NMSU researchers work to solve infrastructure challenges, members of new Engineering Research Center

NMSU civil engineering professor Paola Bandini, right, works in her laboratory with graduate students Hend Hussien Al-Shatnawi, left, and Rachelle Mason. (Photo by Darren Phillips)
NMSU civil engineering professor Paola Bandini, right, works in her laboratory with graduate students Hend Hussien Al-Shatnawi, left, and Rachelle Mason. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

In August, New Mexico State University was announced as one of four universities in a new National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center to develop advances in geotechnical engineering that will provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest infrastructure development and environmental challenges.

NMSU’s College of Engineering joins a consortium of university, industry and government partners, led by Arizona State University. The $18.5 million NSF award establishes the Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG) to expand the emerging field of biogeotechnical engineering.

Paola Bandini, NMSU civil engineering associate professor, CBBG co-principal investigator and leader of the center’s work at NMSU, was honored at NMSU’s Scholarly Excellence Rally Friday, Oct. 30. She is directing the center’s work on infrastructure construction, one of four research thrusts of the program.

Engineers and scientists at NMSU, ASU, Georgia Tech and the University of California, Davis are collaborating to develop methods to use or mimic biological processes for engineering the ground in ways that reduce construction costs while mitigating natural hazards and environmental degradation.

“The Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics will learn from nature,” Bandini said. “We will learn from biological processes. Nature has had 3.8 billion years of evolution to develop and perfect, very elegant, efficient solutions to problems.

“We’re going to learn from those biological processes to improve the methods and find solutions for infrastructure-related construction, maintenance and operations; to reduce the carbon footprint of our construction methods; to reduce the ecological and environmental impact of industries like mining and construction; and to make better and more sustainable use of the non-renewable resources we have,” she said.

The center’s four research thrusts include hazard mitigation, environmental protection and restoration, infrastructure construction and resource development.

The second main objective of the center is to inspire a diverse group of engineers and scientists to provide the associate workforce necessary for this new field of biogeotechnical engineering.

“In addition to the university partnership, we have education, outreach and diversity partners including community colleges, school districts and science museums that will work with us to deliver the educational materials that we will develop through the center,” Bandini said. “The CBBG also includes a strong partnership program with private industry and government agencies like state departments of transportation, cities and counties that are owners and managers of the civil infrastructure.”

The center has more than 12 companies and state government agencies confirmed as industrial partners to support the research initiatives along with 15 universities from across the globe.

A multidisciplinary team of nine NMSU researchers specialized in civil engineering, geotechnical and environmental engineering, computer science, geological sciences and biology will participate in various CBBG projects.

In the first year, NMSU research projects will include bio-inspired soil reinforcement, a study of the mechanisms of root growth and mechanical reinforcement in unsaturated soil; bio-enhanced removal of contaminants in groundwater; revegetation of degraded top soils, stripped lands or salinized and eroded soils; and development of self-motile probe for multi-sensor deployment for subsurface investigations.

In addition, NMSU’s Arrowhead Center will help implement technology transfer and pursue patents for technologies created at NMSU through CBBG’s research.

The NSF award will fund the center for five years. NSF support can be continued for an additional five years; following that period the center is expected to become self-supporting.

To learn more about the CBBG visit http://biogeotechnics.org/home.

NMSU cancer researchers collaborate for a cure

Ryan Ashley, NMSU professor, studies proteins that affect breast cancer. (NMSU photo by Angela Simental) SEP14
Ryan Ashley, NMSU professor, studies proteins that affect breast cancer. (NMSU photo by Angela Simental) SEP14

Since their arrival to New Mexico State University in 2009, Kevin and Jessica P. Houston’s investigations into cancer research have developed into a multidisciplinary partnership, coupling cancer biology with engineering for this husband and wife team.

“We are very passionate about cancer research,” said Kevin Houston, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Cancer research is the focus of not only our collaboration, but most of our work at NMSU.”

Kevin and Jessica, an associate professor of chemical engineering, are working to design minimally invasive diagnostic measurement capabilities that can be used in clinics to monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatments.

