Research Experience for Undergraduates Mentor Program, 18-R9718

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Principal Investigators
Danny M. Deffenbaugh
Kathy V. Castillo

Inclusive Dates:  06/05/07 – 08/10/07

Background -  Southern Methodist University competed for and was selected by the National Science Foundation to perform a program for Research Experience for Undergraduates in experimental fluid dynamics. SMU requested that SwRI support this program by allowing SwRI summer students working in experimental fluid dynamics to participate in this effort. A wide variety of research projects is being conducted in the Mechanical Engineering Department at SMU, much of which is experimental fluid dynamics in nature. The experimental nature of these research projects provides a rewarding hands-on experience for undergraduate students. Engineers are likely to be active learners, and active learning can be a more effective teaching method than lecturing. Involving undergraduate students in experimental research projects enhances their learning experience, allows them to learn about the research environment, and provides work experience that is applicable to future work in industry or graduate school. Additionally, such activities also help to retain students in undergraduate programs and attract students to study engineering at the graduate level. Retention is an important issue because the demand for engineers in the United States is expected to increase in the near future, while the number of students planning to study engineering is expected to remain steady or decline.

Approach - The objectives of this IR project were to provide mentors and supplemental funds for five students at SwRI in the summer 2007 to participate in the SMU seminars and end-of-program poster presentations; and sponsor one student at SMU who could participate in a collaborative research program between SwRI and SMU (under a separately funded project) or a local student who could continue an internship at SwRI for the next several years (under a separately funded project). The overarching theme of the research the students participated in involved fluid dynamics experimentation and measurement. To introduce the students to this theme and provide them with basic tools for their research, they were required to attend a series of six seminars created by SMU: Introduction, Purpose of Measurements, Uncertainty Analysis, Avoiding Mistakes, Written Presentation of Results, and Oral Presentation of Results.

Accomplishments - Six seminars were presented. The schedule did not interfere greatly with the students' laboratory research objectives and provided a look at broader issues in mechanical measurements and an opportunity for the students to interact outside of the laboratory. While the seminars provided important background information for the students, their primary research experience was through their SwRI client-funded research projects and interaction with their assigned SwRI mentors. Special effort was made to ensure this experience matched the students' interests as closely as possible. An integral part of the students' research experience was effective communication of the results. The students shared their results with fellow REU participants using a PowerPoint presentation and a poster. Two of the SMU faculty members traveled to SwRI to listen to the presentations and judge the posters. The project supported these faculty members for their participation.

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