YSU STEM has a new minor! Natural Gas and Water Resources!

YSU STEM students now have the opportunity to pursue a new and relevant academic minor in Natural Gas and Water Resources, a program that provides a focus on the emerging oil and gas industry. The STEM College’s Department of Geological and Environmental Science heads this minor.

With the rapid emergence of the regional natural gas industry, the Natural Gas and Water Resources Minor at YSU was first proposed in November 2011 and was quickly approved by the Board of Trustees in April 2012.

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Ward Beecher Feature: The Electron Microscope Facility

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Dr. Virgil Solomon looking at the chemical composition of a sample.

From the outside, Ward Beecher Hall looks like a normal academic building. Sure, it houses a planetarium and a greenhouse, but there is more than that on the inside. Youngstown State University has the privilege of having an Electron Microscope (EM) Facility on its campus.

The first part of the facility was started in 2009 with the help of a grant from Ohio Third Frontier. The $2.1 million grant was used to redesign part of the fifth floor of Ward Beecher Hall to accommodate both a focused ion beam/scanning electron microscope and a scanning/transmission electron microscope. Continue reading

Faculty Faction: Dr. Michael Butcher

Dr. Michael T. Butcher

Youngstown State University collects all sorts of people as students, faculty, and professors. Each of these people has something specific and unique to offer the community and the university. Dr. Michael Butcher, assistant professor of anatomy and physiology, has been an essential part of the research initiative in the Department of Biological Sciences for the last five years.

Michael feels at home in the Biological Sciences department; the position is what brought him to the Youngstown area.

“The Department of Biological Sciences was a good fit for me and they were very supportive of my research program,” Michael says.

Dr. Butcher studied

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Dr. Pedro Cortes awarded Summer Faculty Fellowship to Wright Patterson Air Force Base

Dr. Pedro Cortes has been awarded a Summer Faculty Fellowship to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, where he will spend 10 weeks working in the area of smart materials. Dr. Cortes will be working with the adaptive research group in the Materials & Manufacturing Directorate. The current fellowship is an extension of work carried out during the summer of 2011 which resulted in a technical paper presented at the SPIE (the International Society of Optics and Photonics) conference in San Diego, CA.

Funding for this work also comes from the Ohio Space Grant Consortium, which is part of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program administrated through the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters.

Dr. Cortes and his team (George Kubas a student from Chemical Engineering and Eric Schubert a student from Civil Engineering) are currently investigating morphing structures for the aerospace sector. They have developed a novel adaptive structure that is activated by internal smart tubes that induce geometrical modifications on the shape of the structure. The novel morphing structure is able to hold a temporary structural configuration without continuous thermal supply, and is capable of returning to its original shape in less than a second by passing a cold fluid through the internal smart tubing system. This new breed of adaptive material opens the possibility of lightweight morphing materials for the transportation sector.

Dr. Cortes

Dr. Cortes Student George

Dr. COrtes Student Eric

Hybrid LED Exterior Site Pole

The group consisting of Michael Stanish (Team Leader), JR Harvey, Rey Mejo and Audria Grubbs chose the project “Hybrid LED Exterior Site Pole” to present at the 22nd annual QUEST Forum for Student Scholarship on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. This project is an exterior lighting system that is fully sustained with renewable energy sources such as the wind turbine and the solar panel. The LED fixtures are powered by our batteries during night time. Then, the wind turbine and the solar panel will charge our batteries all day. The purpose of this project is to eliminate dependency of non-renewable energy for exterior lighting application. The result of our design will expand the application of renewable energies for efficient, economical, and environmental engineering purposes. This will create a better future for tomorrow by greatly limiting dependency on non-renewable energy for exterior lighting applications.

Intern’s at Butech Bliss

Internships are an important part of gaining real work experience. At Youngstown State University (YSU), student internship opportunities prepare STEM majors for future careers.

