Momentum Volume 3 | UCF MAE | 2018-19

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UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Orlando, Florida | Volume 3 | 2018-19

UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | 1

Contents Letter from the Chair


MAE Milestones


First in Florida


Momentum is a biannual publication that highlights the achievements of the students, faculty, staff and alumni from the University of Central Florida’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Exploding Stars



From the Stars to the Steelers


All Fired Up


Page 6


A Summer of Learning


The $25,000 Turbine


Marisa Ramiccio Communications Coordinator

Two Steps Forward


Lure Design Graphic Design




CONNECT WITH US Page 8 @ucfmae Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering University of Central Florida 12760 Pegasus Blvd. Orlando, FL 32816-2450 Cover photo courtesy of UCF Athletics

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letter from the

chair The University of Central Florida celebrated a major milestone this past fall — the 50th anniversary of our first classes held. The College of Engineering and Computer Science celebrated this anniversary as a founding college of what was then known as Florida Technological University.

At the department level, the milestone marked 50 years of classes in mechanical engineering. And as we’ve reflected on the early years of the college and department this year, we’ve also looked ahead to the exciting future that our students and faculty are building. We just launched our newest degree, the Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering, which offers students the opportunity, through coursework and an abundance of research opportunities, to meet the highest standards of academic achievement. The program will also support the growth of the aerospace industry as well as support existing collaborations with Florida universities and colleges. Our faculty are reaching higher and further than they ever have before with their research. As you’ll

read in this issue, Assistant Professor Kareem Ahmed explains the physical mechanisms for chemical systems and exploding stars. Associate Professor Subith Vasu has gone where almost no other researcher has gone before — inside of a fire — and has come out with solutions for fighting fires, efficient engines and chemical weapons destruction. In the world of biomedical engineers, one of our newest faculty members, Assistant Professor Hwan Choi, has developed devices to improve the efficiency of prosthetics for transtibial amputees, and Lecturer Sudeshna Pal is leading the next generation of engineers in a one-of-akind summer experience. The student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineering, a group

that is not unused to winning awards and accolades, has taken 12th place internationally, and first place in the state in an annual competition. And if you tuned in to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ preseason game, you probably saw our recent aerospace engineering graduate, Matthew Wright, who signed with the team earlier this year.. I’m so proud of all that our department has achieved in the past 50 years and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the next 50 years. Go Knights! Yoav Peles, Ph.D. Director, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | 3

MAE Milestones “The university is at a unique place, at a unique time. We have a rendezvous with space and the stars.” CHARLES MILLICAN, UCF’S FIRST PRESIDENT, 1968


he University of Central Florida celebrated 50 years of classes during

this past academic year. The College of Engineering and Technology, now the College of Engineering and Computer Science, was one of the founding colleges, and mechanical engineering was a cornerstone of its curriculum. To honor this anniversary, we looked back at some of the milestones in the department’s history.


1970 Faculty member Gerald C. Ward invents and patents the Gizmohr, a rotating device made of brass gears designed to help engineers solve complex problems. 1971 Kennedy Engineering Corporation installs a $40,000 supersonic wind tunnel in the then engineering building, room 146, which is now the Mathematical Sciences Building. Photos this page: Courtesy of Special Collections & University Archives


1968 The College of Engineering and Technology offers its first classes, including undergraduate courses in mechanical engineering 1969 The Florida Board of Regents approves Ron Evans to serve as the first chair of the department. 1969 Former aerospace engineering student F. Clark Westerfield becomes a student trainee at the Kennedy Space Center’s fluid systems branch, which was responsible for the propulsion systems of the Apollo.

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1972 MAX, a Gremlin transformed into a hybrid vehicle by the Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Sciences Club, took home first place in the safety category at the international Urban Vehicle Design Competition.

Courtesy of Special Collections & University Archives

1990s 1991 Mechanical engineering

1994 The Society of

student Darrin Brunk is the first UCF student to be admitted into NASA’s Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars program.

Automotive Engineers places second in the international Mini-Baja Student Design Competition.

Courtesy of Special Collections & University Archives

1974 Faculty member Bruce Nimmo unveils the Environmental-Energy Simulator, better known as the Energy Game, designed to teach people about the realities of fossil fuels. The analog computer used to run the game was stolen in 1975, and since it was government property, the FBI was called in to investigate.

1979 The student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers wins the overall Mini Baja Competition in Tampa.


1985 Sen. Bill Nelson visits UCF and

speaks with the aerospace engineering faculty about research.

