Summit: Spring 2016

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THROUGH SERVICE How CEMS students are designing for a better community



FEATURE STORY: Learning Through Service For their senior capstone, students in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Program help area nonprofit and government agencies move forward with engineering projects.


SHOWCASING INNOVATION Computer science students participate in CS Fair to display their creations.


CEMS CLUBS LIVEN UP SCIENCE FOR KIDS Club members have middle schoolers test their engineering prowess.


BUILDING APPS FOR CLASS Students learn the ins and outs of app-making in Chris Skalka’s Mobile and Embedded Devices class.


ADDING RENEWABLES TO THE GRID $1.5 million grant will help CEMS professors research ways to make the electric grid accommodate power from renewable energy sources.


DIRTY PIPELINE Study shows how fracking interacts with abandoned wells to release methane.


CELEBRATING DIY Maker Faire pairs with engineering competition to introduce kids in grades K-12 to STEM fields.


WHAT MAKES A SKI HUM? Olympic Skier uses Advanced Structural Analysis to study beam loads and go faster.


EDITOR: Sujata Gupta PRODUCTION AND CREATIVE DIRECTION: Jenn Karson GRAPHIC DESIGN: Ion Design CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Josh Brown, Jess Clarke, Robin Donovan, Sujata Gupta, Jenn Karson, Abby Peterson, University Communications, Amanda Kenyon Waite, Jeffrey R. Wakefield PHOTOGRAPHY/IMAGES: Mads Almassalkhi, Joshua Brown, Nicholas Andrew Bucci, Bruce Cowan, Doug Duncan, Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist, Sally McCay, James Montague, Rebecca Reese, K. Salo, Wayne Tarr, U.S. Geological Survey SUMMIT IS PUBLISHED TWICE A YEAR BY THE DEAN’S OFFICE AT THE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES













Q&A 25




ON THE COVER: Student Clubs Liven Up Science for Middle Schoolers. CEMS students Cal Novelli (left) and Pat Finn (right) of the student club ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) at Hunt Middle School in Burlington, VT. Photo: Rebecca Reese | SPRING ISSUE 2016

The Dean’s View Photo: Sally McCay

Dear Alumni and Friends of CEMS, I am pleased to report that in a short 16 months (Fall of 2017) our students will be taking classes and our faculty will be conducting research within the new Discovery Building of the STEM Complex. I recently had the opportunity to tour the construction site and it was exciting to see the tremendous progress. If you can’t make it to Burlington yourself you can watch the development of the STEM complex day-to-day via campus webcams. You can find a link to these webcams on page 9 of this issue. Related to the STEM Complex, there is more good news. At the February 5-6th UVM Board of Trustees (BoT) meeting the trustees approved spending $4M of deferred maintenance funds to upgrade the infrastructure of Votey. Those funds will be in addition to the $7M for remodeling of Votey. The upgrade to the infrastructure and renovations of Votey will start this summer and the majority of them will be done in the summer of 2017. Also at this meeting the BoT approved two new bachelor’s degrees for CEMS. Starting this Fall, we will offer a BS in Biomedical Engineering in partnership with the College of Medicine. We will also offer a BS in Data Science which is a collaboration that includes the departments of Mathematics & Statistics and Computer Science. In the Fall of 2015 we released a Strategic Plan which has long term goals and three-year metrics for each goal. You can read the Strategic Plan at We plan to update the Strategic Plan on a yearly basis with reports on our progress towards meeting the goals.

Last October 2nd UVM launched the public phase of a $500M comprehensive capital campaign called “Move Mountains”. UVM recently announced that it had already raised over 50% of the funds. CEMS, due to the generosity from many of you, is on track to reach our goal for the campaign, but there is work to be done. I continue to take the opportunity to visit with a number of alumni, parents and friends, and I am very grateful for the generosity and support that you provide to the college and me. Your generosity allows us to continue the vital mission of educating the next generation of engineers and scientists. Since the last SUMMIT in the area of personnel we have: • We welcomed Maryam Etezadbrojerdi as a lecturer in Electrical Engineering. • We are conducting several tenure track and lecturer searches.

Please keep us appraised of your news and check our website and social media for more frequent updates. I hope you enjoy the material presented and if you are ever in the Burlington area I encourage you to stop by and visit Votey and see the progress with the STEM Complex.


Luis Garcia, Ph.D. Dean and Barrett Foundation Professor College of Engineering and Mathematical Science


CEMS by the

NUMBERS 36” x 72” The size of a robot’s delivery zone in the Aiken/TASC Engineering Challenge. CEMS hosted the TASC challenge, which was embedded inside Vermont’s first K-12 Aiken Maker Faire last November. Over 30 teams from schools around the region created robots capable of moving “game” pieces – golf, lacrosse, and tennis balls – into the designated zone. Page 30

70,000 The estimated number of oil and gas wells drilled in New York State. A new study by UVM engineers shows that abandoned wells become conduits for methane – a potent greenhouse gas – when the ground is “fracked” for natural gas. The study focused on the Marcellus Shale Formation, which was fracked until a statewide ban on the practice went into effect last summer.

500 The approximate number of students who have completed service-learning projects in UVM’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Program since 2005. Every student in CEE’s senior capstone completes a project that lasts for the entire winter semester. This year’s class has 68 students. Page 14

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24 inches The farthest distance a heavy sheaf of paper could fall on an egg before it cracked. Students at Hunt Middle School worked with members of UVM’s Society of Women Engineers to figure out the best way to reinforce the eggs. Members of ASCE facilitated hands-on projects to illustrate engineering concepts. Page 13


Computer Science Students


Student Lily Nguyen

What happens when you cross a Tamagotchi — those digital pets popular among children of the 90s — and the FitBit? You get StepPet, an app that makes exercise not only good for you, but also for the digital creature that feeds on and responds to your activity. It’s the work of William Nedds, an economics and business double major who’s one of more than 200 students who showcased their software development and website design work this semester at the Computer Science Fair, December 9, 2015 in the Davis Center. The annual fair isn’t just for computer science majors — Nedds is a CS minor — it’s open to any student who’s taken a computer science course during the year and wants to present their classwork. The result is a broad range of projects on display that draw from the students’ many skills and interests — and show just how much can be created over the course of a semester. Consider the work of students Christine Bolognino, Jeff Maynard, Maggie Dinger and Kevin Bloom: a wearable ring with an embedded microphone that allows users to touch anything with a vibration and record that sound to their phone and even geolocate it on a map. It was the project they created in Professor Christian Skalka’s Mobile and Embedded Devices class, which pairs students with a local stakeholder who has an idea for an app. Their stakeholder was Jenn Karson, sound artist and College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences staffer. To create their project, the team worked with engineering students at the UVM FabLab, which Karson supervises, to design and 3D print the ring. Dinger, a CS major and studio art minor, also designed packaging and a logo for the product, which were produced at the FabLab via laser cutting and engraving. “The fair helps motivate students to do really good projects and show off their best work,” says Maggie Eppstein, Computer Science Department chair. There’s also a financial incentive. More than 20 sponsors make cash prizes possible for 18 winning projects across six categories, a total of $3,600. Another $150 was distributed randomly, with help from, of course, a little computer programming written for the occasion. One of this year’s winners, in the category of Beginner Programming, was “A Brief Exchange” by students Slayton Marx and Hope Puroll. They created a text-based adventure

