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Engineering Researchers Named ONR Young Investigators

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Two College of Engineering researchers, Josh Kacher and Wenshan Cai, were named Young Investigators and received large grants from the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The Young Investigator Program (YIP) recognizes early-career scientists and engineers “who show exceptional promise for doing creative research,” according to the ONR website. The grant they receive is often regarded as a milestone in the early careers of engineers who show unusual promise.

Kacher (left), an assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering, was recognized for his work towards understanding material behaviors in a variety of extreme environments. Specifically, his work employs advanced electron microscopy techniques in order to study and develop corrosion resistant materials.

“Corrosion prevention and maintenance cost the Navy billions of dollars every year,” Kacher said. “Receiving the ONR award is a huge honor and will allow me to pursue higher risk experiments, such as mapping the progression of corrosion fronts at the nanoscale using in situ liquid cell transmission electron microscopy experiments.”

Applicants to the Young Investigator Program must submit a proposal to one of the ONR’s six departments within their Science and Technology organization. Kacher’s proposal was titled “Correlating Microstructure to Corrosion Susceptibility using a Multiscale Electron Microscopy Approach” and was submitted to the Corrosion Control department.

Another recipient from the CoE was Cai (right), who is an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (with a joint appointment in Materials Science and Engineering). His principal research area is micro- and nanophotonic materials and devices. His proposal was concentrated in a field where he has made significant strides, and was titled “Hot-Carrier-Induced Nonlinear Optical Processes in Photonic Metamaterials.” It was submitted to the department of Ship Systems and Engineering Research.

Cai believes that his work is closely aligned with the mission of the ONR to cultivate innovations in naval science, and that it will propel further developments in electromagnetic maneuver warfare, power and energy.

“I am honored to be recognized as an ONR Young Investigator,” Cai said. “I am glad and proud for bringing this award to Georgia Tech, which I consider to be my lifelong academic home and will serve to the best of my ability.”

The YIP was created in 1985, and it is a selective program that recognizes researchers “whose scientific pursuits show outstanding promise for supporting the Department of Defense, while also promoting their professional development,” according an ONR press release. These individuals are supported through a grant of $510,000 or more that is paid over the course of three years.

In 2017, 33 people from institutions of higher learning from all over the United States were awarded grants, for a total of $16 million allocated. The money can be used to fund laboratory equipment, graduate student stipends and other expenses.

The opportunity to work with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps is coveted, and 360 applicants were in the running this year. Candidates are selected based on past experience, technical merit, the potential their research has for breakthrough and their commitment to their institution.

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Portrait of YIP recipient Wenshan Cai
Portrait of YIP recipient Josh Kacher


Josh Kacher and Wenshan Cai were awarded the prestigious grants.

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CoE Professor and Two Alumni Named to National Academy of Engineering

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Arkadi Nemirovski, John Hunter Chair and Professor at the Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) selected a College of Engineering professor and two alumni for membership during its national elections in February. The individuals recognized were Arkadi Nemirovski, Paula Hammond and James Crocker.

Each year, the NAE recognizes the nation’s foremost professional engineers, those who have made significant contributions to the field through the pioneering of new technology or the publishing of groundbreaking literature. NAE members work to improve the well-being of the United States through encouraging and recognizing outstanding advancements in engineering.

​Nemirovski (right), a professor in the Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering, was recognized by the NAE for his contributions to engineering through “the development of efficient algorithms for large-scale convex optimization problems,” according to a statement released by the NAE.

In addition, he holds the John Hunter Chair in the Stewart School and is an expert in convex and continuous optimization. He does research in analytics, big data and statistics.

Also recognized was Hammond, M.S. ChBE 1988, for her contributions to “self-assembly of polyelectrolytes, colloids and block copolymers at surfaces and interfaces for energy and health care applications,” according to the NAE. She is currently a David H. Koch Professor and head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of chemical engineering.

Crocker, B.S. EE 1971, was elected a member of the NAE for his work in the fields of astrophysics and planetary exploration. He is currently vice president and general manager at Lockheed Martin.

These engineers are among 84 members from the United States and 22 foreign members elected this year. They join the ranks of more than 2,000 other NAE members and will be formally inducted in October.


Arkadi Nemirovski, Paula Hammond and James Crocker are joining one of engineering's most prestigious organizations.

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Engineering a Life by Studying Religion

Friday, September 30, 2016

Professor John Cressler in his officeAn engineering puzzle: How do you assemble a class about religion at a place like Georgia Tech? 

Professor John Cressler faced this question not too long ago. First, he figured, he had to attract the right undergraduates, so he wrote a syllabus accordingly:

“This course will gather together a diverse set of students who are serious about their spiritual lives,” it read, “and yet who are also studying hard to be Georgia Tech’s next cadre of world-class graduates.”

There is surely no other Tech class with similar prerequisites, because there is no similar class at all. And once the course — Science, Engineering and Religion: An Interfaith Dialogue — began this past spring, Cressler realized his students had been yearning for something like it.

He understands that desire himself. Cressler has never taught liberal arts — he is the Schlumberger Chair Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. But when the idea for this course came to him during a spiritual retreat, he knew he had to pursue it. Given his longtime interest in world religions — he’s the author of a historical fiction series set in Moorish Spain — Cressler recognized how a course about both science and religion could fit into Tech’s mission.