1986 The Bachelor of Science in

2000s+ 2000 The Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering is implemented.

Aerospace Engineering starts in the fall.

2012 The Center for 1988 Pegasus II, designed by the student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics takes fourth place in Aerodesign 88, an annual international aeronautical design competition.

1988 The department starts administering the NASA Summer Faculty Fellowship Program.

Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research, housed within the department, is founded.

2014 Alumnus Albert Manero, ’12, ’14, ’16, founds Limbitless Solutions, a nonprofit that 3-D prints bionic arms for children at no cost to families.

2016 MAE welcomes the first group of students into the Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering. 2019 The Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering launches.

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F1RST IN FLORIDA 6 | MOMENTUM Fall 2018-19 2019


SAE Races to the Top at International Formula Competition The black and gold formula race car built by the students in the UCF chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers placed first in the state and 12th in the nation at the 2019 Formula SAE international competition. Overall, the Knights placed 21st out of 120 teams — the highest ranking in the team’s history. “The team is thrilled to have placed the best in UCF history,” said Chaz Spirazza, an aerospace engineering major who serves as the Formula SAE powertrain and team lead. “Our success did not happen overnight though; knowledge from the past two to three years has really built up to get us to the point where we are now.” UCF’s Formula SAE team designed and built the car from scratch, as they do every year for the competition. The four-day formula race includes both static and dynamic events that test the teams on how they built the car as well as how well it races. “In static events we are judged on the engineering side of things where we must present each subsystem of our car, showing all of our calculations, design processes, build quality, testing and validation,” Spirazza said. “We also have a cost event, a business event, and the car must pass rigorous tech inspections to ensure the vehicle is safe and follows the rules of the competition.”

For the dynamic events, the teams race in different events on different tracks that test the cars on performance indicators such as fuel efficiency, acceleration and endurance. The scores from each event are totaled for the overall score. UCF beat all of the in-state competition including the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of North Florida and the Florida Institute of Technology. At the national level, the Knights beat out universities such as Purdue, Duke, Columbia and Penn State. But no accolade is more satisfying for the team than creating another milestone in UCF’s history. “Hundreds of all-nighters, thousands of hours of design, countless fundraising events, and the relentless drive of our members to perform better, learn more, and work as a team is what got us here,” Spirazza said. “The feeling of setting a school record after all this work is incredibly satisfying and rewarding.”

To learn more about SAE, visit

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UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | 7

Exploding Sta Researchers Discover Universal Mechanisms Controlling Terrestrial and Astrophysical Explosions


ype Ia supernovae are thermonuclear explosions of white dwarf stars that release more energy than the Sun emits in a billion of years. The exact mechanism of these explosions has long been a mystery – until now. In a new study published in Science Magazine, researchers detail the mechanisms that control the transition from a slow subsonic burning to supersonic detonations for terrestrial gas explosions and thermonuclear supernovae. Astronomers study Type Ia supernovae in part as a tool used to improve estimates of the expansion rate and age of the universe. The researchers from the University of Central Florida, University of Connecticut, Texas A&M University, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Air Force Research Laboratory offer details about the mechanisms that likely are involved in both Type Ia supernovae and hypersonic jet propulsion. “We defined the critical criteria where we can drive a flame to self-generate its own turbulence, spontaneously accelerate, and 8 | MOMENTUM 2018-19

transition into detonation,” says Kareem Ahmed, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and co-author of the study. “We’re using the turbulence to enhance the burning to the point where it transitions into a violent detonation. The same process is likely to occur in the thermonuclear detonation of supernovae, which are exploding stars in simple terms,” Ahmed says. “In our lab, we’re taking a relatively slow flame to where it’s propagating five times the speed of sound.” The researcher uncovered the universal criteria for a transition to detonation while exploring methods for hypersonic jet propulsion. “We explored this mechanism as we investigate supersonic burning regimes for propulsion,” Ahmed says. “The mechanism is general enough to be applied to astrophysical explosions.” The key is applying the right amount of turbulence to an unconfined flame until it starts to generate shocks and self-accelerate to produce a Mach 5 detonation wave, he says.