Photo: Ian Thomas Jansen Longquist

game that parodies film noir. “I watched The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Pulp Fiction,” Marx says, before he sat down to write the text players read and interact with as they work their way through the Python-programmed game. Chris Krol, software development manager for IBM, says it’s that kind of creativity technology companies are looking for in employees. Krol was one of many representatives from company sponsors attending and judging the event — and networking with students. “It’s really energizing for me to come here and meet with these students,” said Krol, who was also providing students with free access to IBM Bluemix, a cloud-based application development platform the company is making available through its Academic Initiative. “They have a lot of enthusiasm and creativity. That’s really what we’re looking for — people who are interested in applying their skills and craft to everyday problems.” On the other side of the Davis Center ballroom, junior Lily Nguyen walked dozens of visitors through the program she created — an interactive way of learning American Sign Language using a Leap Motion sensor device. Shape your hand like the one on the screen, and the sensor determines if you’re correct, allowing you to practice until you master sign language. Nguyen said she enjoyed the project so much — an assignment for her Human-Computer Interaction class — that she purchased a Leap Motion device of her own to keep on developing her program now that class is over. It was her second presentation of the day. For her first, a website and database that lets users learn about, review and search for tea, she won a People’s Choice Award. She also attracted attention from Burlington Bytes, a website design and internet advertising firm and fair sponsor. She left the fair with a contact for a potential internship with the local company. When asked if she was glad she took the time to participate in the fair, Nguyen’s answer was clear: “Oh yeah.” Learn more about the fair and see the list of winning projects:


Machine Shop and FabLab invest in

STUDENT FAVORITES The Machine Shop – utilized frequently by engineering clubs and seniors designing their capstone projects – now houses four new machines: two identical knee mills and two identical engine lathes. Now there are three of each model for students to use. (For the uninitiated, knee mills can be used as drill presses or milling machines while engine lathes make round and cylindrical parts.) These are the most popular machines in the shop and having two of each machine is hugely helpful, says Lab Coordinator Floyd Vilmont, noting: “Now that the new machines share the same centerlines, tools are quickly repositioned from one machine to the other without any adjustment required. “ Also to the delight of CEMS students the nearby FabLab, a rapid-prototyping lab, has increased its number of desktop 3D printers and built brand new work areas with lab furniture generously donated by Production Basics, Inc.


“We have made good use of the new machines. They were easy to learn and have proven very reliable. The process for making parts is more streamlined and fun.” – Emmie Bolt ‘17 Alternative Energy Racing Organization (AERO)

Photo: Sally McCay


A Forward-Thinking


The STEM Complex includes more than 250,000 square feet of new construction and renovation that will transform the Central Campus, with completion expected in 2019.


The first phase includes construction of the Discovery Building, a state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratory facility, while the second phase will add the Innovation Building, a classroom and office facility. Phase three includes renovations within the Votey Building. To help pay the $104 million price tag for the largest capital construction project in UVM history, UVM is seeking $26 million from non-debt sources. | SPRING ISSUE 2016

“We can do something incredible here, at the confluence of energy, high tech, health care informatics, finance, biotech and advanced computing.”

— Provost David Rosowsky

To watch the continuing progress of the project, check out the UVM construction webcam

Photo: Sally McCay

For more information about how you can support the STEM Complex contact:

Charley Thompson 802-656-3944


UVM Staff & Faculty

AWARD By Robin Donovan Faculty Photos: Sally McCay



Staff Member of the Year

Outstanding Overall Faculty Performance

When Academic Advisor Genevieve Anthony tells students in CEMS that she knows what they’re going through, she’s not just being kind. The Barre, Vermont native is a CEMS graduate herself; she returned to Burlington to accept a oneyear position that later became permanent after her commencement in 2012. Today, she helps CEMS students make the leap from high school to college. “It’s really great to see a student who may have had a rough transition turn it around and make it through graduation,” she says, pointing out that it’s easy to underestimate the stress that can accompany the freedoms of university life. Besides advising and coaching students, Anthony connects students with campus resources, determines graduation eligibility, resolves scheduling conflicts, and helps coordinate with professors when emergencies arise.

“One of our primary goals is to teach students to take initiative and to be responsible for their academic experience.” On top of all that, Anthony is heavily involved with the CEMS Club Leadership Council, where she helps coordinate outreach activities. She also serves as an advisor for the Ecological Engineers, a residential living situation for firstyear students that centers around integrating ecology of place with engineering design.


Jeff Dinitz strives to show his students what makes math fascinating. He specializes in a field of study known as combinatorial design or the study of balanced set systems. Sudoku is one well-known example of such a design.

“When I teach something, I try to figure out why I thought it was cool when I learned it and I try to relay that,” he says of a career that has spanned decades. “… Math has a lot of truth and beauty to it; there’s an art to math.” Dinitz believes today’s students are doing slightly better than their predecessors, despite many competing demands for their attention. (He bans cell phones in class, telling students it makes him too distracted.) Best known in his field for the theorem he created – the Dinitz conjecture – Dinitz’s real claim to fame, at least in the non-math world, came in 2001, when his work creating schedules for the XFL, a now-defunct professional American football league, was highlighted in the New York Times. Dinitz enjoys sailing, skiing, and backpacking, counting his move to Vermont among the three luckiest events of his life. | SPRING ISSUE 2016



In Recognition of Outstanding Teaching

Outstanding Overall Faculty Performance

Too many people see programming and computer science as synonymous, laments Jackie Horton, a senior lecturer in CEMS and (ironically) a computer programmer. Yet applications of her field range from computer architecture and algorithm analysis to databases and beyond.

NASA needed help cleaning dust off Mars rovers’ solar cells and Jeff Marshall thought he could help.

A case in point: Horton’s students have found jobs in far-flung fields, from video game programming to tracking bird migration in Costa Rica. As a one-time engineering student herself, Horton worked for IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation, where she found herself gravitating toward software-oriented projects. Eventually, she began to study programming. As reflected in her outstanding teaching award, Horton’s true love is working with undergraduates, particularly freshmen, to get them thinking more deeply about their studies.

“There are very few professions now that can’t be well served by some computer science skills,” Horton says. “I try to teach students not just, ‘This is how you write a program,’ but ‘This is how to think about the problem.’” When she’s not teaching, Horton is a fitness fanatic, calling this hobby “my way of trying to stay healthy and young and active.” She completed her first CrossFit competition earlier this year.

Mars lacks water, so dust particles cannot glom into clay as they would on Earth, says Marshall, head of the Vortex and Particulate Flow Laboratory in CEMS. Worse, dust particles in space contain an electric charge and latch onto everything. “If you mechanically wipe the dust off, it will stick to the wiper and just deposit it back,” Marshall says. Once enough dust covers the solar cells, energy can no longer reach the rover and it stops working. Working with NASA, Marshall and colleagues helped develop an electrostatic dust shield that basically uses the dust particles’ own electric charge to transport them off a surface like a solar panel. Cleaning solar cells on dusty planets is just one of many applications of Marshall’s work, which focuses on developing new approaches for simulating fluid flows with particles and vortex structures, uncovering new fluid flow phenomena, and understanding the physics behind these flows. Marshall also relishes his role as director of the interdisciplinary Smart Grid Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, noting:

“The fact that students and faculty from highly diverse fields know each other and are working across disciplinary boundaries, it’s just wonderful.” Continued on page 12


Continued from page 11



Outstanding Junior Faculty

In Recognition of Outstanding Service

In her lab, Rachael Oldinski values student-researchers with boldness and initiative. “It’s a tremendous joy to see nervous sophomores start talking to me about problems and telling me what I’m doing wrong,” she says. Today, Oldinski, who joined UVM’s faculty five years ago, focuses on applying mechanical engineering principles to biomedical problems, particularly stresses and strains.

“There’s a wide range of applications, from trying to mimic tissue for implants to trying to grow tissue for regeneration, all the way to drug-targeting mechanisms for cancer.” Nowadays, Oldinski is working to develop a material that mimics articular cartilage, or the tissue that covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints. Such cartilage is easily damaged by injury or normal wear and tear. She also recently developed a sealant for punctured lungs derived from brown algae. Oldinski also sees herself as among a new generation of female faces in engineering and is a faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers’ club. In the same way that female mentors encouraged her to “go for it,” she helps tomorrow’s engineers find work-life balance.

Steve Titcomb finds great satisfaction in watching engineering graduates complete their educations and find jobs with companies like United Technologies, IBM, GlobalFoundries, and General Dynamics, as well as jobs outside of engineering.

