Interdisciplinary research is blooming with the magnolias. At Mississippi
State University’s Computational Simulation and Design Center (Sim
Center) the work of over 30 students, researchers, and professors
in fields ranging from art to aerospace engineering flourishes. Sim
Center uses high-performance computing to develop technology that
can be used by designers to study the interaction of fluids with engineering
systems. Ship and airplane designers, for example, would use the technology
to study the drag effect of water on a ship hull or of air on the
body of an airplane. The work is cutting edge and involves everything
from torpedoes and rockets to automobiles and blood pumps. “Some of
our technology was used to study what happened during the recent shuttle
disaster,” says David L. Marcum, mechanical engineering professor
and director of the center.
Along with technology development, engineering education is part
of the center’s mission. Indeed, as an outgrowth of NSF’s Engineering
Research Center program, integrating education with research and industry
has been an overarching goal. Marcum says the center’s employees include
more than 20 master’s and doctoral students and 10 undergraduate students.
“A lot of these undergraduate students had CAD experience and they
knew something about geometry and physics,” Marcum says. “They’ve
been able to make a big impact on the research.” The students draw,
among other things, pictures of the propellers, rudders, and automobile
shells. They even work animating the fluid flow around them. Animation
itself has grown to become a significant part of the center, and the
university. “There is now an animation degree you can get that originated
in the center,” Marcum says.
Christopher Martin, a sophomore aerospace engineering major, has
been doing animation work for technology that simulates airflow around
a moving automobile. “It’s been challenging,” he says. “But I’ve enjoyed
it.” Martin credits the center with helping him find some direction
within his discipline. “When I started, I didn’t know what field of
aerospace engineering I wanted to get into. Now I do.”
With the advent of the mouse in the late ’60s, computer users were
allowed to navigate the two dimensions of the computer screen. Lately,
a need to traverse increasingly intricate virtual worlds has arisen.
Architectural models of buildings, the wings of a jet plane, and the
surface of alien planets are just a few of the worlds facing today’s
computer users. Three Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) electrical
engineering students developed a mouse capable of tackling such environments.
Daniel Wallance, Wojciech Krajewski, and Andrea Baker went to Ireland
as part of their senior design project and worked for 10 weeks in
the fall to develop their mouse.
Living at the University of Limerick, they worked at AMT Ireland,
a public-private company that works closely with the university to
make salable products of its research. “They take crazy ideas and
see if they can make them work,” Daniel Wallance says .
The company’s “crazy idea” was to have the students build a prototype
for a 3-dimensional mouse. The system they designed involved a series
of magnets and sensors arranged in a grid of one centimeter squares.
AMT Ireland was impressed with their work. “They have demonstrated
the resourcefulness required of any good design engineer,” said John
Harris, research engineer at AMT Ireland.
Robert Gardner is an associate editor at Prism.