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M.Eng. Design Projects

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The professional design project is an integral part of the M.Eng. program. The project offers you a unique opportunity to solve real-life engineering problems that demand a high level of engineering knowledge, critical thinking, effective communication, and team work—all essential knowledge and skills required of professional engineers.

Projects are typically undertaken during the second semester. Below are some examples of projects students have completed in previous years.

Aerospace Engineering: A Centimeter-Scale Satellite on a Chip

Zachary R. Manchester; Advisor: Mason Peck

General Topic: As observed in the unique orbits of cosmic dust particles, at small length scales, environmental forces such as solar pressure and the Loretz force can compete with gravity to significantly accelerate a body in space. We propose to employ recent advances in nanofabrication to create a new category of extremely small, low-cost, expendable spacecraft which capitalize on this scaling to enable propellantless propulsion. Such devices could open up new spacecraft mission opportunities, including distributed sensing, scientific research, exploration, and in-orbit inspection of larger satellites.

Specific Question: We seek to enable propellantless spacecraft propulsion by incorporating all of the subsystems of a traditional spacecraft into a silicon integrated-circuit with an area of less than 2 square centimeters.

Method: Inspired by the simplicity and success of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, we have designed a system-on-a-chip capable of transmitting a periodic ultra-high-frequency beacon signal back to a high gain terrestrial ground station. In collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories Center for Integrated Nanotechnology, we have begun fabrication of these devices as Multi-Chip Modules comprised of several commercially available integrated circuits, each depackaged and integrated onto a single silicon wafer approximately 1.7 square centimeters in area. These modules will be launched into low Earth orbit as a tertiary payload this summer.

Results: We are currently evaluating and fine-tuning the performance of larger circuit board prototypes, and are in the final stages of fabrication of the multi-chip modules.

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Biomedical Engineering: Method to Expose Arterial Subendothelium for Indentation Testing

John M. Peloquin; Advisor: Cynthia Reinhart-King

General Topic: Artery biomechanics may play an important role during the development of atherosclerosis. Artery stiffness is used clinically to predict atherosclerosis risk; however, laboratory testing of whole arteries has produced ambiguous results. Atherosclerotic plaques extend through only part of the vessel wall; consequently, an accurate description of the biomechanics of atherosclerosis will require testing of local mechanical properties.

Specific Question or Relationship: The mechanical properties of the intimal subendothelium likely change as atherosclerosis progresses. To facilitate testing this hypothesis, we sought to develop a method to remove artery endothelium and expose the intimal subendothelium for indentation testing.

Method: We evaluated and refined three methods from the literature: 1) filter paper imprinting, 2) soaking in saponin solution, and 3) gentle scraping with a cotton applicator.

Results: Scanning electron microscopy and histology results show that scraping is the most effective method, achieving almost complete de-endothelialization. Immunohistochemistry experiments suggest that scraping specifically exposes the internal elastic lamina.

Conclusion: Scraping is an effective and reproducible method to remove arterial endothelium and expose the intimal subendothelium. This result is an important prerequisite for high-resolution indentation testing to ascertain the role of subendothelial mechanics in atherosclerosis.

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Civil Engineering: Probability of Connection Failure during the Northridge Earthquake

Student: Jennifer Himottu; Advisor: Christopher Earls

The Northridge Earthquake caused devastation to several buildings throughout greater Los Angeles. These buildings that adhered to the structural design codes in effect at the time. This event highlights several of the deficiencies and short comings in today’s design codes, thus demonstrating to engineers that earthquake-proof design cannot always be completed withaccomplished with the building code alone. The project focuses efforts on the Warner Brother’s Triangle Building, which was left with several fractures throughout the special moment connection framing, causing it to become structurally unstable.

With advisory help from engineering consulting company, Simpson Gumphertz and Heger, the Structural Masters of Engineering group is evaluating the performance of the Triangle Building during the earthquake. How Tthe impairment of the building’s structural safety of the building was impaired and the level of damage is are currently being predicted through the following tasks ofby developing a structural model of the building, estimating ground motion characteristics, and estimating the capacity of connections.

The final results will show the probability of critical fracture within the special moment framing. This study will conclude that examining the structural engineering failures observed after the Northridge Earthquake provides a precedent for the introduction of new learning facets to engineering education as well as the engineering profession.