“An engineering curriculum is a problem-solving curriculum, so they’re prepared to do lots of other things. I had a student who became a patent attorney.” In CEMS, Titcomb recently served as the director’s surrogate for reappointment, promotion, and tenure reviews. And along with advising undergraduate engineering students, Titcomb is the chair of the School’s curriculum committee. With plans to retire at the end of this year, Titcomb hopes to devote time to his own research in semiconductors. Besides completing design projects involving robotics and interactive displays, Titcomb says he hopes to look into developing new materials and structures for sensors. He’s also ready to complete a more personal project: hiking the Appalachian Trail. Two years ago, he hiked 1,400 miles in 3.5 months before arthritis in his knee stopped him. “The first thing I’m going to do after graduation this spring is head back to where I left off and finish the trail,” he says.

Real World: Service-Learning & Community Engagement at the University of Vermont From the King Street Center to the fields of Franklin County to the forests of Mt. Mansfield, and beyond to the urban parks of New York City or a small village hospital in Uganda, UVM’s faculty, students, and alumni are putting the expertise and lessons of the academy into direct application in “the real world.” That work was highlighted recently in a publication showcasing the many ways in which the people of UVM are making a positive impact near and far.

12 | SPRING ISSUE 2016

Student Clubs


for Middle Schoolers This was no ordinary egg-drop challenge. By Jess Clarke

Students at Burlington’s Hunt Middle School had about 40 minutes to design and construct—from newspaper and masking tape—a structure that was able to protect an egg from a heavy, falling object. Photo: Rebecca Reese

Supervised by CEMS’ Society of Women Engineers (SWE) members, Hunt students planned their design, decided on a budget and “bought” the materials. SWE members asked the kids questions to spur critical thinking about various designs before a heavy ream of paper was dropped atop the structures protecting the eggs. SWE was one of three CEMS clubs that participated in a STEM outreach project at Hunt last semester. The other participants included members of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The project, which will continue this semester, aims to spread awareness about STEM careers and CEMS, and gives UVM students opportunities to build skills in teamwork, communication, leading projects and giving presentations. “We hope that this outreach will get kids, especially girls, excited about engineering and all of its possibilities,” says SWE member Megan Yeigh, a senior mechanical engineering major from Annapolis, Maryland. The outreach project, part of Hunt’s after-school program, was so popular with the kids that program director Rebecca Reese even had to turn away a handful of students. “The kids all asked me if we would offer it again. A lot of them love the hands-on aspect of science,” Reese says. EWB club members led Hunt students on a slightly different science activity, one investigating kinetic and potential energy

through the launching of projectile objects. Working in pairs, four teams built catapults with wire hangers, rubber bands and plastic spoons. The catapults were to be used to launch small pieces of sponge. In their excitement, the students didn’t want to wait to launch their projectiles, says club member Erica Quallen, a senior Civil Engineering major from Pittsfield, Massachusetts. To prevent total mayhem, she adds, “we turned it into a competition to see which team could launch its sponge the farthest.” Members of ASCE had the kids use building blocks to create towers and other structures to illustrate concepts, such as foundation, load, tension and compression. Jenga-style, the kids experimented with stacking blocks and pulling them out from the pile to test how high they could build. CEMS clubs will continue the classes weekly at Hunt this spring. Students representing computer science, math and mechanical engineering groups also are expected to participate this semester. Back at the egg drop activity, one group achieved resounding success by taping tightly rolled newspaper strips all around the egg. While their classmates’ eggs cracked when the ream of papers was dropped 12 inches, the newspaper group’s eggs stayed intact even when the ream was dropped from 24 inches. The team, not surprisingly, was ecstatic.




The wooded buffers of the Intervale farmland have potential to be a source of wood debris for biochar. Left to Right: Richard You, Jaclyn Kaelhler, Shawn Robbins, Alexa Bartel. Photo: Sally McCay

A core component of the Civil and Environmental Engineering curriculum By Sujata Gupta

Thanks to her service-learning project in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Jaclyn Kaehler is rapidly becoming an expert in biochar – a 2,000-year-old practice that entails heating plant matter in a low oxygen environment and then spreading the remains over the top layer of soil. Biochar is thought to increase crop yields, reduce fertilizer runoff, and help soil retain moisture. Kaehler is particularly excited by the potential for biochar to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus mitigate the effects of climate change. Kaehler’s foray into biochar began earlier this semester when she, along with three of her classmates in CEE’s senior capstone design class, were selected to help the Intervale Center, a Burlington nonprofit with 350 acres of land and a mission to strengthen community food systems, assess the possibility of making its own biochar.


In January, the team met with Intervale Land Manager Rob Hunt to discuss how to move forward with a feasibility study. At a conference table at the Intervale’s headquarters, Hunt laid the center’s vision for the project. “Intervale has a large land base and regularly cuts down decaying trees, which would provide the fuel to make biochar,” Hunt says. “We are hoping you guys can do the research and figure out the appropriate size.” It’s a deceptively tall order given that existing biochar facilities tend to either be the backyard-sized, do-it-yourself variety or large, industrial-scale facilities. Nor do the students have first-hand knowledge of what a facility should look like. They’ve begun to prepare for the project by watching YouTube videos of existing facilities and, fortunately for them, nearby Shelburne Farms already has a biochar facility that they’re eager to check out in person. Adding to the challenge is Hunt’s decision to have the students sort out the particulars. “Are you going to sell the biochar?” Kaehler asks at one point. “I guess that depends on how much we produce,” Hunt replies noncommittally. Later, Kaehler’s | SPRING ISSUE 2016

teammate Alexa Bartel wonders if Intervale would like to make biochar available all year or just at specific times. “I think it depends on what is involved in time, labor hours, and that kind of thing,” Hunt says. Hunt seems aware of the demands of such a project. “Does this feel too ambiguous at this point?” he asks as the students ready to leave. The students reassure him that things will be fine.


comprises most of the grade for the course. Since the launch of CEE’s service-learning initiative in 2005, some 500 CEE graduates have completed over a hundred capstone projects and worked with around 50 community partners, says Dewoolkar, who taught the senior capstone class for several years. Come Fall 2016, the course will run for a full academic year to give students the opportunity to start projects before the ground freezes and disappears under a layer of snow. Continued on page 16

The biochar project stems from a larger effort to implement a concept known as service learning into the curriculum throughout UVM. More than community service, service learning involves connecting students to community partners in need of skilled labor but typically lacking the funds to hire a contractor. The community partner gains a vital service without incurring any upfront costs, while the students gain both practical work experience and the chance to integrate into a community. Service learning projects can be local, national, or even international in scope. “You work with a community that has real needs and basically those needs have to align with objectives of a credit-based course,” says Mandar Dewoolkar, a civil engineer in CEMS, who has been instrumental in developing service learning programs in CEE. Service learning began appearing in credit-bearing courses in the 1990s, but engineering departments across the country were slower to adopt the approach due to stringent course requirements and concerns that already time-strapped students would have to devote a disproportionate amount of time to such projects. Though still far from the norm, engineering departments began to change course in the 2000s, when faculty and administrators began to suspect that those potential costs would be offset by the students’ enthusiasm and willingness to utilize their skills in a real-life setting. In 2005, an effort headed by now-retired environmental engineering professor Nancy Hayden, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UVM landed two National Science Foundation grants totaling almost a million dollars to integrate service learning into the curriculum. When the program first rolled out, service learning projects popped up in classes throughout all four years of study. CEE became one of a few departments in the country to fully integrate service learning into the curriculum. Although the program has since been scaled back, every CEE student – there are currently 68 seniors – must still complete a service-learning project for their capstone. That project

UVM Engineers Without Boarders in Venecia, Nicaragua Photo: courtesy of UVM Engineers Without Borders

UVM students take service learning to Nicaragua The Engineers Without Borders club at UVM knows all about working with community partners to develop a project. “Our club is pretty much completely centered around service learning,” says EWB President Sean Brennan. Currently, the club’s focus is on Venecia, a small coffee producing community in the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua. Every year, during the dry season, the people of Venecia experience water shortages. So EWB members are working to help the community install filtration systems that re-use gray water – or the “dirty” water left over after washing things like dishes and clothes. When rains are scarce, that gray water would enable residents to irrigate their household gardens. EWB members visited Venecia in 2014 and hopes to complete installation on the project by this November. The club members strive to make all their projects affordable, easy to use, and long-lasting. “The whole premise of EWB resolves around setting up the community for sustainable solutions,” Brennan says.

