Four UTC students selected for the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program learned a lot during their summer research internships. The program is funded by Volkswagen Chattanooga and managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) on behalf of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
Students chosen for this opportunity participated in research for ten full weeks during the summer at ORNL, where scientific mentors selected projects for individual students based on their interests and degree fields.
“This program funds students from UTC and other area colleges to participate in automotive-related research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. These internships provide students with real-world context they are able to apply when returning to campus,” stated Marisa Moazen, Ph.D., program manager for the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program.
Learn more about the internship opportunities experienced by Blake Griffey, Travron Taylor, Zeke Sudbury and Sarah Highlander.
Extended battery life paves the road for future electric vehicles
On the day you fire up a new laptop, it’s a sure bet you’ll need a new battery in about three years. Wouldn’t it be great if lithium-ion batteries lasted longer, especially the ones for electric vehicles?
Blake Griffey, a recent UTC physics graduate, and two fellow research participants focused on the improvement of lithium-ion batteries, making them more viable for fully electric vehicles by researching possibilities for improving binder materials.
The students’ projects focused on improving range, weight and safety of lithium-ion batteries. Their mentor in the lab was Dr. Jianlin Li, research and development staff in the Energy and Transportation Science Division.
Li first provided the students with an overview of the research projects. Each student chose a specific project that they found most interesting and then received lab safety training and reviewed scientific literature related to their projects.
“We worked with the students at the beginning, showing them how to carry out experiments and operate instruments before we felt comfortable for them to operate by themselves,” said Li, who developed weekly timelines and held weekly meetings with the students.
Each of the students came to the lab with a unique motivation for applying to the Volkswagen research program, which sponsors students from select Tennessee colleges.
“I am curious by nature,” said Griffey. “What I enjoyed about my physics class is that it explained not only how things work but also why.”
Griffey enjoyed the benefits of working along other scientists. “This has shown me that there is usually more than one way to do something and that the first way that presents itself to you is not always the best way.”
Perfecting the science of 3D printing
When you place three students from three engineering fields in a lab for ten weeks with a single goal, great things can happen.
Travron Taylor, a civil engineering student at UTC joined two student colleagues to further optimize three-dimensional, or 3-D, printing technology.
“Each of us is studying a different discipline of engineering, but we found our strengths and worked well as a team to accomplish our goals and beat deadlines,” Taylor said.
Taylor has always been interested in the automobile industry, so the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program was a perfect fit for him. When he applied for the program early in 2013, he knew automotive engineering research would be fun and provide him with hands-on engineering research in an innovative atmosphere.
Mentor Mark Buckner of ORNL Measurement Science and Systems Engineering Division said the students exceeded his expectations—something the trio attributed to their complementary teamwork.
The student research team spent the summer looking at how to incorporate design optimization using differential evolution into additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is gaining popularity and is better known to the general public as 3-D printing. Improving designs with an optimization algorithm using differential evolution is a new and novel concept.
These students also had the opportunity to participate in weekly seminars highlighting cutting-edge scientific research from across ORNL.
Mechanical engineering student researches material for lighter-weight cars
Gasoline prices are still well above $3 a gallon, there’s a growing population of environmentally friendly drivers, and new governmental fuel standards. The potential to reduce U.S. petroleum use by 25 percent sounds nice, but is it possible?
Zeke Sudbury, a mechanical engineering student at UTC thinks so.
Under the direction of mentor Bob Norris of the Carbon Fiber and Composites Group at ORNL, Sudbury worked on research designed to develop a material that will make cars lighter. Lighter cars improve fuel economy.
Research into lighter weight materials for vehicles has increased since the Obama administration finalized new fuel economy regulations standards in 2012. The new standards state that by model year 2025, automotive manufacturers must produce a fleet average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon.
Sudbury’s research project has shown that a combination of the carbon and glass fiber composites may prove to be a viable solution.
“A selective placement hybrid composite is a glass composite that uses carbon only where it is needed,” he said. “This process keeps the part at a price that is competitive to conventional metal and cheaper than an all carbon part.”
If this material is utilized widely in the domestic automotive industry, Sudbury said it has the potential to reduce petroleum demand by approximately 2 million barrels per day—which translates to nearly 25 percent of U.S. petroleum use by passenger automobiles.
Sudbury’s research team hopes to file a patent for its project and has begun the filing process within ORNL.
“In an academic setting, the experience has shown me how to apply basic engineering principles to solve real world problems,” he said. “My work at ORNL also benefits me outside the classroom because the experience should give me a competitive edge to graduate school applications.”
The Big Picture in Thin Films
When Sarah Highlander applied for the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program, the UTC senior longed to participate in research at ORNL and appreciated Volkswagen’s support of local students. She didn’t expect to come out of the program contemplating a new plan for her future.
“Before I came to ORNL this summer, I was not even considering graduate school, but my mentor and several others have convinced me it would be a wise option,” said Highlander, who is now exploring the possibility of pursuing a graduate degree in either chemical or materials engineering.
Highlander got the big picture of materials engineering by observing experiments, testing, and compiling data in the various stages of research relating to the optical and electrical properties of thin films—research that could be used to produce solar windows, advanced automobile sensors, and flexible electronics.
Many scientists with a variety of specialties are involved in developing and characterizing these thin film samples, allowing Highlander to work alongside several specialized scientists during her internship, which is a valuable and rare experience for the typical undergraduate student.
“At first, the biggest challenge was how to find credible publications. The field was so broad that I had a hard time narrowing my scope and only looking for what was important,” she said. After help from the ORNL librarians and a few weeks of practice, she developed a reliable system and became much more efficient in her comparisons.
With all the hands-on research and interaction with scientists from multiple disciplines, she also learned the value of communication and flexibility—lessons that will stay with her no matter which direction her future takes her.
ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance research and education, protect public health and the environment and strengthen national security. Within science education, ORAU develops and manages workforce development programs, from elementary school through college, for corporate and federal clients.
Contributing writer: Amy Dunn
Photography: Lynn Freeny, U.S. Department of Energy