Student research for NASA gets published
Front to back: Chris Olson, Peter Higgins, David McCallum, and Mingli He.
Mechanical engineering technology student Chris Olson doesn’t graduate from Metropolitan State College of Denver until December, but his first technical paper has already been published for an international conference.
Olson, 37, co-authored "Determining the specific heat of powdered insulation" which was published with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Indian Institute of Technology for the 2010 International Heat and Mass Transfer Conference to be held Jan. 4-6, 2010 in Mumbai, India.
He co-authored the paper with Mechanical Engineering Technology Professor Mingli He and Affiliate Faculty Peter W. Higgins. "It’s the first time that a paper that has been co-authored with a student has been accepted to an international conference," says Professor He, who serves as mechanical engineering technology coordinator and also served as project advisor on the experiment. He plans to attend the conference.
Having this paper published is an example of how students can turn their lab work into world-caliber research, according to Higgins, who led the 15-student lab. "The point of this effort is to offer these students a lab that is doing currently useful experiments, and engaging them in low level research so they appreciate what labs are for. By having an exciting project to work on they are especially motivated," says Higgins.
Seeds for this particular paper were planted in fall 2008 when Higgins’ student lab was working on research for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. During the work, they found that they needed certain materials that could only be obtained from NASA’s Cryogenics Test Laboratory at the Kennedy Space Center. So they requested and received the materials. In the process they learned that NASA was investigating replacement options for current insulation materials for their 3,200,000-liter cryogenic tanks.
"The problem is that NASA is losing lots of money with lack of perfect insulation causing fuel boil off. So they challenged us," says Higgins. "The Cryogenics Lab sent us actual shuttle foam samples. They sent us two new super insulation materials they are investigating. That got us in the mood to think about publishing our results."
With that goal in mind, he assigned the lab to measure cryogenic insulation properties for new materials that NASA plans to use. The experiment also involved David McCallum, lab manager and student advisor. McCallum participated in the experiment by making the fixtures needed for the test cell which measured specific heat on the insulation powders.
Olson, who led an eight-member team for the experiment, was prepared for the challenge. For 20 years, the veteran exercised his supervision skills primarily doing industrial level work during shipyard work on U.S. Navy ships and operating nuclear reactor, and for about two years he has worked in quality assurance in the oil and petroleum industry as an engineer.
In addition, he has received numerous awards and recognitions during his two-and-a-half years at the College, including the Metro State Senior Class Leadership Award and a scholarship from ASME-IPTI.
"Chris is a very mature, level headed guy," says Higgins, who thinks students get a great experience out of seeing their work published. "Not only is your professor going to see it, but also professional people. This is a serious paper subject to peer review for quality. They only care if it’s legitimate, not where your heart is."
Olson is researching funding avenues so that he can be there with Professor He to present the research, but at the same time he admits that he’s also focused on finishing his classes so that he can graduate.
For more information on the projects completed in Higgins’ lab, visit www.haiservices.com.