Read more in the Spring 2015 issue of Summit


Continued from page 15


assertions. In CEE, those assertions take the form of the design features students create.

The lecture hall in Waterman is full when I visit the senior capstone class in January. It’s the second week of class and John Lens, a Professor of the Practice and the new instructor for the course, is gearing up to tell his students which clients they’ll be working with for the rest of the semester.

On a practical level, service learning also helps students when it comes time to enter the job market. “Their experience working from start-to-finish on a real-life multi-disciplined project can help them choose employment opportunities which better align with their interests and strengths,” Lens says.

In the previous week, the students learned what sorts of projects community partners were interested in and then wrote Lens a few paragraphs detailing their preferences. Besides biochar, projects include stormwater mitigation for various municipal agencies around the state, flood hazard mitigation, and restoring historic structures.

CEEs foray into service learning more than a decade ago has made clear that those initial fears about the work being too time consuming and stressful for engineering students were largely unfounded. Surveys taken in 2005 and 2009 show that students in the senior capstone rated their experience as positive, overwhelmingly agreeing with statements, such as “After doing this project, I feel that I can use my engineering training to address problems that face my local community”; “This project helped me understand the diverse nature of engineering problems;”and “I am proud of the quality of our work and final report.”

Curious to see what a finished project might look like, I scanned through photo stories of past projects (since 2011, final presentations have been uploaded onto YouTube). One project from last year involved working with the Milton Historical Society to rehabilitate the house of Vermont’s most famous Civil War hero, General George Stannard. Stannard’s house was built in 1840 and lived in continuously until 1989, when it was abandoned. Today, the house exists in a state of complete disrepair. The engineering team was tasked with figuring out how to restore and repurpose the house as a handicapped-accessible museum. With their help, the Historical Society was able to gauge different ways of rehabbing the house. As demonstrated by projects like biochar and the Stannard House, civil and environmental engineering students seem uniquely positioned to fulfill the requirements of service learning, Lens says, noting that such fields are, by their very nature “people serving professions.”

MOTIVATED TO SUCCEED Both the late developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and American educator John Dewey emphasized the importance of learning through life experience. Dewey, one of the individuals credited with laying the philosophical groundwork for service learning and an 1879 graduate of UVM, believed the fundamental purpose of education was for students to develop solid judgment (as opposed to merely accumulate knowledge), thus enabling them to participate in a democratic society. Dewey emphasized that students started by encountering a problem, creating an appropriate question to be answered, and gathering information. They then proposed and tested a hypothesis, and, finally, with the data in, they made warranted


Besides meeting with their community partners, drafting designs, and crunching the numbers, a crucial component of service learning involves a concept known as reflection, which scholars view as crucial to solidifying and advancing learning. To that end, students must discuss their experiences through presentations, journal entries, and an essay – which can be challenging for those versed in the more cut and dry language of engineering. Biochar. Photo: K. Salo

“We treat these as professionally done projects where students keep track of the hours spent on the project, do weekly time sheets, report weekly meeting minutes and write multiple versions of project reports,” Dewoolkar says. But this focus on developing interpersonal and communication skills has served the CEE students well, particularly when it comes to professional success. “Students often describe their capstone projects when they go for job interviews,” Dewoolkar says.

PUSHING AHEAD After leaving the conference room at the Intervale headquarters, the biochar team pow wows in the parking lot. Given the lack of explicit instructions they have to go on, they’re unsure over their next step or how to describe their progress to Lens at their next class. They needn’t worry. Earlier, Lens had told me that he knows he’s throwing his students to the wolves under the premise that the only way to learn something is by doing it. “We basically let them loose,” he says. | SPRING ISSUE 2016

In remembrance of

LARRY KOST By Sujata Gupta

Over the course of his 42-year tenure at the University of Vermont, mathematician Larry Kost headed up a prodigious number of committees, as well as brought his humble spirit and patience to bear on the classroom, where he taught over 7000 students. His teaching prowess was formally recognized in 2000 when he won the university’s prestigious KroepschMaurice Excellence in Teaching Award. Kost was born in Houston, Texas in 1943. After graduating from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, he went to graduate school at the University of Arizona in Tucson to study mathematics. He began his teaching career at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada but relocated to UVM in 1973, where he stayed for the next four decades. Kost soon became a core member of UVM’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Within CEMS, he oversaw the Math/Stat/CS online student course evaluations, College Curriculum Committee, and the Faculty Senate Educational and Research Technologies Committee. He was the cocreator of two courses for the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and co-authored a textbook for one of the courses. He also co-authored a software package designed to assist in teaching and learning calculus. Kost also served as the department’s technology manager, where he diligently helped his colleagues contend with their interminable computer woes – a dedication they will sorely miss. At the university level, Kost served on the IT Align Committee, Technology Innovation Fund Committee, the Educational and Research Technologies Committee (which he chaired), Faculty Senate Executive Council, and the University Mathematics License Administrator.

Kost’s efforts were also woven into the fabric of his adopted home state of Vermont. For 28 years, he chaired the Math High School Prize Committee, a math competition open to all secondary students in the state. “He worked tirelessly not for recognition but rather because he enjoyed helping people,” wrote fellow Department Chair Jeff Buzas in an email to other staff members informing them of Kost’s death. Despite his unfailing work ethic, Kost was regarded as low key. His neighbors knew spring had arrived when they saw Kost on his front porch doing crossword puzzles, his pipe and coffee both steaming nearby. During those relaxed, warm summer days, Kost passed his time at the ball park, reading, and working on math problems. An avid gardener, Kost’s plot seemed to grow in size and diversity with each passing year. One of his greatest pleasures was grilling outdoors. Kost’s generosity was far-reaching. Among other causes, he was an active supporter of the Vermont Youth Orchestra, even though his own children did not play in the organization. Kost’s family and the youth Vermont Youth Orchestra are establishing a scholarship in his name to honor his memory and longstanding joy, as his wife Rhonda puts it, “giving his money away.” If you would like to contribute, please send a donation and indicate that it is in honor of Kost.

You may donate online or by sending a check to VYOA at 223 Ethan Allen Avenue, Colchester, VT 05446.


Building Apps


Photo: Sally McCay

Mobile devices class gives UVM students a leg up in the job hunt By Sujata Gupta

Every year, 20 pairs of high school students wade through streams throughout Vermont to collect insects. Researchers at the University of Vermont then assess the presence or absence of given insects – there are about 10 common types – to evaluate the health of the waterway.

research focuses on the intersection between Computer Science theory and practice, launched the class three years ago after helping several students develop apps for independent study credits. “There’s a need to move Computer Science courses away from pure academia,” Skalka says.

In previous years, the students would have tromped through the muck and weeds carrying binders full of papers with detailed pictures and descriptions of each bug. But last year, the high schoolers were able to scrap the binders and trek into their streams carrying nothing more than their smartphones. That’s because Computer Science students at UVM designed an app for the high school volunteers to use in the field.

Besides helping students improve their odds in the job market, Skalka also familiarizes students with the intellectual property issues around developing apps. For instance, who owns the code? And if the app makes money, how should profits be divided up? “The class,” says Skalka, “is definitely an opportunity for students to incubate their ideas.”

