energy from sunlight and carbon from co2 directly into commercial chemicals.

Earlier in the year, mechanical engineering graduate students David Comber and Massimiliano Simi won first and second place in the Three-in-Five competition at the 2012 Design of Medical Devices Conference. Comber's Precision Pneumatic Robot for MRI-Guided Neurosurgery earned first place, and Simi's Magnetic Mechanism for Wireless Capsule Biopsy took second place.

Vanderbilt School of Engineering currently has 448 master's and doctoral students, all vital to the life of the school and to discovery, mentoring and scholarship. The university is in the midst of building a $100 million endowment to support those it considers the backbone of the nation's future competitiveness, enlightenment and productivity.

Ph.D. student Bethany Smith's research received support from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Subsequent funding came from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy. Lara Jazmin's work with Jamey Young on photosynthesis is supported by her DOE fellowship, Lara's project also receives support from Young's DOE Early Career Award (DE-SC0008118) and from the National Science Foundation (EF-1105249). Massimiliano Simi's project was partially supported by the National Center for Research Resources (Grant UL1 RR024975-01) and now also the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (Grant 2 UL1 TR000445-06).

Shown: Graduate student Lara Jazmin's metabolic flux research in the lab

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 Photos, from top: Steve Green, courtesy of BME Service Learning 2012, John Russell.