Applications for the discovery could include faster air and space travel and improved power generation. The discovery was made by using a unique turbulent shock tube that allowed explosions to be created and analyzed in a contained environment. Ultra-highspeed lasers and cameras were used to measure the explosions and help indicate what factors were needed to reach the point where a flame transition to a detonation. The unique turbulent shock tube facility was developed at UCF’s Propulsion and Energy Research Laboratory, for testing hypersonic combustion regimes. Co-authors of the study were Alexei Y. Poludnenko, an associate professor in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the study’s lead author; Jessica Chambers, a doctoral student in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Vadim N. Gamezo, with the Naval Research Laboratory; and Brian D. Taylor, with the Air Force Research Laboratory. The research was supported with

tars By Robert Wells

funding from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Computing resources were provided by the U.S. Department of Defense High Performance Computing Modernization Program under the Frontier project award, and by the Naval Research Laboratory. Ahmed earned his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from University at Buffalo – The State University of New York. He worked at Pratt & Whitney Military Engines and Old Dominion University prior to joining UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, part of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, in 2015. He is a faculty member of The Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research, associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, AFRL Faculty Research Fellow, and a member of UCF’s Energy Conversion and Propulsion Cluster.

Hypersonic Travel “Turbulent mixing” is also the key to another research project of Ahmed’s, one that could allow people to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 30 minutes or fewer. The team in the PERL Lab found that subsonic flames, like those in a candle or a campfire, can be turned into hypersonic flames. With a certain amount of turbulent mixing, hypersonic flames burn at an extremely high rate. This discovery can provide insight into dealing with intense fires and massive explosions, but it can also be used to create engines and aircrafts that would allow people to travel by plane or train from one coast to another in fewer than 30 minutes. The goal is to use this knowledge to design engines that propel objects at five times the speed of sound or above, using less fuel. More research would be needed to determine the effects of this kind of travel on the human body, as well as to develop controlled environments for passengers and pilots. “This new discovery is key for using these high-Mach fast flames for hypersonic air-breathing scramjet propulsion engines, a specific type of engine that can propel an aircraft to five times the speed of sound and above,” Ahmed says. “And it will aid in fighting intense fires and

explosions.” Ahmed’s team uncovered these findings during the past year, and the research is already winning awards. The Combustion Institute, a nonprofit scientific society that promotes research in combustion science and technology, selected his paper as one of 13 distinguished paper award winners from the 37th International Symposium on Combustion in 2018. This is the first time that a UCF faculty member has received this award. Mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral students and former Burnett Honors Scholars Jonathan Sosa and Jessica Chambers co-authored the paper. Now the team’s paper qualifies for the Silver Combustion Medal, which is awarded to outstanding papers that contribute quality, achievement and significance to the field of combustion science. The winner of the Silver Combustion Medal will be announced in July 2020 at the 38th International Symposium on Combustion in Australia, where Ahmed will also serve as the colloquium co-chair.

To learn more about Ahmed’s research, visit UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | 9

From the Stars to



t’s not every day that an engineer leaves Lockheed Martin to play in the NFL, but that’s exactly what University of Central Florida aerospace engineering alumnus Matthew Wright, ’18 did. Wright signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent earlier this year — one of four UCF Knights to do so — shortly after the final round of draft picks was announced. It was a dream come true for the former UCF placekicker, who is one of the most accomplished players in the


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university’s history. He holds the alltime records for field goals made, extra points and total career points, and is also a Peach Bowl champion. Wright graduated in December 2018 with a degree in aerospace engineering, and began working for Lockheed Martin as a systems engineer. He credits UCF for leading him to success both on and off of the field. “Over the past two seasons, the atmosphere of playing in the bounce house was something that I’ll never forget. Additionally, being a part of such a large university has well

prepared me for being a part of a large organization,” Wright said. “And I guess it doesn’t hurt that most of my closet is black and yellow.” After the preseason games, Wright was one of several players cut from the roster, but can continue with Lockheed Martin, which held his position for him. No matter where Wright charges on, whether in athletics or engineering, he’s keeping his chin up and looking ahead. “Thankful for the opportunity @steelers,” Wright Tweeted after being released. “Looking forward to what’s next.”