That insect identification app came about thanks to Professor Christian Skalka’s Mobile and Embedded Devices class, which aims to give students hands-on experience in designing apps for embedded devices and smartphones. Skalka, whose


THE STAKEHOLDERS I visit Skalka’s class on a balmy Thursday in October. It’s midterm time and student groups are presenting their progress | SPRING ISSUE 2016

to the class. Soon, the team of students working on the insect, or formally macroinvertebrate, app take the podium. The setup for the course is straightforward. Stakeholders, who can include students or representatives from the larger UVM community, present ideas to the class early in the semester. Some students come in with a clear idea of the product they want to create while others are feeling out app development, and all the issues surrounding ownership and profit-sharing, for the first time. Once stakeholder presentations wrap up, students select a project and divide into teams. Each team then selects a leader. Skalka doesn’t advertise the course, but he’s had no problem attracting outside stakeholders via word of mouth. That’s how Patrick Clemins found Skalka two years ago. Clemins is the cyber specialist for Vermont EPSCoR, a program through the National Science Foundation that funds research projects in smaller states. Vermont EPSCoR’s current focus is on regional water quality – hence the high schoolers collecting aquatic insects. Clemins was hunting around for a way to make it easier for the high schoolers to identify the bugs and realized Skalka’s students might be able to take the information on bugs currently available on Vermont EPSCoR’s wiki page and transfer it to a mobile app. In 2013, Clemins succeeded in “selling” his idea to a team of students in Skalka’s class. This year, Clemins asked if any of Skalka’s students would be interested in upgrading that original app. Among other challenges, he says, the scrolling is still cumbersome and the app contains so many images that syncing can take five minutes or more – a time prohibitive constraint out in the field.

THORNY IP ISSUES One thing the macroinvertebrate group is still sorting out, though, is just who owns the code to the app. “The code itself is split between the people who worked on it last, our group, and some of the other members of Vermont EPSCoR,” says team member Griffen Fox. Not that the group is terribly concerned. There’s little money to be made off the macroinvertebrate app so their primary goal is ensuring that they receive credit for the part of the code they develop. The hope, says Skalka, is that the class projects will familiarize students with those thorny IP issues. As part of that effort, a lawyer specializing in IP issues will come speak to the class later in the semester. Sorting out the various legal issues surrounding app and embedded device development is a very complicated, very current issue, says Corine Farewell, UVM’s director of the

Office of Technology Commercialization. Currently, students can sign an IP agreement drafted by Farewell’s office, which helps them determine who owns the code and how profits will be shared should the app go to market. For instance Tyler Sawyer, a student who took the course during the first year it was offered, worked with UVM psychology professor Matthew Price to develop an app that could help healthcare providers identify patients suffering from mental health problems following a traumatic event, such as a car accident. The team agreed that Price would get 50 percent of any profits since the app was his idea, while the remainder would be split between the students who developed the app and Skalka. UVM’s patent office would also collect some of the royalties. Discussing copyright and patent issues was enlightening, Sawyer says. For instance, he learned that chunks of code can be copyrighted, which means that using the same code, even inadvertently, could trigger a lawsuit. The laws are murky, Sawyer says, but it’s important to at least be aware of the issues.

APP SPECIFICS Back at the podium, macroinvertebrate team member Luke Lakea tells his classmates about the group’s progress in revamping the app. The version the 2013 class designed works, Lakea says, but it’s “a little amateurish.” That includes the syncing delays, having to scroll through all the insects, and an alien green interface. To shorten the sync time, the team condensed the images, as well as put less information on the app than the wiki page, with the thinking that high school volunteers and researchers using the data could look up more detailed information once out of the field. They replaced the up and down scrolling feature with a left to right swipe feature that displays a new bug with every flick of the finger. And finally they introduced a new sky blue background with a backdrop of mountains – a marked improvement, even to my untrained eye. Other projects in Skalka’s class include a trail finding app for hikers, and a button embedded in clothes that users can press when experiencing a panic attack to alert emergency responders (an example of an embedded device). “A lot of UVM Computer Science classes are really great for applying for a master’s but not for applying for jobs,” one student, Mike Skwar, tells me over the phone. “This course actually gives me real experience that I can put in a portfolio and send to employers.”


Mads Almassalkhi and Paul Hines. Missing: Jeff Frolik. Photo: Mads Almassalkhi

UVM RECEIVES $1.5 MILLION GRANT from Department of Energy to Help Grid Accommodate Renewables By University Communications

An innovative project developed at the University of Vermont has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for research aimed at making the electric grid better able to accommodate power generated from renewable energy sources. The grant, one of only 12 awarded nationally, is part of ARPA-E’s newest program, called Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems, or NODES. The title of the project is “Packetized energy management: coordinating transmission and distribution.”


Principal investigator Mads Almassalkhi, an electrical engineering (EE) faculty member in UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, is partnering with EE colleagues Paul Hines and Jeff Frolik at UVM and professor Sumit Paudyal at Michigan Technological University to develop the technology, and an accompanying strategy, that will help the grid absorb a much larger contribution from renewable sources. | SPRING ISSUE 2016

Left: The Stafford Solar Hill Farm, a Green Mountain Power facility in Rutland, Vermont. Photo: Mads Almassalkhi Above: VELCO Control Center. Photo: Mads Almassalkhi

“We are very excited to lead this ARPA-E effort and to work with our local partners GMP and VELCO,” said Almassalkhi. “With increased renewable generation, we need to re-think how we supply and regulate energy in the 21st century and leverage existing energy resources to create a truly responsive grid.”

real-time coordination between distributed generation, such as rooftop and community solar assets and bulk power generation, while proactively shaping electric load. This will alleviate periods of costly peak demand, reduce wasted energy and increase renewables penetration on the grid.

The University of Vermont proposes to develop and validate a new approach to demand-side management called packetized energy management (PEM). The PEM model builds on the technology used to manage data packets in communication networks without centralized control and with a high level of privacy. The PEM system will allow millions of small end-use devices to cooperatively balance energy supply and demand in real time without jeopardizing the reliability of the grid or the comfort of the consumers. The project will build on the PEM method to optimally manage the rapid fluctuations that can come with large amounts of renewable power production, while simultaneously managing reliability constraints in the bulk transmission and local distribution infrastructure. To ensure the developed methods are effective, the proposed integrated system will be extensively validated using simulation, largescale hardware implementation, as well as an industry-scale micro-grid environment.

Other grantees include the University of California at San Diego, Arizona State University, Stanford University, General Electric Global Research, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest Laboratory, Regents of the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, DNV GL, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Eaton Corporation.

Meet some of our students!

What’s it like to be an undergrad at CEMS in 2016?

An Industrial Advisory Board of transmission and distribution system operators, as well as established and startup technology companies and regulatory authorities, will help ensure that the project delivers commercially viable solutions. The 12 NODES project teams will develop technologies that coordinate load and generation on the grid to create a virtual energy storage system. The teams will develop innovative hardware and software solutions to integrate and coordinate generation, transmission and end-use energy systems at various points on the electric grid. These control systems will enable

Andrew Giroux and Kyle Werner in the FabLab. Photo: Sally McCay

CEMS recently produced a new video and publication that profile current undergraduate students. Both are available in the Prospective Student section of the CEMS website.


