by Nicole Capozziello
Published November 6, 2018
As a summer research project, Adrian Denner, an undergraduate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, set out to scavenge useful energy from the vibrations of a thermoacoustic resonator.
It was an ambitious project for the 10-week Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Summer Research Internship Program, requiring a lot of time, more than one kind of energy, and, of course, dedicated mentorship.
While what makes a good mentor may be individual, the importance of the role cannot be overstated. A person who sees, develops and inspires others is the necessary ingredient for someone to gain the impetus, knowledge and confidence to realize their potential. A blend of challenge, guidance and inspiration drove Denner to nominate Jesse Callanan, a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, for the 2018 “Mr. Miyagi” award for best mentor.
The award, named for the mentor from 1984 film “The Karate Kid,” is a fun way to recognize an individual for their exceptional effort and leadership. LSAMP program participants can nominate their mentor for the award, which is presented at the end of the summer.
“Any question I had, he had a hint,” says Denner of his mentor. These “hints” from Callanan led Denner to a lot of background research and many long days in the lab, all in the pursuit of creating his own thermoacoustic heat engine, or TAHE. Denner rose to the challenges and from Callanan learned first-hand that while “the process of trying and failing is annoying, it just makes the success, if it happens, ‘taste’ better.”
“This award came as a surprise to me and it means a lot,” says Callanan. “Even being nominated was a huge honor, especially since I intentionally gave Adrian such a difficult project and didn't hesitate to push him. I felt that being part of the LSAMP program was such a great experience and so helpful to me in my own research that I should be thanking Adrian and the LSAMP staff.”
The 10‐week National Science Foundation summer internship aims to prepare minority students in STEM disciplines for graduate school and the workforce. Students selected for the program work with faculty on a research project of their own choice, culminating in a presentation at the UB Undergraduate Research Conference.
Throughout the summer, students participate in a Research Methods seminar, weekly “soft skills” workshops, community service, and outings to companies and organizations in STEM industries.
“The overall goal of the LSAMP program is to assist colleges and universities in diversifying the STEM disciplines,” says Letitia Thomas, Director of STEM Diversity Programs. The program has been developing talented students at UB since 1996.
“The LSAMP program is rewarding in so many ways,” says Mostafa Nouh, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the Sound and Vibrations Laboratory. “I love the opportunity to interact with the LSAMP students, expose them to real-world applications, and watch them develop experimental skills that they can’t typically acquire in the classroom.”
During his spring sophomore dynamics class, Denner approached Professor Nouh about working on a project over the summer. Nouh promptly agreed and put him in touch with Callanan.
“As a mentor I wanted to encourage Adrian to touch on every component of the research process,” says Callanan. “It's difficult to start from basically no knowledge of the working principles of a research topic and end up with some satisfying final results in just a matter of months. But I think this autonomy and a sense of personal responsibility translates to a meaningful experience.”
At the start of the program, students present an idea for a project and then get right to work. For his project, entitled “Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting from a Thermoacoustic Resonator,” Denner built his own thermoacoustic piezoelectric energy harvester from scratch, with guidance from Callanan. The process began with a quick literature review so that Denner could develop an understanding of the building fundamentals. From there, he jumped in to developing a complete and detailed CAD model and then built it, utilizing the Engineering Machine Shop and 3D printing technology.
“There is no better learning experience than actually using your own hands to make something –it’s the best way to develop the intuition that makes a good engineer great,” says Callanan.
Denner’s goal was to create a TAHE prototype that could be applied to an existing heat generator, such as a solar panel, converting waste heat into mechanical vibrations, and ultimately electrical power. The engine has the potential to be a more efficient and longer lasting alternative to current models, which require constant maintenance and have a limited lifetime.
“It was inspiring to see the work that Adrian was able to accomplish from early conceptual ideas to ultimately building a working prototype that produced some very interesting results,” says Callanan.
“The summer program exposed me to the tireless work ethic needed in order to achieve the success I want in academia,” said Denner. “Now that I know that a great work ethic is so important, I feel I can pursue any career goal and not limit myself to a bachelor's degree.”