This spring semester, three mechanical engineering majors, Joseph Myers, German Natal, and Brandon Strahin, are working at Butech Bliss, in Salem, Ohio. With a 125 year history, Butech Bliss builds coil processing equipment, rolling mills, custom applications and extrusion/ forging machinery. Many YSU alumni work for the company, such as mechanical engineer Robert Kerr. A 1983 graduate, Kerr joined Butech Bliss in 2005. Kerr said that working for the organization has been a …”rewarding experience.” Furthermore, he conveyed how the intern’s have been beneficial: “It immediately became obvious to me that their education at YSU had prepared them well for becoming potential assets to the company.”

All of the intern’s tasks vary. Strahin noted “The intern program cycles job duties so we can get experience in all of the different departments in the company. I think that all of the different job responsibilities really help in learning how the company works and how all of the different departments tie together.”

Myers furthered this saying how being involved in other areas permits…” to see how each part of a project comes together from the initial sale through production which helps my understanding of the business side of things.”Additionally, he has been prepared for the future by Butech Bliss …” allowing me to work on an actual project and being given the trust to do things on my own then receive feedback on the work I’ve done…”

German Natal said his experience has been beneficial because “At Butech, the managers place the interns in a position which allows them to work with engineers and shadow the job processes, along with participating in the job where applicable.”

More information about internships with the College of STEM is available on the Office of Professional Practice site here.

Mathematical Modeling of Fracking Chemical Dispersion in Groundwater

Dozens of Youngstown State University graduate and undergraduate students showcased their scholarly achievements at the 22nd annual QUEST Forum for Student Scholarship on Tuesday, April 3 in Kilcawley Center.

The project chosen by Scott Brand, Sean Gabriel, Michael Hernandez, Jessie Grimm, Brian Crawford and Paul Jones was the Mathematical Modeling of Fracking Chemical Dispersion in Groundwater. A major concern in finding fuel sources in shale deposits underground is the brine solution, used in fracking and containing many harmful chemicals, dispersing into the groundwater above these shale deposits.  If it could be determined how the brine solution ends up getting into the groundwater, then maybe this water pollution could be prevented altogether or another way to break up the shale could be found.

Pictured are (left) Brian Crawford and (right) Scott Brand in front of their poster during the Quest presentation.

To model the ground, semi-permeable marbles in a clear plastic column were used; and to model the brine solution, saltwater solutions of different conductivities were created (it was assumed that the chemicals moved with the salt).  Water and the different salt solutions were pumped up through the vertical column, and the conductivity was measured on a computer program called LoggerPro by conductivity probes inserted into the side of the column.  From the data and using an equation model, it could be determined whether the solutions were traveling in plug-flow manner–one solution right after the other–or mixing–where the two solutions mix and do not flow one solution after the other–by finding the diffusivity of the one solution into the other.  It was found that plug-flow dominated as the conductivity increased, whereas mixing occurred when switching back to a lower conductive solution.  In fact, the difference in diffusivity from switching from pure water to a salt solution and from a salt solution to pure water again was a factor of 100.  Future studies could analyze exactly what factor is causing this to occur and what is the best way to prevent this mixing.

Study of fish passage through culverts in Northeast Ohio

Written by STEM College student, Darshan Baral

A study has been carried out to analyze passage of 10 different fish species through culverts in Northeast Ohio. The goal is to determine the ratio of culverts that act as a barrier for fish passage and to identify design parameters which can be associated with passage success. The culvert data was provided by ODOT and data of discharge and stream morphology were obtained using online USGS repositories and GIS. Computer application FishXing was used to analyze passage of each fish species at 4 flow conditions (minimum average monthly flow, maximum average monthly flow, 2 year high flow, and 25% low flow). The results have shown that out of the 90 culverts, 23 culverts are partial barriers (some fish pass at some flow conditions) and 67 culverts are complete barriers (no fish pass at no flow condition). It is noteworthy that larger proportion of partial culverts was present in interstate routes as opposed to highway routes. Different standards adopted for culvert design in I-80 could be the possible reason behind this. The average slope of the partial barriers (0.6%) was found to be significantly (Student’s t-test, p < 0.05) less than the average slope of the complete barriers (1.6%). The results obtained from the study are expected to provide better understanding of the fish connectivity problem in Northeast Ohio. The employed study method is also anticipated to be usable in the future for analysis of additional culverts.