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All Fired The Quest to Destroy Chemical Weapons As Kim Jung-nam walked through Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017, two women ambushed him and smeared his face with the chemical nerve agent VX. Within 20 minutes, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jung-un, was dead. One year later, a former Russian spy and his daughter, along with two British citizens, were poisoned by an even more lethal nerve agent, Novichok. And since 2013, the Syrian government has repeatedly attacked civilians with chlorine bombs, sulfur 12 | MOMENTUM 2018-19

mustard, and most often, sarin. The use of chemical weapons has been prevalent during this past decade, with stories of its destruction dominating headlines worldwide. This has made the need to destroy these lethal chemicals much more

urgent. However, not much has been discovered about how to destroy them — until now. Associate Professor Subith Vasu and a team of researchers have unlocked some of the secrets behind the destruction of chemical weapons. The results were published recently as a cover story in The Journal of Physical Chemistry. Through his work, Vasu discovered how long it takes for toxic chemical compounds to deteriorate in the intense fire of an explosion, as well as what chemical products are created after their destruction.

stockpiles in incinerators or burned them in the middle of the ocean. But destroying these weapons when they fall into the hands of terrorists requires the use of bombs or missiles to make sure that the chemical weapons, and only the chemical weapons, are destroyed in the process. “Most of the time, these terrorists and their warehouses are in the middle of the city. So it’s not isolated,” Vasu said. “The UN and other agencies don’t want to destroy the city to destroy a building. That will achieve the purpose, but that’s a lot of destruction. So they want to send in enough to make sure they [the chemical weapons] are destroyed.” To figure out the combustion mechanisms of the toxic chemical compounds, the research team used a shock tube to recreate the high temperature and high-pressure conditions found inside the mass

explosion of a bomb. Then, they looked at what molecules were present in the aftermath. The research team didn’t use real chemical weapons in their experiments because of the toxicity. Instead, they used simulant compounds that have similar molecular structures. After they ran experiments with the simulants in the shock tube, Neupane and Masunov took the collected data and compared it with a computer model that was created in the early 2000s by the Department of Defense. “We found that the model was very much off from the experimental data that we got,” Neupane says. “So, this is one of the reasons why the experiments were so important — because no one had done the experiments at this high temperature. And then using the experimental data as a benchmark, we were able to improve the model.”

Up “When destroying chemical weapons, you make sure they’re destroyed and have nothing lingering that could make people sick,” Vasu said. “So you have to know what comes out when these compounds are destroyed in a fire environment. That knowledge did not exist before we started our project.” Vasu collaborated on this research with mechanical engineering doctoral students Sneha Neupane and Ramees Rahman and chemistry Associate Professor Artëm Masunov. Historically, the U.S. government and U.N. have burned chemical

Into the Fire Vasu would not have been able to discover the key to chemical weapon destruction without first exploring the inside of a fire. With doctoral student Zachary Loparo, Vasu developed a method that uses lasers to calculate the temperature, as well as the concentrations of

different molecules, in such a highheat environment. This method could aid researchers in fighting fires, and creating cleaner, more efficient engines for space travel and better air quality.

To learn more about Vasu’s research, visit

UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | 13


A Summer of Learning 4

Madelene Habib thought her career path would lead her to become a doctor or maybe even a nurse. She quickly realized, though, that her passion isn’t direct patient care — it’s creating medical equipment and devices that will assist patients. 14 | MOMENTUM 2018-19

Habib is now following her dreams as a mechanical engineering student at UCF, and is one of the first to participate in the Biodesign Program in Rehabilitation Engineering, which launched this past spring and is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The program is unique because it allows students to journey through a yearlong, interdisciplinary learning experience. “The program is tailored to start off with an introductory course in rehabilitation engineering to inspire students to pursue this field,” said Lecturer Sudeshna Pal, who co-directs the program. “That’s followed by a summer immersion experience at different facilities where students identify unmet clinical needs in rehabilitation engineering. The program finally concludes with a biodesign capstone course where students pursue a needsbased design solution, and develop



1 Students in the BPRE program meet for weekly discussions during their summer clinical immersion experience. 2 Students Jasmine Balsalobre and Bradley Atwood shadow clinicians at the Orlando Regional Medical Center. 3 Students Jasmine Balsalobre and Bradley Atwood discuss their experience during the clinical rotation. 4 Students Brian Keery (left) and Joshua Richards present what they’ve learned during the BPRE summer clinical immersion experience. 5 Lecturer Sudeshna Pal leads one of the weekly discussions during the BPRE summer clinical immersion experience.


innovation and commercialization skills.” Six mechanical and aerospace engineering undergraduate students were selected to participate in the first cohort, which is run by Pal in collaboration with faculty from the College of Medicine, the College of Health Professions and Sciences, and I-Corps program. During the six-week long summer immersion experience, the students rotated among several physical therapy clinics and rehabilitation facilities around Central Florida such as the Orlando Veterans Affairs Hospital, the Orlando Health Rehabilitation Institute, and more. At each location, they shadowed clinicians and observed their interactions with patients. “It’s really interesting because we don’t really know what to expect; this is a new thing for everyone — a big learning experience,” said student

