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Future City Competition Hosted by UT Sparks Engineering Imagination

On January 21, middle-schoolers from across the state converged at UT to participate in the 25th Anniversary Future City Competition to address The Power of Public Space. The theme of this year’s competition challenges students to design innovative, multiuse public spaces that serve a city’s diverse population.

The competition brought together students who have been hard at work on their Future City projects since returning to school in the fall. The 36 participants comprised twelve teams who joined more than 40,000 others from 1,350 schools in 37 regions who are engaged in similar competitions.

Local engineering firm, LDA, sponsored the regional competition, which was judged by WBIR newscaster, Daniel Sechtin. “At LDA, we believe in building stronger, happier communities through the practice of civil and environmental engineering and a major part of that is developing future STEM professionals,” says Jason Brooks, PE President and CEO of LDA. “Future City is the ideal competition to introduce middle school students to the engineering process and help them understand the role of engineers in building their cities and communities. Our goal is to spark an interest and passion in the student for engineering and science.”

CEE Lecturer Jenny Retherford served as the UT coordinator for the event. She was surprised to see 50 more people attending than was expected. “Future City was designed as an after-school program, so I was pleased to see that so many whole families showed up to support the student involved in the competition,” she said. “It’s clear that this program is having an impact at the family level.”

CEE Alumna Awarded $250,000 Investment for Water Conservation Technology

CEE alumna Jessica Linville graduated from UT in 2013 with a PhD in Environmental Engineering where she researched improvements to cellulosic ethanol fermentation at BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) in collaboration with ORNL and under the direction of Dr. Chris Cox.

Today, she credits UT with giving her the opportunity to grow as an independent researcher. She was encouraged to think creatively, to look at the larger problem and select her own research focus, as well as to foster her own collaborations with other scientists at ORNL. As it turns out, these skills positioned her well as the founder and CEO of an innovative company called RWEDI Water, which was recently awarded a $250,000 investment from the University of Chicago Innovation Fund. The Innovation fund invests in promising technologies developed by faculty and students of the University of Chicago and its affiliates. Linville became eligible to compete for the funds through her post-doctoral appointment at Argonne National Lab.

The award was granted for the RWEDI Water purification technology that provides a low-cost, energy-efficient alternative for use in cooling towers. Cooling towers are used to cool a building much like home air conditioning systems, except that they use evaporating water instead of the outside air, which is more efficient for large buildings. As the water evaporates, dissolved ions cause scaling and corrosion buildup in the cooling tower. Currently, chemical treatments are used to minimize the scale and corrosion, but their effectiveness is limited. As the ions build up in the cooling tower, the water must be removed and freshwater added to lower the concentration of the ions. The RWEDI Water system uses electricity to remove ions that cause scaling and corrosion from the cooling tower makeup water stream.

Right now, RWEDI Water is focused on cooling towers at mid-sized institutions in the southwestern part of the U.S., such as universities, hospitals, data centers and airports. These types of organizations often have between 4-10 cooling towers and use between 50-200 million gallons of fresh water per year. Geographically, water conservation in the Southwest is more urgent because of extreme and lasting droughts. Additionally, water in these areas has a  high potential to form scale, which adds to the difficulty of water conservation. Linville adds that mid-sized institutions typically have sustainability goals, making them more willing to adopt new technology.

The RWEDI Water system is based on Argonne National Laboratory’s patented “resin-wafer” material, which is more effecting in controlling scale and corrosion than traditional chemical treatment systems. It also achieves a 25 percent decrease in cooling tower operational costs  by decreasing makeup water requirements by 20 percent, decreasing chemical use by 40 percent, and reducing maintenance costs. Linville built the business model for the technology and has an option for the license.

“Freshwater stress and scarcity is one of the most challenging emerging issues in the United States due to rapid population growth, urbanization, and improved standards of living,” she says. “With over 500,000 cooling towers using nearly 4 percent of all freshwater withdraws (5 trillion gallons per year), cooling tower water use is a major concern for mid-sized institutions. An efficient water purification technology for cooling towers will make an enormous impact of U.S. water resources.”

The funding Linville received will allow her RWEDI Water team to build and install a pilot unit at a cooling tower in their target market to generate critical performance data and to attract additional interest from sales partners and customers. The company will need an additional $1 million investment for the next stage in product development, which involves custom fabrication of the patented resin-wafer material,  developing the final look of the product with the help of an engineering firm, and contracting with a manufacturing company to make it. RWEDI Water’s go-to-market strategy includes partnering with the water treatment services companies who service the cooling tower. Linville is hopeful that RWEDI Water will receive the next investment by the Fall of 2017 in order to initiate sales by the following summer.

“Even as a graduate student, Jessica was very independent and resourceful in coming up with ideas for the direction of her research and making the connections to see her plans through to completion,” says Cox. “At the same time, she has always been driven to contribute to practical problems facing industry. It is exciting to see her use her skills and interests to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity at an early stage of her career.”

Jon Hathaway: Love of nature unites work, free time

At UT: Having joined UT in 2013, Hathaway has become a sought-after expert on uban water sustainability. He is an expert on storm runoff and the impact it has on cities and on public health, as well as “green infrastructure,” which is the concept of using natural means to control storm water. He earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering before obtaining both his master’s degree and doctorate in biological and agricultural engineering, all at North Carolina State University.