DIRTY PIPELINE: Methane from Fracking Sites Can Flow to Abandoned Wells, UVM Study Shows Emissions are unmeasured, affect debate over proposed EPA regulations By Jeffrey R. Wakefield

As debate roils over EPA regulations proposed this month limiting the release of the potent greenhouse gas methane during fracking operations, a University of Vermont study funded by the National Science Foundation shows that abandoned oil and gas wells near fracking sites can be conduits for methane escape not currently being measured. The study, published in Water Resources Research last fall, demonstrates that fractures in surrounding rock produced by the hydraulic fracturing process are able to connect to preexisting,


abandoned oil and gas wells, common in fracking areas, which in turn can provide a pathway to the surface for methane. A recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science showed that methane release measured at some abandoned wells near fracking sites is significant but did not investigate the source of the gas. “Our paper shows that fracking sites don’t exist in isolation; they’re part of a system that includes a network of abandoned | SPRING ISSUE 2016

A fracking operation on the Marcellus Shale Formation in Pennsylvania. New research shows that abandoned oil and gas wells near fracking sites can be conduits for methane emissions not currently being measured. Photo: Doug Duncan, U.S. Geological Survey

Illustration: James Montague

Because the location of so many wells is not known -- a common phenomenon in many regions where fracking takes place -- the study uses a mathematical model to predict the likelihood that the hydraulically induced fractures of a randomly placed new well would connect to an existing wellbore.

wells that can effectively pipeline methane to the surface,� said the new publication’s lead author, James Montague, an environmental engineering doctoral student at the University of Vermont, who co-wrote it with George Pinder, professor of environmental engineering at the university, a much published groundwater hydrologist and member of the National Academy of Engineering. The study focused on an area in New York State underlain by the Marcellus Shale Formation, which had been fracked until a ban went into effect in the state in the summer of 2015. The formation, composed of layers of shale and hydrocarbons, is beneath land that has been the site of conventional oil and gas drilling since the 1880s, when American oil companies first began operating. About 40,000 existing wells in New York, 30,000 of them located within the footprint of the Marcellus formation, are documented by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. But the department estimates that 70,000 wells in all have been drilled.

The model put the probability that new fracking-induced fractures in the Marcellus formation would connect to an existing well bore at between .03 percent and 3 percent. But industry-sponsored information made public since the paper was published vastly increased assumptions about the area impacted by a set of six to eight fracking wells known as a well pad to two square miles -- increasing the probabilities cited in the paper by a factor of 10 or more. While all fracking sites are different, most have a similar enough hydrocarbon profile that they attracted conventional oil and gas drilling in the past and most, like the Marcellus, have a large number of abandoned wells, many with unknown locations. Not all abandoned wells provide a pathway to surface for methane. Only those that are damaged, largely when the concrete that buffers the well from the surrounding earth loses integrity, can act as a conduit. But even a small percentage of damaged wellbores, given the large number of abandoned wells, can potentially pose an environmental risk, said Pinder.


Photos: Bruce Cowan

Over 1200 Attend First

K-12 MAKER FAIRE AT UVM New Maker Faire Partners with the Annual Aiken Engineering TASC Challenge By Abby Peterson

The creators of the Champlain Mini Maker Faire and the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences hosted more than 1200 attendees at Vermont’s first statewide Aiken K-12 Maker Faire at the Davis Center on Saturday, November 21, 2015. Embedded in the event was the annual Aiken/ TASC Engineering Challenge, presented by UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. The event was made possible by the George D. Aiken Fund. K-12 students and families browsed Maker and engineering exhibits, participated in programs and workshops and cheered on the students participating in the TASC Engineering Challenge.


UVM had representatives from the FabLab and the studentrun Alternative Energy Racing Organization. AERO designs and builds either a hybrid or all electric race car to compete in Dartmouth’s annual Formula Hybrid Competition. The UVM FabLab showed 3D printed prosthetic hands made as part of the e-NABLE project. Event organizer Jenn Karson says this is a first of its kind Maker Faire that she was thrilled to pair with UVM’s TASC Challenge. “This event was a great way to highlight the amazing creative and engineering projects being taken on by K-12 students, educators and groups. It was a perfect fit with the TASC Challenge.”

Team “Brothers in Arms” from Hanover High School was the winner of the TASC Challenge. Over 30 teams from schools around the region competed with the “robots” they created on three playing fields to move game pieces (golf, lacrosse and tennis balls) to specific zones in a 36” x 72” area.

Maker Faire events across the United States celebrate the DIY movement. Maker projects may involve robotics, re-purposing found objects, textile innovation, circuitry, unusual or custom tools, design, architecture and/or engineering. These events provide opportunities to make, create, learn and play while exploring engineering, music, science, technology, and more.

Exhibits included Robots for Kids Too, the Champlain Region Model Rocket Club, the Essex Robotics Club, the 10 and 12-year-old creators of an award winning ChampBot, and 11-year-old entrepreneur Noah Schwartz with his product, Noah’s Fizzy Maple Lemonade. Noah won the FreshTracks Capital Road Pitch at the 2015 Champlain Mini Maker Faire. The Northern New England Drone User Group offered dronepiloting lessons as well.

UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) is committed to increasing the participation of K-12 students in STEM education. In addition to the Aiken K-12 Maker Faire and TASC Challenge, CEMS outreach programs include the GIV Engineering Institute, MathCounts, FIRST Robotics and more. CEMS also provides professional development for teachers through the Vermont Math Initiative and the Vermont Engineering Initiative. | SPRING ISSUE 2016

Ken Pidgeon ‘84

CEO AND LEAD TECHNICAL SPECIALIST of Engineers Construction Inc.

Ken Pidgeon ‘84 is the CEO and “Lead Technical Specialist” of Vermont’s Engineers Construction, Inc. (ECI), a heavy civil construction company founded by his father Alan (UVM BSCE 1960). Pidgeon enjoys an active and balanced life between ECI and his other passions of road bicycling and fly fishing - which includes angling for salmon on Lake Champlain even in winter. As a licensed professional engineer, Pidgeon is engaged in engineering communities including the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Railway Engineers & Maintenance-of-Way Association, Vermont Association of General Contractors, and the UVM CEMS Board of Advisors. He is also a fan and supporter of UVM Athletics. Q: When you were pursuing your undergraduate degree at UVM in Civil Engineering, did you know you would go into the family business? KP: Yes, it was in the back of my mind but it wasn’t until later in college that I became excited about heavy civil work. Just after graduate school at UNH, I landed in the consulting world at a geotechnical engineering firm in Boston where I specialized in deep foundations and designing excavation support systems. Within a few years I became licensed and continued working in the Boston area for 13 years total. In 1998 I joined the family business and moved my young family to Essex Junction. I would advise anyone who plans on joining a family business to spend the early part of his or her career doing something different. The outside perspective I brought into my family business has been incredibly valuable. Q: What were those first years like for you at ECI? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned since then? KP: During my first year back ECI was awarded a contract for a 100-mile-long underground fiber optic project along the railroad from Burlington to White River Junction. One of my first tasks was to figure out how to do it. From that need, I developed a system to install conduit along the railroad, which was later patented. The Rail Plow project was very exciting as we were using not just excavators but locomotives to perform the work. Most importantly, I learned that my ideas coming from the consulting world were different but not necessarily a bad fit for the construction side of the industry – as proven by the Rail Plow success. Q: You’ve mentioned that one of your primary corporate duties is to develop and maintain a corporate culture that fosters safety, quality, and integrity within the context of engineering. Tell us about how you achieve this. KP: For a business, it’s all about corporate culture when it comes to safety, quality, and integrity. As an engineer in the heavy civil construction industry, I spend a lot of time

helping our non-engineer workforce to better understand engineering principles involved in their work. Even safety is best understood in the context of engineering. I strongly believe in the ECI code of conduct which I developed. The code fosters safety, quality and integrity just as much as it supports a cohesive sense of community among our employees, while it also supports the well-being of individuals. Every Thursday I send an email to all our employees that highlights one of the code’s 13 elements. The email also includes a technical discussion, news, and pictures of current work sites. Every Friday morning we have a safety training that all employees attend and the email is the format to the meeting. Q: What do you look for when hiring new people? KP: We look for people who are passionate and who are drivers. By a driver I mean a personality that is going to “get ‘er done!” I tell my guys who hire: ask the candidate to walk across the yard. Are they a slow shuffler or do they have spring in their step? We want to see a spring in his or her step. I also put a high value on an engineer’s writing skills. Writing isn’t just about grammar but about framing a problem and presenting it in written form. In my work writing is a discovery process to find solutions to problems. Complex technical project plans need to combine drawings and text to create a thoughtful narrative that others can follow and build upon. It’s essential to the work. Q: Any advice for the CEMS class of 2016? KP: Don’t let my generation judge you for what you’ve done (or what you haven’t done), but instead for your potential. Set longterm goals and short-term milestones. Strive to be a licensed professional. Build your resume with professional certifications (like the 40 hour HAZWOPER training), publications, and community service. Take advantage of your youth and the opportunity that good health brings. Live as if you’ll live to be at least 100 years old and stay healthy until the end. Strive for restraint, discretion and integrity! To learn more about Pidgeon and some of his most memorable Vermont projects, including recovery and reconstruction of the Chester Bridge after Hurricane Irene:


Try the DotBot for yourself!