Jasmine Balsalobre. “Every time we go to a new rotation site, it’s a completely different experience so we have to relearn the process again, learn about the facility and ask ourselves ‘What’s our goal here? What are we trying to do? What are we hoping to gain from being at this site?’” The students gained a lot from the site visits, including the insight to know when not to over-engineer a problem. “Physical therapy outpatient facilities want the simplest and cheapest equipment possible so their patients can take it home,” Balsalobre said. “So we, as engineers, have to find that fine line between progress and inventiveness but also simplifying and minimizing costs.” The next stop on the biodesign journey is the capstone course, which will give the students the chance to develop a device or piece of equipment that will address an

unmet need of rehabilitation patients. Pal plans to implement the capstone within the next year. This inaugural group of students were excited to be a part of something new and to set the standard for future cohorts. They also have plenty of advice for the next group, such as learn the environment you’ll work in, ask questions and enjoy the experience. “It’s challenging because you don’t really know where your place is and it’s a learning experience for both sides,” Habib said. “So for the first couple of days being in the clinics, it’s a little awkward at first, but I think once you get your rhythm in, it really is a very exciting and educational experience.”

Learn more about the BPRE program at

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The $25,000 Turbine “Participate in This Challenge!” “Enter That Contest! It’s easy to scroll past the email subject lines written to entice the recipients into coming up with the next greatest invention. But when Associate Professor Tuhin Das received a similar email from the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, he couldn’t ignore it. It’s a good thing he didn’t. Das took third place, and the $25,000 prize, in the Aerodynamic Turbines with Load Attenuation Systems Competition, which asked participants to design and test solutions for problems associated with either onshore or offshore wind turbines. Das took up the challenge to create an algorithm that would reduce the negative effects of wind and waves that plague Floating Offshore Wind Turbines. FOWTs are advantageous because they are stabilized with mooring lines and therefore don’t require elaborate underwater structures. But they’re also susceptible to the rocking motions of water that can cause excessive vibration, oscillations and instability. 16 6 | MOMENTUM MOMENTU MOM M EN E ENTU NT N NTU TUM 2018-19 TU 2 20 018-1 18-119 9

Participants were given a software model that included pre-set simulations with different combinations of wind and wave types as well as blade installation and aerodynamic defects. The simulations could automatically compare the designs against a baseline result and rate them based on effectiveness. A lower score meant a better design. Das’ design topped several others, but he said the prize money wasn’t the most enticing aspect of the ATLAS Competition. “I saw this competition as an opportunity for me to improve my understanding of FOWTs, as this was my first involvement in FOWT controls,” Das said. “I was also drawn to the idea that if successful, it would demonstrate my ability to

make research contributions in new technology areas within a relatively short time.” He said that while he receives many emails to participate in contests similar to ATLAS, this is the one he decided to take a chance on, and he encourages students and colleagues to do the same. “If you can find some time to work on it, and if you have some interest in the topic, then you should try. If it is possible to take this as a learning experience and to avoid worrying too much about winning, then that’s a good mindset.” To learn more about Das’ research, visit

Two Steps Forward When you take a walk in the park, around the mall, or even on the UCF campus, it probably seems like an effortless exercise. But for those with an ankle prosthesis or an orthotic device on their leg, walking isn’t so easy. That may change in the near future through the research of Assistant Professor Hwan Choi. He studies transtibial amputees, or individuals who have had their limbs removed below the knee, and neurologically impaired individuals through his Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Device Lab, located at the UCF Lake Nona campus.

“I have a different idea, I think prosthetics can not only provide improved walking function, but also provide rehabilitation exercise through daily living.” Although he’s been at UCF for only a year, he already has several research projects underway, including a study of how the leftover calf muscles contribute to transtibial amputees’ walking ability. The results of this research could lead to the development of optimal surgical treatment and rehabilitation exercises that could improve muscle retention. Choi has also developed two devices for ankle prosthesis that not only increase users’ mobility, but can rehabilitate their muscles as well. “A lot of people think that assistive devices, such as prosthetics and orthotic devices, can just help to reduce effort and improve walking,” Choi said. “But I have a different idea, because I think they can not only provide improved walking