Left to right: Biology professors Jeff Arterburn and Brad Shuster conduct cancer-related research supported by the Cowboys for Cancer Research (C4CR) Endowed Fund at the NMSU Foundation. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)
Left to right: Biology professors Jeff Arterburn and Brad Shuster conduct cancer-related research supported by the Cowboys for Cancer Research (C4CR) Endowed Fund at the NMSU Foundation. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

“This collaboration was a natural fit due to the diversity of our research efforts,” Kevin Houston said. “Jessica builds instruments that have unique cell measurement capabilities, and my cancer cell studies benefit from the instrumentation developed in Jessica’s laboratory. We believe this research is high-risk, yet high payoff, in that it leads to the development of valuable diagnostic and therapeutic tools for cancer.”

While a number of NMSU academics are involved in cancer-related research, the Houston’s project is one of a handful supported by the Cowboys for Cancer Research (C4CR) Endowed Fund at the NMSU Foundation. C4CR is a local not-for-profit corporation raising funds in support of ongoing cancer research at NMSU and the University of New Mexico.

For the second year in a row, Cowboys for Cancer Research will raise a portion of their research funding through “NMSU Aggies are Tough Enough to Wear Pink,” a volunteer group dedicated to raising breast cancer awareness and funds on behalf of C4CR. At the Pink Aggie football game on Saturday, Oct. 24, the group will make their check presentation to C4CR.

10/16/2015: NMSU chemical engineering professor Jessica Houston, left, and NMSU biochemistry professor Kevin Houston demonstrate how they use their custom-built flow cytometer to evaluate cancer cell cultures. Jessica Houston and her research team developed the flow cytometer in her lab, which in turn is used by Kevin Houston to conduct research in his cancer cell biochemistry lab. (Photo by Darren Phillips)
NMSU chemical engineering professor Jessica Houston, left, and NMSU biochemistry professor Kevin Houston demonstrate how they use their custom-built flow cytometer to evaluate cancer cell cultures. Jessica Houston and her research team developed the flow cytometer in her lab, which in turn is used by Kevin Houston to conduct research in his cancer cell biochemistry lab. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

“Because Cowboys for Cancer Research funds are predominantly from New Mexico residents, it makes our work more intimate and provides a greater sense of responsibility to ensure we are doing the best we can to help our state and others,” said Ryan Ashley, assistant professor of animal and range sciences.

Ashley’s project investigates the role of progestins in an important signaling pathway activated in breast cancer that may lead to new targets for cancer therapy.

“If it were not for the Cowboys for Cancer Research support,” he said, “our lab would not have been able to perform our studies, and thus would not have discovered the differences that natural versus synthetic progestins play in breast cells.”

Brad Shuster, associate professor of biology, explained “the climate for research funding is difficult and, as a result, funding decisions by federal agencies tend to err on the cautious side.”

“Cowboys for Cancer Research funding has provided us critical seed funding to pursue an idea that would not otherwise have been funded,” he said. “We are now in a much better position to compete for federal funding as a result.”

Shuster is working to develop a new combinatorial therapeutic approach for targeting actively dividing tumor cells without the side effects associated with existing drugs.

Other NMSU researchers benefiting from C4CR are Shelley Lusetti, associate professor of biology, and Jeff Arterburn, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Lusetti is working to increase understanding of a mechanism for DNA repair that is important for chemotherapy and cancer prevention. Arterburn has been working to unlock the potential of a unique kind of estrogen receptor (GPR 30) to diagnose and treat breast cancer.

Collaborations among researchers at NMSU are leading the way to new discoveries thanks to funding from organizations such as Cowboys for Cancer Research.

“The origin of these funds from our local community provides a direct connection to the research, and places personal context to the impacts of cancer on our families and friends that is extremely motivational for the researchers,” Arterburn said.

While the implications of these cancer research efforts extend beyond the NMSU campus, the impact of this deadly disease continues to hit close to home.

“I lost my mom to cancer,” Ashley said. “Performing research that impacts cancer biology provides a personal conviction to work wholeheartedly at all we do in the lab.”

For more information on Cowboys for Cancer Research, visit c4cr.com. For more information on NMSU Aggies are Tough Enough to Wear Pink, visit pinkaggie.com.

NMSU PACE team develops mobile transportation device

Industrial Engineering Professor Delia Rosales-Valles has been the adviser to the NMSU PACE team for the two-year project to build a Portable Assisted Mobile Device. (NMSU photo by Emilee Cantrell)
Industrial Engineering Professor Delia Rosales-Valles has been the adviser to the NMSU PACE team for the two-year project to build a Portable Assisted Mobile Device. (NMSU photo by Emilee Cantrell)

In July, engineering students from New Mexico State University will travel to Turin, Italy, having earned a spot in the second phase of a two-year global collaboration project involving institutions in 11 countries. The team designed and fabricated a mobile device for individual transportation within urban settings and will compete against their peers in the Portable Assisted Mobile Device vehicle competition.