YSU Professor Leads the Way in Diabetes Research

Diabetes is a life long disease that affects populations worldwide. According to the American Diabetes Association, in the United States alone, 25.8 million adults and children have diabetes: this accounts for 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. Though diabetes numbers continue to rise, so does research, and one professor at Youngstown State University (YSU) performs a study encompassing this area.

For the past several years, professor of biochemistry Dr.Ganesaratnam (“Bali”) K. Balendiran has been researching type 2 diabetes (those who are not totally insulin dependent) in his study “Biochemical Studies of Fibrates and Related Molecules.” Dr. Balendiran, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin- Madison, noted that some aspects of the research include diabetes as a whole, though type 2 is the primary focus.

Dr. Balendiran received a grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading source of funding for medical research, and a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Balendiran’s grant from the NIH is the only operational one at YSU. The activities are housed within the Center for Applied Chemical Biology, one of the designated YSU Centers of Excellence.

The research activity also supports student success, as undergraduate and graduate students are partaking in this study. They are “excited to see something they can bring into the lab that is based on what they have learned from classrooms…” Dr. Balendiran said. Furthermore, students are able to gain firsthand experience in the chemistry field, which will better prepare them as they move toward their careers.

Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol formed in the body through an enzyme catalyzed pathway, was thought to cause diabetes when it accrues in cells. Dr. Balendiran is seeking a way to lower the level of sorbitol by discovering the right fibrates (a group of amphipathic carboxylic acids, mainly used to treat high blood pressure) to enter the polyol pathway, which is initiated in pre-diabetics. Dr. Balendiran conveyed that “chemistry can be utilized to address in the biological setup or to control what is going on in the cell…” One area that has been able to aide Dr. Balendiran significantly in his research is funding.

Grants from the NIH are highly selective and applicants go through an extensive scrutiny process. Dr. Balendiran said that the NIH focuses at certain criteria, for instance, the research itself, and merit, in addition to the research environment, plus much more.

One of the challenges of applying for the grant, Dr. Balendiran said, was to “convince them (NIH) is that in a place like YSU work can be done too.” Though YSU is small in comparison to other colleges, academic research here continues to grow.  Dr. Balendiran’s NIH grant is a prime example of the research capabilities of faculty here at Youngstown State University.

Art meets Engineering

Bliss Hall is home to the College of Fine and Performing Arts; however, what’s inside is something you may not expect to find: a two-coil induction furnace.

Through a partnership with the Department of Art and College of STEM Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) program, the Collaborative Learning Laboratory (CoLab) has brought students together for a joint educational experience.

CoLab was founded three years ago when professor and Department of Art Chair, Greg Moring, and Brian Vuksanovich, professor of MET, wanted to see how their disciplines could come together. The result is an expanding partnership.

CoLab is a project where both art and MET students benefit from “hands on experience” Vuksanovich said, as well as work with state of the art equipment. Art students build metal sculptures, and engineering students work on developing machine parts. Art students …”bring their ideas” Moring said, while engineers know …”how to execute the process.”

Since its induction, CoLab has been able to grow due to the generous support of local businesses and YSU.

Ajax Tocco Magnathermic, a Warren based heating induction and melting manufacturer, donated $125,000 towards the $150,000 two-coil furnace. Tom Illencik, President of Ajax Tocco, provided his support to ensure the installation of the two-coil furnace. The additional $25,000 came from contributions by YSU’s Office of the Provost, College of Fine &Performing Arts, and the College of STEM. Crucibles, which are used for molding metals, were donated by Fireline Inc., another Youngstown company. Prior to the new equipment being installed, students worked with a gas-fired furnace that required projects to last up to 90 minutes. Now, with the two-coil furnace, work can be completed in 15-20 minutes.

Even when art and MET students are not collaborating, both programs will be able to have access to the lab. This provides an opportunity for all students to remain engaged throughout the semester.