function, but also provide rehabilitation exercise through daily living.” Current ankle prosthetics and ankle foot orthoses provide just one constant level of stiffness, so people who wear them exert more energy to compensate. This leads to fatigue and, over time, secondary musculoskeletal issues. But through Choi’s realtime variable stiffness module, prosthetic and orthotic devices would be able to provide multiple levels of stiffness and would account for variables such as muscle strength and walking Assistant Professor Hwan Choi and student Brian Hohl work pattern — something on the prototype modules for assistive devices. current assistive devices rehabilitation exercise. Choi said that don’t do. with this device, users won’t have to “When physicians prescribe go to the clinic as often, saving them prosthetics or orthotics, they select time and money. one based on body weight, or other His second-device, the real-time criteria. After they prescribe, they variable timing device, uses stored ask people, ‘Hey, can you walk down energy to provide prosthesis wearers the aisle?’ And then they just visually with more push-off when they walk. inspect to see whether the prosthetic The device will allow stored energy looks OK or not,” Choi said. “But to be released at the correct time, people are different — some people so wearers can propel themselves have strong muscles, weak muscles, forward with greater ease. different walking patterns — and Both devices will fit on existing the device has to adjust its tuning prosthetics, and are soon to be parameters to each person so that patented and made available to those people feel comfortable and can walk who need them. more effectively.” Improved walking function won’t be the only benefit of the real-time To learn more about Choi’s variable stiffness module. As users of research in the REAL Lab, visit the device take each step, they will stretch and strengthen their muscles, which essentially turns walking into a UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | 17

HYPER-activity The aerospace engineering program was sent to new heights with the launch of a new Research Experience for Undergraduates, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Advanced Technologies for Hypersonic Propulsive, Energetic and Reusable Platforms program, better known as HYPER, brings together 11 students from across the country for a unique summer event. Each student pairs up with a faculty member from the Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research and completes a research project in their lab. At the end of the 10-week program, the students present their research to the department faculty, graduate students and staff from the Office of Research and Commercialization. Here’s what some of the students had to say about their experience:

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Daniel Benitez

Alitzel Yepiz



“I just got into research not too long ago, and I eventually want to get my Ph.D., so I feel like this is a step toward that. Especially coming down to UCF, it’s a different experience as opposed to doing research at my own school — I can do that, but I’d much rather have connections somewhere else where I’m able to look into a grad school and see if that’s something that I would like to do some time in the future.”

“Before this REU, I had zero, zero research experience. And the biggest piece of advice that I got that I found to be the most valuable was ‘ask questions.’ I know in the beginning I felt I was asking stupid questions or the answers were simple. But ask those questions because everyone else started where you are at and they will meet you where you are at, and they want you to understand what you are doing and love what you are doing. And I think I’ve had a wonderful experience because I wasn’t afraid to ask questions.”

A Strong Mentor When Professor Ali Gordon needed a graduate assistant for the students in his Research Experience for Undergraduates, there was only one choice — aerospace engineering alumnus Robert Burke.


“I was interested in participating in REU HYPER because it was an opportunity to do research that was different from the research that I had already been doing here at UCF.”

To learn more about the HYPER REU, visit


Gordon met Burke through the UCF STEM Transfers’ Opportunities for Growth program, better known as STRONG. Burke served as a peer mentor for a group of students from Central Florida who recently transferred to UCF, and Gordon was a faculty advisor. Once he saw how capable and talented Burke was, Gordon knew he would be the perfect student mentor for his new REU. Burke served as the right-hand man for Gordon and REU co-leader Jeffrey Kauffman, and assisted them both with the launch of the program. But the best part for Burke was working with the 11 students who came as far as New York and

New Mexico to participate. “It’s great being able to hear their stories and see other engineers outside of Florida,” Burke said. “You don’t realize there are differences in engineers until you actually meet with them. It opened up my view about engineering in general.” The students also welcomed the chance to have a mentor who recently journeyed through an undergraduate program. “It’s definitely really refreshing to have someone really close to our age group,” said Dyllian Powell, a mechanical engineering student from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. “Having someone who knows what we’re going through has really helped with program direction as well as the social communication between everybody.” The REU was a rewarding experience for Burke, who plans to continue his aerospace engineering education at UCF. “In the end, what we do in engineering is for the people,” Burke said. “Having these experiences and chances to build capabilities as a mentor has probably helped me more than them.”

UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | 19


Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering College of Engineering and Computer Science University of Central Florida 12760 Pegasus Drive Orlando, FL 32816-2205



Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering

Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering

Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering

Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering

Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering

Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering

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