The competition is sponsored by PACE (Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education), an organization that links GM, Autodesk, Hewlett-Packard, Siemens PLM Software, Sun Microsystems, and their global operations, to support strategically selected academic institutions worldwide to develop the automotive product lifecycle management team of the future.

A design drawing of a Portable Assisted Mobile Device. NMSU engineering students were selected to travel to Turin, Italy this summer for a competition to take their project from initial design concept to full-scale manufacturing including design of the proposed manufacturing facility.
A design drawing of a Portable Assisted Mobile Device. NMSU engineering students were selected to travel to Turin, Italy this summer for a competition to take their project from initial design concept to full-scale manufacturing including design of the proposed manufacturing facility.

Patricia Sullivan, assistant dean for the College of Engineering, is the PACE integrator at NMSU. She said the PACE partnership provides a unique opportunity for student-industry collaboration in the design and manufacturing process.

In July 2013, seven teams from 32 universities presented their design concepts for the PAMD competition in Pasadena, California. NMSU was part of one of the teams selected to advance to the next phase of the competition.

NMSU is a member of a team composed of students from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, Jilin University of China, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, the Instituto Politecnico Nacional in Mexico and Hochschule RheinMain University in Germany.

This phase of the PAMD competition focuses on advanced manufacturing concepts – the quick transfer of science and technology into manufactured products and processes. The goal is to teach students how to take a project from initial design concept to full-scale manufacturing including design of the proposed manufacturing facility. Each team is required to meet specified weight, size and functional parameters. Other aspects of manufacturing considered in the project include ergonomics, comfort of the product, build of materials required for manufacturing and the potential market for the product.

Delia J. Valles-Rosales, associate professor of industrial engineering, is overseeing the project at NMSU and works with students in designing and planning the facility where the device will be manufactured.

NMSU’s role includes the manufacturing of several parts of the device, the business plan, device design and large-scale manufacturing facility planning. Valles said the students will also complete marketing analysis, research, design and prototype development and the assembly and mass production of the device.

Brendan P. Sullivan, PACE project lead at NMSU, said one of the challenges the team encountered was bringing together a large group of people with different levels of expertise; design changes from the NMSU team as well as those of their partner international teams had to be considered.

The interdisciplinary aspects of the PACE project allow for a truly cooperative team, Sullivan said. Should a problem arise, working cooperatively to address different areas of the project allows for easier integration of change. The major learning comes from getting familiarized with other individuals, contacts and application of project management skills.

“As part of the competition, we use the same software General Motors and Siemens use, so we are not only aware of any difficulties those companies may encounter, but how industry operates,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said good facility design is essential to manufacturing a product. The PACE project required the facilities team to create a comprehensive build of materials for actual production. The project required additional consideration of regulatory constraints and safety protocols.

Ken Ruble, operations manager of the College of Engineering Aggie Innovation Space, has been advising the team making sure that deadlines are met and designs are validated. Many of the components for the construction of the prototype have been designed and created using 3-D printers in the Aggie Innovation Space, a new facility for innovation and entrepreneurship within the college made possible through a partnership with Intel.

Valles said the initial prototype device is being designed for use in Brazil where mass transportation is widely used. This device would provide an alternative and convenient mode of limited distance transportation in an urban setting.

“The students involved in this project not only collaborate and meet people from other universities across the U.S. and abroad, but also develop invaluable engineering and team-building skills,” Valles said.

Colt Capurro, mechanical engineering senior, PACE manufacturing team lead and member of the NMSU Rodeo team, said he has learned to apply his classroom knowledge of the engineering design process during his involvement in this project.

“You can’t just design and go directly to manufacturing; there are many steps to the design process that have to be validated and tested,” he said, adding that the PACE project gives students real-world experience.

Capurro said there are plans to make the device more customizable, such as different color schemes, different motors, faster models, more storage space, and smaller or compact models. The device was designed to be foldable, lightweight, and easy to carry. The PAMD was also designed to use a charging station similar to those used for electric cars.

NMSU College of Engineering student team members traveling to the PACE competition in Turin, Italy this summer include Sullivan, Capurro, Oscar Torres and Mauricio Garcia. General Motors plans to manufacture the winning device beginning in 2016.

