Small-scale engineering allows students to innovate

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    An engineering professor and two undergraduate students are working to develop new technologies with the help of grants from two Dallas/Fort Worth-based companies.Edward Kolesar, W.A. Moncrief professor of engineering, Brandon Least, junior mechanical engineering major and Jeff Tippey, junior electrical engineering major, are using micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology to create a wireless sensor for helicopter blades and a mechanical eye.

    The two projects, that use the technology that incorporates series of motors smaller than the human hair, are funded by Lockheed Martin, a governmental contractor, and Bell Helicopter, an aviation company, Kolesar said.

    “MEMS allows us to work at isolating and manipulating individual atoms and molecules,” he said.

    By working at the microscopic level, the MEMS technology can work on a smaller scale than what used to be possible in a machine shop, said Kolesar, who has been working in the field for three years. The concept of nanotechnology is a growing field of scientific research, he said.

    “Nanotechnology is the merging of science and hardware,” he said. “The size we are working with is about 80 times smaller than a human hair. It is like using a massive Tinkertoy set.”

    Working with small-scale technologies enables a future for various fields, including medicine and weapons systems, Kolesar said.

    “I see nanotechnology as the future in a lot of professions,” Least said.

    By using the technology, Kolesar is hoping to create a mechanical eye that can function in a similar fashion to that of a human-eye lens.

    “A human eye can see things in focus from about 7 inches away to almost infinity,” Kolesar said, “but a camera requires a high tech lens system.”

    By making an artificial system of muscles similar to those in the human eyes, new advances can be made in fields beyond that of medicine, Kolesar said.

    “These can make new camera lenses that are inexpensive and lightweight, and can be used in military weapons devices,” Kolesar said.

    Another nanotechnology project of Kolesar’s is the creation of wireless sensors that would detect the stress and strain put on helicopter blades, Kolesar said. That project should be in the testing stage this spring, he said.

    Least and Tippey, who work anywhere from eight to 10 hours a week, are paid hourly through the grant money and are actively involved with the research, Kolesar said.

    “TCU is unique because we are using undergraduates for our grant research,” he said.

    Kolesar presented his MEMS technology research at a conference in Dallas Sept. 27 and 28.

    The nanoTX’06 Conference and Expo focused on nanotechnology and its practical use in modern day businesses according to the Expo’s Web site, nanotx.biz.