Read the full article here.

CEE Graduate Student Presents Research at Amazon Research Symposium

CEE Graduate student Yang Zhang, advised by Professor Lee Han, was invited to present his research at Amazon Research Symposium, in Seattle, January 26 – 27. His research titled “Scheduling for Timely Delivery in a Large Scale Dispatch System,” tackles the challenge of providing on-time package/passenger delivery services under time conflict and high demand situations. He developed an optimization model to guarantee reduced delays, and trains machine learning models to predict travel time under dynamic traffic conditions. His research has broad business applications, such as last and middle-mile delivery, Amazon Flex, Amazon Prime Now, ride-sharing scheduling, etc.

Around 70 researchers from all over the world were invited to present their research in the fields of Operations Research, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision and other.

CEE Transportation Student Wins Three-Minute Thesis Competition

CEE transportation graduate student Yang Zhang won the Three-Minute Thesis competition at the Southeastern Transportation Center Student Spotlight event during the 2017 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., January 8-12. His presentation was titled “Build a Computational Brain for Ride Sharing.” Yang’s research uses optimization and machine learning approaches to improve people’s ride sharing experience, by saving their time. Students who competed represented seven other universities in the Southeast.

“I’m very proud of Yang for achieving so much in such a short amount of time in a new field for him,” said CEE Professor Lee Han, faculty advisor to Zhang. “His background in computer science has served him and us well.”

CEE Graduate Student Receives Award from Transportation Research Board

Kwaku Boakye, a graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The University of Tennessee received an award on January 10, 2017 as the outstanding Ghanaian participant in the Transportation Research Board (TRB) 96th Annual Meeting held in Washington DC from January 8 -12, 2017.

The TRB meeting program covers all modes of transportation, with more than 5,000 presentations in over 800 sessions and workshops, addressing topics of interest to policy makers, administrators, practitioners, researchers, and representatives of government, industry, and academic institutions from all over the world. At this year’s annual meeting, Kwaku presented four papers which he had submitted to the TRB for publications and presentations.

The award is set up by the executives of the Ghana Transportation Professionals Forum of North America (GTPF-NA) to encourage young Ghanaian transportation engineering students to pursue academic excellence in their program of studies. GTPF-NA is a private, non-profit group of multi-disciplinary professionals with a mission to promote innovation and sustainable developments in transportation infrastructure and related systems through research, professional practice, and outreach.

At the meeting event, the executive board of GTPF_NA awards students with the highest number of publications/presentations accepted by the TRB. The second edition of the award (instituted last year) was won this year by Kwaku Boakye who was presented with a plaque and token financial sum by Dr. Senanu Ashiabor, president of GTPF-NA.

In Memoriam, Bert Mullins

Former CEE faculty member Bert C. Mullins died in Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, VA, on November 4, 2016, at age 90. Bert was a veteran of two wars, World War II and Korean. He came to UT in Civil Engineering in 1960, after leaving the military as a First Lieutenant. At UT he received a BSCE degree in 1962 and an MS in Sanitary Engineering in 1963. Later he received an MSCE from Georgia Tech and returned to UT where he taught Civil Engineering classes for ten years. He was appreciated as a teacher by the undergraduate students and was voted ASCE Faculty Man of the Year by the students his last year to teach before he resigned and began a career as an engineering consultant. Two sons also graduated in engineering at The University of Tennessee:  Roger Mullins in C.E. in 1977 and Clifford Mullins in what was then Engineering Science in 1979. In 1986, the Mullins family moved to Abington, VA, where he served as General Manager of the Washington County Service Authority for seven and one-half years. Then he formed his own firm, Bert C. Mullins and Associates. Bert will be remembered as an excellent student scholar, an effective teacher, a congenial colleague and a genuinely good man.

Papanicolaou Named Fellow of the ASCE

Thanos PapanicolaouCEE Professor Thanos Papanicolaou was recently honored with the distinction of being named a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). This distinction is only granted to about one percent of the organization’s 150,000 members in the civil engineering profession.

ASCE stands at the forefront of a profession that plans, designs, constructs and operates society’s economic and social engine – the built environment – while protecting and restoring the natural environment. It is a leading provider of technical and professional conferences and continuing education, the world’s largest publisher of civil engineering content, and an authoritative source for codes and standards that protect the public.

Three Tickle College of Engineering Faculty Receive UTRF Backing

The UT Research Foundation announced its 2017 winners for maturation funding on Thursday, with faculty from three Tickle College of Engineering departments among the winners.

Daniel Costinett, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Anming Hu, of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering; and Baoshan Huang, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, each won backing.

Costinett, an assistant professor, was recognized for his project dealing with wireless charging technology for electronics.

Hu, also an assistant professor, was honored for his work in developing novel materials through 3-D printing applications.

Huang, an associate professor, was chosen for a project he is conducting with UT Institute of Agriculture Professor Xiaofei Ye on utilizing waste produced during biofuel production.

Along with five other winning teams, their research projects will each receive $15,000 in backing from UTRF to further explore their ideas.

A full release on the awards can be seen here.

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