Watch the video on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nFLGBTPyvQ&feature=youtu.be.

For more information on this, and other NMSU stories, visit the NMSU News Center.

NMSU engineering students deliver product to NASA

White_Sands_Sniffer_NASA_NMSU_1375805970
This is the White Sands Test Facility Sniffer developed for NASA by NMSU electrical engineering students included Dylan Anderson, CJ Barberan, Chris Scherer and Chenyu Liang. (Courtesy photo)

Date: 2013-08-06
Writer: Emily C. Kelley, 575-646-1957, [email protected]

Not all recent college graduates can say that they have designed real world products for delivery to government organizations like NASA, but that is exactly what four New Mexico State University electrical engineering students did during their final year of undergraduate study.

Dylan Anderson, CJ Barberan, Chris Scherer and Chenyu Liang worked as a team to develop and deliver a project they call the White Sands Test Facility Sniffer to NASA as their senior capstone project, a graduation requirement for the NMSU College of Engineering.

Asher Lieberman, a project manager for NASA’s Propulsion Test Office at White Sands Test Facility, and an NMSU College of Engineering alumnus, presented the concept to the team of students during capstone orientations held at the beginning of the fall semester.

“The senior capstone project is absolutely critical to an undergraduate engineering degree. Our degree programs are jam-packed full of theories and techniques,” Anderson said. “While it is important to learn the technical background of engineering, it is equally important to solve a real problem and perform engineering in the real world. It is even better if the project actually engineers a final product or deliverable.”

Lieberman explained to the team that one potential hazard of working in a rocket engine test facility is that employees could be exposed to dangerous chemicals through leaks on piping systems, especially during the drastic daily temperature changes experienced in southern New Mexico. The NASA site has pressurized systems responsible for carrying hazardous and reactive chemicals to test stands. NASA is developing a chemical sensor to detect potential leaks.

“The problem for us was to develop a platform that could deploy this sensor to various locations throughout the NASA site and prevent personnel from being exposed to leaks,” Anderson said.

The students started with a basic robot platform, the Super Droid Robot SD6 Chassis. They added navigations systems, sensors and processors to the robot.

Barberan developed an error-corrected differential GPS system and selected ultrasonic range sensors with the ability to detect range out to five meters for the sniffer, while Liang and Scherer developed the sensor packages for the weather station on the sniffer. The weather station provides temperature, wind speed, wind direction and humidity data in real-time. Anderson was the primary software developer for the team and developed the operational interface of the system.

“With these new capabilities, we will have opportunities to make observations and take measurements without sending people into the area,” Lieberman said. “The rover the team developed for us allows us to sense things that may happen when people aren’t even at the site. It really gives us an opportunity to take some existing technologies and innovations and bring them together for us to do something new.”

The sniffer is intuitively controlled using an X-Box controller, an innovation Lieberman hadn’t expected.

“Students bring new, fresh ideas to problem statements,” Lieberman said. “The controller is easy to use and more intuitive than what we probably would have developed – and, it’s cheaper.”

“There was code available for the controller, plus, the ergonomics of the controller made it a good choice,” Barberan said.

The sniffer has contact charging capability, similar to that of the Roomba-style vacuum cleaner. The robot base is rugged and is capable of operating in many different environments, both inside and outside.

Some of the many challenges the team encountered included learning LabVIEW, a programming language; working with the federal budget and acquisition process and finding products compatible with the programming language.

“We had wanted the robot in December, but it wasn’t delivered until April,” Barberan said. “The whole Super Droid Robot cost around $10,000, and trying to convince them (the government) that we needed the robot right away was hard.”

The team had completed most of the design work before the Super Droid was ever delivered.

They assembled and tested the sniffer on campus during April, and had a couple of problems to work through.

“The CompactRIO processor just stopped working,” Barberan said. “Working through that problem was like a rite of passage for us.”

After completing work on the sniffer, the team presented their work to NASA, other undergraduate engineering students and a professor.

Lieberman was impressed with the product, but more so by the students, who were given a $35,000 budget and were able to deliver the product on time and on budget.

“This was an incredible bunch of students,” he said. “They are really talented.”

Watch this video on YouTube at http://youtu.be/h1Uj71VueFk

For more information on this, and other NMSU stories, visit the NMSU News Center.