Published December 30, 2022
Ethan Fort has always wondered how the world works.
From a young age, he’d ask why planets orbit the sun or how rockets take off, but usually didn’t get the in-depth answers he was looking for.
“Mechanical engineering allows me to answer these questions,” says Fort, a junior mechanical engineering major in the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Going through my day seeing something I have learned and knowing what’s going on behind it is pretty awesome to me.”
Fort’s enduring curiosity has led him to winning the Robert W. Young Award for Undergraduate Student Research in Acoustics. The annual award from the Acoustical Society of America recognizes undergraduate students who have demonstrated excellence in acoustic research and comes with a $500 award to support further research.
“I want to thank the Acoustical Society of America for choosing me for this award,” says Fort, a Gowanda native. “This is not only a huge honor for me, but it is also a huge help to my research.”
Fort is currently developing a sensor that can detect flue gas — often emitted from the burning of fossil fuels — by using thermoacoustics, the process of converting heat energy into sound waves.
Gas sensors are often expensive, break down easily and require frequent calibration, but Fort and his partner, PhD student Mohamed Aziz, hope that thermoacoustics will make their sensor cheaper and more robust than those currently available on the market.
Their work is being conducted in UB’s Sound and Vibrations Laboratory (SVL) led by Mostafa Nouh, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Nouh says Fort first approached him about being given an assignment in the lab after taking his 200-level dynamics course. Despite the challenging nature of the gas sensor project, Nouh says Fort immediately asked for additional reading material and began conducting experiments in the SVL.
“I have been closely working with undergraduate student researchers at UB for the past seven years and I have never seen anyone put in the time and effort that Ethan dedicates to his project,” Nouh says. “To accomplish this while staying on top of his courses, exams, and academic assignments is nothing short of remarkable.”
As one of just two undergraduate students in the SVL, Fort says his experience there has allowed him to receive mentorship from Nouh and graduate students. He was working in the SVL with them when he received the email that he had been chosen for the Robert W. Young Award.
“When Dr. Nouh and the rest of the team congratulated me, it made me realize how fortunate I was to have this group to support me,” Fort says. “Keeping up with research is always more difficult to balance during the semester, but moments like that make it all worth it.”
Although Fort still enjoys learning how things work, he says he realizes that what matters most is how that knowledge is applied. His favorite aspect of being an engineer is the contributions you can make to society.
“A lot of the greatest contributions to society have come from engineers,” he says, “and one day, I hope to join those ranks and leave something important for future generations.”