Photo: Joshua Brown

Redditors Ask Vermont Professor, Grad Student

ALL ABOUT ROBOTS By Joshua Brown, Sujata Gupta

Got ‘bot questions? Robotics expert and University of Vermont professor of computer science Josh Bongard has answers. He and his graduate student, Mark Wagy, were on the hugely popular online site Reddit on Friday November 6, fielding questions from around the world on the topic: crowdsourcing robot design. Part of the Reddit “AMA” effort (for “ask me anything”) and hosted by the Reddit New Journal of Science, this Q&A event drew many participants; the Reddit science page pulls in some three million unique viewers each month. The online discussion centered around “The DotBot,” a robot collectively designed by 209 Reddit users — so-called Redditors — as part of Bongard and Wagy’s research effort. Here’s a condensed version of the Reddit thread: JB, MW: Hello Reddit! We’re interested in how people and computers can work together to create complex technology,


like robots. We just published a paper in which we demonstrate that teams of people can actually design better robots than `teams’ of computers, if the humans work together. Since we wrote that paper, we have also discovered that a combined team can do even better: intuitions from the crowd can be boiled down into models that then guide computers, allowing them to design more robots than people on their own could ever do. Ask us anything! Q: Hi guys, I feel it’s important the work that you are doing, keep it up! How are profits from your crowd-sourced projects distributed, who owns the IP, and how do you keep human nature from [screwing] up the team? JB: Profits? Why was I not told about this! :) No, there were no profits derived from this study, for participants or investigators. The participants chose to participate for fun or interest, not a financial reward. In fact, we have conducted a number of | SPRING ISSUE 2016

crowdsourcing projects now and we’ve found that large numbers of people were willing to participate if they were able to: • see how their participation contributed to the science, • learn something about the topic, • learn something about themselves, or • just because they felt it was a fun thing to do. No one [owns the IP]. This work was published in PLoS ONE, an open publishing journal. MW: Define “human nature” :) In some sense, basic human behavior contributed to the positive outcome of the experiment. For example, many of the robots that we saw people design had four legs -- resembling familiar animals. We believe that because we each have decades of experience observing the behavior of legged animals, together, the participants were able to design robots that walked well, even though most participants probably did not have robotics experience. Q: This is completely awesome, and uplifting too. Thanks for sharing your work! What is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned during your research, and what could it mean for our future? JB: Glad to hear you found the results uplifting; so did we! The most surprising thing for me in terms of our crowdsourcing research is the overwhelming positive response we have received from our participants. In this paper on the crowdsourcing of surveys, thousands of people participated; they generated hundreds of useful survey questions; and they supplied over a quarter-million survey responses… all without any expectation of financial reward! I think that the willingness of people to participate and collaborate in online games and research efforts bodes well for the future of education. Instead of sitting in a classroom, students and teachers will mix virtual and physical reality to create hard-to-imagine environments in which to learn. As just one (admittedly biased) example, a recent spinoff company from my lab is beginning to create educational games built around young peoples’ fascination with robots. That’s education; how about society as a whole? Many fear that technology in general---and AI and robotics in particular---will marginalize most of humanity. Personally, I believe that this will not be the case. Given our species’ experience with tool use, new tools enable people to interact in new ways, accomplish tasks that were difficult or impossible to perform before, and pave the way to the development of more powerful tools; robots are just our most recently-devised tool. The Internet itself is a great example: it allows anyone with a browser to share their opinions, ideas, designs, and products. My long-term hope is that robots will likewise help to unlock people’s creative potential. I think people will not just use robots, but participate in their design, just like the Internet is the aggregate creation of millions of participants, not all of whom are tech savvy.

Q: There are so many amazing demos of specialized “tricks” that are shown on the web. Why have these capabilities not been consolidated into a general purpose robot? JB: This is a really good question. Roboticists have long struggled with creating an autonomous machine that is capable of performing many tasks, rather than specializing to perform one task really well. These days, specialized systems like Siri and self-driving cars are collectively thought of as ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI), while the general-purpose machines that may be our intellectual equals (or betters!) are referred to as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). We’re just now starting to accomplish AI; we have not even made a dent in AGI. In my opinion, the roadblock is not technical but intellectual. In other words, creating very detailed simulations of human brains or building multi-million dollar robots won’t help us much. We need to understand the basic principles of what enables adaptivity: the ability to change how you do things when the environment changes, or learn new things when your environment becomes more challenging. I feel there are three ways to make progress toward more adaptive robots: • give them the ability to recover from unanticipated situations, • make their brains more modular, • scale up our ability to teach robots lots of tasks through crowdsourcing, and • investigate how their bodies make them more adaptable. Q: This is truly uplifting to hear. What was the biggest obstacle for you during this collaborative research? How did you overcome it? JB: Thanks very much! Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that people from all sorts of backgrounds can contribute not just personal data or spare CPU cycles to scientific endeavors, but involve themselves intellectually and creatively in the process itself. In the long term, I think we will see a fundamental shift in the way science itself is carried out: instead of a professor and a few graduate students doing all the interesting stuff, we will see larger and more complex teams of computers, experts and non-experts formulating hypotheses, designing and conducting experiments, and creating models from the results. This idea already has its own name: machine science. MW: [on obstacles] In addition to just building the platform itself, which wasn’t easy, it was difficult to think of an appropriate means to enable a group of non-experts to design robots -- with no learning curve and little instruction -- and then communicate these design ideas to other members of the team. We solved the problem by utilizing the ‘connect-the-dot’ mechanism to draw robot morphologies as you can see in the paper and on the video. Many of us are familiar with this type of interface from our childhood, and the resulting designs can be easily communicated through two-dimensional visualizations.





QUEST A passion for fieldwork motivates Kaelyn Burbey in her environmental engineering pursuits By Jess Clarke Photo: Sally McCay

While a junior in high school, CEMS junior Kaelyn Burbey trekked through jungles in Laos to clear trails in national parks. “There were a lot of leeches and mosquitoes that came out,” she says of the experience – a six-week service trip was through the cross-cultural education organization Where There Be Dragons. “But then you got to see the waterfalls and rivers.” Another summer, as part of a service-learning project, Burbey went to The Island School in the Bahamas to study aquaculture and help researchers with projects related to sharks and other marine species. At UVM, Burbey, who is from San Marcos, California, has combined her love of the environment and adventure as an environmental engineering student in CEMS. “Fieldwork makes everything more exciting, realistic and applicable,” she says. After graduation, Burbey plans to commission as a 2nd Lt. in the Army Corps of Engineers and eventually attend graduate school. Her goal is to identify what she wants to study through a ROTC internship this summer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, which focuses on national security research. Burbey – who is driven by the saying, “If what you did yesterday still seems big, then you haven’t done enough today” – aims big in all endeavors. Burbey was introduced to UVM by high school counselors. She was drawn to the engineering program, Honors College and Burlington’s appeal as a college town. “I also have appreciated the advisers available to me in the Honors College. They are


a great resource for finding scholarships, internships, and graduate school and research opportunities,” Burbey says. Over the years, Burbey has found inspiration in her professors. Burbey is grateful for Donna Rizzo, Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) in CEMS, for inspiring her with discussions about her water-quality work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. In fact, Rizzo wrote Burbey a recommendation that helped her get the MIT internship. Likewise, Burbey was inspired by CEE Assistant Professor Ting Tan’s talks about one of his engineering projects that involved using solar panels to refrigerate medicine that had to be hauled across swaths of hot desert. Professors like Rizzo and Tan “discussed real-world projects they were involved in to show us possible ways we could apply what we learned in class,” Burbey says. Burbey’s pursuit of excellence has had impressive results. She has been named to the Dean’s List every semester, was inducted into the national engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi and held a ROTC leadership role. She received the June Veinott Award, given to an engineering student at the end of her first year to recognize her potential for success in the field. Burbey’s advice for new CEMS students reflects her ambitious goals. “Study what interests you, do what inspires you, try what challenges you, and through it all be confident in who you are and what you want to accomplish,” she says. “Be proud of your successes, learn from your failures, hunt for inspiration, and be ready to put in a lot of hard work.” | SPRING ISSUE 2016