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Electrical Engineering: Silicon Interposers for High Energy Physics Application

Manan Suri; Advisors: Jim Alexander, Julia Thom
Acknowledgements: The project is completed in collaboration with Fermilab, UC-Davis, and CERN.

In this project we are fabricating silicon interposers with conductive thru-vias. These interposers will be used to carry electrical signals between arrays of thin silicon pixel sensors spaced about 1mm apart. Some challenging aspects of this project are extremely high via density, making 1mm deep thru-vias and bump bonding for electrical pads. The project involves design, fabrication, characterization and optimization of the interposers. The critical feature which we need to minimize is the capacitance of the thru-vias. We will be comparing the process ease and performance of two different metals-- namely copper and aluminum-- for the interposers. These interposers, integrated with the arrays of silicon pixel sensors, will be used to track high energy particles generated in the compact muon solenoid experiment inside the world’s largest particle accelerator. This accelerator, operated by CERN, is located in Geneva run by CERN, Switzerland.

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Mechanical Engineering: Next Generation Efficient Buildings via Scaled Models

David E. Martin, Matthew W. Goldwasser; Advisor: Brandon M. Hencey

Building operations consume 40% of energy in the US.United States. Building simulation is the main tool in used to improve ing building design and efficiency,, however, simulation but it is limited in its accuracy and resolution. Computer modeling of dynamic building heating and cooling systems is often inaccurate because of limits on processing power and the assumptions that are made to simplify the calculations. To improve understanding of building model uncertainty and bridge the gap between simulation and full-scale buildings, a scaled test bed can be created and contrasted with computer simulations. This comparison will allow heating and cooling engineers to better predict the behavior of building systems, and thus create systems that will more accurately react to changing conditions, and make a more effective use of materials, insulation, and fenestration. The test bed will also allow designers to rapidly evaluate new methods and technologies outside of a simulation environment.

The constructed test bed system consists of a modular and easily modifiable building, a weather simulation enclosure, a modifiable heating and cooling system, and sensors for collecting data about the exterior and interior climate. These sensors serve as the input for a controls system, which actively control the scaled building’s HVAC systems. The building is constructed of interchangeable materials that can simulate different thermal characteristics. The test enclosure can simulate temperature, solar radiation, and wind. Sensors measure temperatures throughout the test bed enclosure, artificial wind speed, and radiation. The building’s heating and cooling usage is then compared to a computer simulation, and discrepancies can be analyzed so that correlations between buildings of different sizes can be drawn.

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Operations Research: Crew scheduling for CN Canadian National Rrailway

Mikhail Chrestkha; Advisor: Peter Jackson
Acknowledgements: Support and funding for this project is provided by CN Railway and Axon.

Crew scheduling in the train industry involves a dispatcher assigning employees to scheduled trains over a time horizon. Currently dispatchers have a difficult time balancing the flow of crews throughout the rail network due to many contractual regulations. The goal of this study is to develop a schedule look-ahead capability and an optimal crew schedule to improve employee satisfaction and lower costs. In order to reach this goal, two different approaches are chosen: Discrete-event simulation (Heuristic) and network optimization (Integer programming).

  1. The look-ahead tool will use a heuristic approach to simulate crew assignments and determine thresholds for schedule stability. Discrete event simulation will be used for the assignment and movement of crews while considering train traffic, labor rules, government regulations and optional crew schedules. The simulation provides output, which can evaluate the impact of changes to scheduling constraints on the overall operational efficiency of the crew assignment process. Additionally, the system is capable of testing new crew scheduling methods and the optimality and robustness of each proposed schedule. With a 72-hour look-ahead tool, future labor shortages can be resolved well in advance and emergency supply costs lowered.
  2. In the optimization approach, the node structure for the network is first created with train schedules as inputs, which gives each node a location and time parameter. Train arcs and transport arcs are then generated to construct the time-space network to map potential journeys of employees. An optimal crew schedule is finally created by using integer programming to minimize total cost while fulfilling operational and contractual constraints.

Significant improvements to the freight rail crew assignment process, in terms of stability and optimality, can be achieved through combining simulation and optimization techniques to develop a look-ahead capability for train dispatchers.

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