For F&PA and STEM, CoLab has been a continual success. Bryan DePoy, dean of F&PA conveyed that by partnering F&PA and STEM students…”we support a whole brain experience for those involved. Engineering students can benefit by working with the creativity inherent in artists, while artists can benefit from the sequential thought process valued in engineering.”

STEM Dean Martin Abraham added, “CoLab is an excellent example of interdisciplinary activity.” For students “working together, they learn how to merge their interests, the practicality with the aesthetic.  It’s truly a one-of-a-kind relationship.”

YSU Materials students work with NSF Research Center through Case connection

A growing new research effort at YSU originates in the Photonic, Optical, and Electronic Materials (POEM) group, begun by YSU physics faculty and now including engineering and chemistry faculty. In physics, for example, the POEM group has been actively recruiting students for the past three summers in cutting-edge research supported by multiple National Science Foundation grants, as well as grants from the State of Ohio Third Frontier Program. Ongoing support for YSU student research into polymers as photonic and optical materials has been provided through YSU’s affiliation with the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Science & Technology Center for Layered Polymeric Systems (CLiPS). CLiPS is a multi-institution collaborative research and education Center begun in 2007 with now ten years of pledged NSF support at nearly $40M. Four YSU faculty members have participated in CLiPS, including Drs. Andrews, Crescimanno, and Oder in Physics and Dr. Price in Chemical Engineering. In addition to material support, research collaboration opportunities, and support for off-campus research experiences for YSU students, direct support to YSU as an affiliate of CLiPS is anticipated to total over $300k. Since 2008, YSU faculty has co-authored at least seven refereed publications partially supported through CLiPS with several more in preparation and many including YSU students as co-authors.

A major component of CLiPS programs is the training of undergraduate students at Affiliates Programs, like YSU, and the recruitment of undergraduates into summer research experiences and, eventually, graduate research in polymer science & engineering. In addition to their research at YSU, POEM students have participated each summer in research experiences for undergraduates (REUs) at nearby Case Western Reserve University, the lead institution for CLiPS. The REU program introduces students to CLiPS technologies, polymer science and STEM research and serves as an important pipeline for American students into CLiPS graduate programs. This year the first four American students accepted into the CWRU PhD program in Macromolecular Science & Engineering were REU alumni, including James Aldridge, graduate of Youngstown State University, who joined the prestigious research group of Dr. Eric Baer, Director of CLiPS, in June, 2011. As part of the REU experience, students work as members of CLiPS Layered Research Teams for ten weeks under the mentorship of a graduate student. In addition to daily research activities, REU students participate in weekly program meetings during which they hone their presentation skills, attend lectures in various areas of polymer science and engineering, and discuss professional ethics. The summer program culminates in the Northeast Ohio Undergraduate Polymer Symposium, an event showcasing the summer research work of undergraduates from CWRU, the University of Akron, Kent State University, and NASA.

Fall 2011 Mechanical Engineering Technology class at GM Lordstown Plant

The Fall 2011 Mechanical Engineering Technology Tool Design class worked on projects hosted at the General Motors Lordstown Stamping Plant. The students attended class at the plant instead of on campus, and worked on projects that will go into plant use in 2012.

Class instructor Mark Vuksanovich said, “This was an opportunity for the students to handle a real project in the field. Students rarely have experiences that simulate the work they will be doing after they graduate. We would like to change that.”

YSU Assistant Professor Brian Vuksanovich, who oversaw the class implementation, said, “The on-site class gave these students an opportunity to experience what they will be doing as graduates in the workplace. Both the students and the plant benefitted from this type of class. We are already looking at offering more field courses in the future.”

Class projects involved redesign of press components that will be installed next year, and a system to precisely measure press movements during die changeover operations. Proposals, mechanical drawings, parts sourcing and physical measurements of components were some of the aspects of plant engineering that were accomplished by the students. Students also got a private tour of the stamping, weld shop and assembly areas of the Lordstown Complex.

General Motors project manager Dave Brown, who oversaw the class at the plant, said, “The class projects encompassed designs that would have required plant resources to develop. Having the students perform the design work helped with our manpower sourcing and gave the students valuable work experience they would not have had otherwise.”