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On Campus

By Robert Gardner

SIM CENTRAL

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.”

 

3-D MOUSE

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.

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