HIGH Azulena Royer’s lofty goals achieved with the solid grounding of CEMS’ support By Jess Clarke

Photo: Wayne Tarr

When Azulena Royer was still a high school junior she attended a talk by CEMS professor Jeffrey Dinitz and was hooked. Dinitz led students in a matchmaking exercise to explain the stable marriage problem – an algorithm commonly studied in math, computer science and economics – to determine which pairs would yield the best possible outcomes. That talk and others she attended at UVM during her two summers at the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont – a residential learning experience for motivated teens held on college campuses throughout the state – convinced her to apply to the school. Now a UVM senior majoring in math with a minor in economics, Royer credits Dinitz’s support with much of her considerable academic success. The practical applications he uses to explain concepts have helped her better understand the subject matter. “I came to UVM because of the world-class math department, including Dr. Dinitz. I knew that with him by my side, I could achieve my long-term goals,” she says. Those goals included being at the top of her class in math and landing a job to start right after graduation. Royer’s academic achievements are impressive. She has received the UVM Mathematics Junior Award for achievement of the highest level of excellence in mathematics, the ALANA Student Award for highest academic achievement in the Honors College junior class, the CEMS ALANA Junior Award in 2015, and the CEMS ALANA Senior Award in 2016. Her professional experience is equally admirable. For two summers, Royer interned at Boston-based financial services

company State Street Corporation, where she gained invaluable real-life experience. Among other responsibilities, she created a forecasting model for global cash flows, developed and presented a project on global bank regulation to the financial planning and analysis team, analyzed financial data and records, and gave a presentation on exchange-traded funds, a type of investment fund. The company came back with not one but two job offers for Royer after graduation. She signed a contract for a position as an internal sales associate for the Intermediary Business Group of State Street Global Advisors, the asset management branch. She chose that position because it will involve frequent face-toface interaction with clients. “I’m very extroverted,” she says. The job also will prepare her for her eventual plan to advance to a sales analytics role at a financial services firm. More than her advisor, Dinitz has helped her with math and other problems over the years. “He’s always there to help me figure something out,” she says. As a student panelist at CEMS Admitted Student Visitation Days for the past few years, Royer’s advice for new students includes wise time management and taking electives to explore new subjects. Royer herself indulged her art interest with a ceramics course last semester and is taking a kickboxing class to learn self-defense skills. “College classes can be stressful. Remember to balance your life with fun activities,” says Royer, who unwinds with yoga and salsa dancing. “Work hard, play hard.”


What Makes

A SKI HUM? Last fall, UVM senior Elli Terwiel was in professor Eric Hernandez’s course, Advanced Structural Analysis, learning about how beams bend under a load—“and I started to think about my skis,” she says. She wasn’t daydreaming. By Joshua E. Brown

Instead, she was seeing a connection between her two passions. Terwiel is majoring in civil engineering—and she’s a World Cup skier who raced in the 2014 Olympics for Canada and for UVM’s ski team for several years. “After class, she started asking me questions about the stiffness, the bending, the damping and the vibration of skis,” says Hernandez. He’s an expert on structures—like buildings and bridges—and how their materials change and fatigue over time. “Everything is a structure,” he says, including skis. Terwiel had noticed, in her years on the race circuit, that skiers choose which skis to race with—“from a quiver of maybe five or ten pairs,” she says—based on “how they feel, how fast they are in warm-ups, how well they’ve done before,” she says. Some skis, on some days, seemed to hit a “sweet spot,” she says—when others were duds. Terwiel wondered if there was some objective measure of whether a pair of skis was in the sweet spot. Terwiel also noticed that it wasn’t necessarily her newest skis that worked best. They often seemed to need a breakin period. And after several months of hard skiing—“six or eight hammering runs on ice everyday gives some wear”— the performance of many pairs of skis declined. Two pairs of apparently identical skis—the same manufacturer and model—might give a skier consistently different results, a half second or more. And in alpine ski racing, the blink of an eye can separate the winner of an Olympic gold medal from tenth place.


“I said, ‘we need to look at this,’” Hernandez told her. He’s developing new techniques to measure the structural health of buildings and bridges—probing their inner wear and tear by measuring various types of vibrations, whether from earthquakes or truck traffic. Together, Hernandez and Terwiel wondered if vibration testing of skis—not during manufacturing, but on race day—could help skiers find the right pair.

FIRST TESTS A few months later, Terwiel and Hernandez clamp a racing ski to a table in a UVM engineering lab. Then she firmly smacks it with a plastic-tipped hammer. Two accelerometers glued to the front of the ski measure the fluctuating motion of the ski as it vibrates from the blow. Terwiel carefully watches the tip bouncing like a just-sprung diving board. On the other side of the lab, junior Elizabeth Richards, also a civil engineering major, captures the pattern of vibrations on a computer. This is not a class project; it’s a life project. With Hernandez’s help, these two undergraduates are running an independent research effort to see if they can peer into the composite soul of a racing ski—in its pattern of vibrations. “They’re at the beginning now,” Hernandez says. “We’re not sure what we’re going to find.” | SPRING ISSUE 2016

To better hit the slopes, Olympic skier Elli Terwiel ‘16 hits a ski. She and Elizabeth Richards ’17 (left) are exploring a new way to measure how fast a pair of skis could run. With help from professor Eric Hernandez (center), the two engineering students are learning a lot about vibrational analysis— and they just might reinvent how World Cup skiers choose their boards. Photos: Joshua Brown

“We tested one ski already,” Terwiel says. “Now we’re about to test all of these pairs,” she says, pointing to five pairs of skis leaning against a table, including the pair she raced in the slalom in the Olympics. So far, the students have discovered that the one ski appears to have four fundamental frequencies—a major one, but then three other lesser ones, like harmonies following the melody. “Maybe there is a pattern,” Hernandez says. “This kind of frequency, with this kind of damping, on this kind of ski course, will be really fast for that particular athlete. That knowledge could allow a skier or coach to make choices between skis in a predictive way.” Terwiel straps down another ski. “BLK15803,” she says to Richards. “Go ahead,” Richards says. Terwiel hits the ski—one, two, three, four, five times at different spots—watching each time, for several long seconds, while the vibration fades out. “You can totally see that second mode,” Terwiel says. Each hit shows up on Richards’ computer as a diminishing set of blue squiggles playing across the screen. “End of test,” Terwiel says.


Olympic medals have been won by one hundredth of a second. “I was second on a World Cup run by four hundredths of a second,” Terwiel says. “The fact that our vibrational frequencies are within hundredths of a second means that they are quite relevant to how you’re actually skiing on them,” she says. Because high-level skiers are doing everything in their power to maximize contact between their ski and the snow, tuning into these vibrations—that affect how much of the ski is on the snow—could prove to be an advantage. If the signals they find here start to show some patterns—some meaningful differences between the skis—the students plan to take this into the field, or, rather, onto the slopes. With wireless sensors, they’d like to run these same kinds of experiments while a racer goes zipping around some slalom gates. Who knows where this exploration might lead. Accelerometers and other sensors are now tiny enough that they might be embedded into a ski. If a skier or technician could “just plug into a USB port and display something about how that ski is running right now,” Terwiel says, “that actually could be a viable business opportunity.” Elli Terwiel retired from World Cup skiing last year. “I had four concussions. I had slipped and compressed a disc in my back. I was unable to ski at the level I wanted to, without being in pain everyday,” she says. “But I still love my sport, and I’d like to find some useful information, give something back.”


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