With IAC 3803, which included undergraduates from across all majors and years, he hoped to expose students to new ideas, encourage them to consider overlaps between science and faith, and place their own beliefs in new contexts.

“The class is in no way about changing your worldview,” Cressler said. “It’s about getting to know what your worldview is and putting bedrock underneath it.” 

To that end, his students’ first assignment was a two-page essay about their backgrounds and personal beliefs. Then, during the last class of the semester, they reread their pieces and wrote new ones about how their opinions had shifted or remained firm.

In between those essays, the group explored a broad spectrum of religious viewpoints. Students pored over required readings, of course, but they also visited Al-Farooq Masjid, a mosque just north of Georgia Tech’s campus. They went to Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, where they discussed service and charity. They saw the play “Disgraced,” about American Muslims, at the Alliance Theatre. 

“It was an absolutely spectacular teaching experience,” Cressler said. 

One day, he referenced the 1997 movie “Contact,” which is based on a Carl Sagan book and addresses the relationship between faith and science. No one in the class had seen it. 

What to do? Host a screening, of course. The class got together at the Technology Square Research Building and watched the movie together over pizza.

It was a typical experience for these students, who had become invested in the class’ deeper questions: Does the universe have a purpose? Can you be a serious scientist if you believe in God? 

“Believe it or not, it just might be the most difficult class I have taken,” said Lara Tucci, who took the course as a fifth-year student in chemical and biomolecular engineering (and was no stranger to difficult material.) 

“There were many sleepless nights grappling over the issues we discussed in class, struggling to grasp a lot of the concepts and questions Dr. Cressler posed to us,” she said. “It was an amazing growing experience.”

That sentiment was common. Nabil Esmail, a first-year student in economics and international affairs at the time, said he “came with an open perspective and left with an even broader one.”

The course received glowing feedback in student evaluations, and Cressler is excited to make the next offering even better. He’s currently seeking candidates for spring 2017. Yes, that means you have to apply to be considered, but again, this is no ordinary course. 

Cressler’s students from this past spring seemed to recognize that. At semester’s end, they presented Cressler with a photograph of the entire class beneath a quotation from (what else?) Carl Sagan’s “Contact”: 

“The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”



Class: IAC 3803, “Science, Engineering and Religion: An Interfaith Dialogue,” is offered through the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. The course is sponsored by the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP), a new Georgia Tech-Emory partnership. 

Professor: John Cressler, Schlumberger Chair Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He was awarded the 2010 Class of 1940 W. Howard Ector Outstanding Teacher Award, Georgia Tech’s top teaching award.

Logistics: In spring 2017, the class will be offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:35-5:55 p.m. A detailed course description can be found on Cressler's website.

How to apply: Contact Professor Cressler at cressler@ece.gatech.edu to apply for a permit to register.

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Professor John Cressler in his office


In his new course, Professor John Cressler encourages students to examine science and engineering through a new lens.

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Solving Health Care Policy with Engineering

Thursday, August 18, 2016

In a nondescript room on Fifth Street, billions of files containing millions of Americans’ personal health information are stored. The few gatekeepers allowed into this highly secured room are the members of Georgia Tech’s Health Analytics team, a group of students and faculty members who use data science methodologies to analyze and interpret all of this information.

So what’s in the files? The Health Analytics group has, over time, bought 500 billion of Medicaid claims from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency. The claims date back nearly 10 years, from 2005-2012. For two of those years, Tech has all of the claims filed in the entire United States; for the rest of the period, the claims of 14 states located mostly in the Southeast.  

The claims allow the team to study how people use the health care system: how many times they went to the doctor, if and when they filled a prescription, if they went to the specialist they were referred to, or how many times they’ve been to the emergency room or otherwise hospitalized. The data also includes what costs were associated with each doctor, specialist, or hospital visit, and what drives those costs — so they can study how to increase cost efficiency on a systemic level. The CMS data project is a collaborative effort with Georgia Tech’s Institute for People and Technology, the GT Pediatric Technology Center, and the Georgia Department of Public Health. IPaT supports the purchase, curation, security and access to this sensitive data on behalf of the GT research community. 

Significant conclusions have already been reached from the team’s analysis. One recent project focused on dental health problems, what Nicoleta Serban, an associate professor in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) and co-leader of the team, calls the most chronic condition for children. The team was able to assess how preventive dental care affects the health of children on Medicaid down the road. They found that increasing preventive dental care for even just 10 or 20 percent of Georgia’s children would save the state millions of dollars.

“It’s because we have that amount of data we could do it! Otherwise we could not,” says Serban, stressing the importance of being able to track changes in health outcomes over several years.

Richard Zheng, a Ph.D. student who has been working with this data since 2013, sees the team’s role as “bridging the gap” between the healthcare field and the statistics, operations, research, and other analytical methods needed to “solve real healthcare problems.”

Another study, on childhood asthma, revealed that Georgia has the highest percentage of kids who go to the emergency room or are hospitalized for reasons related to asthma. By looking at adherence to guidelines on how to best to care for childhood asthma — the most common respiratory condition among kids — the team hopes to find ways to encourage better treatment and access to primary care providers while reducing expensive emergency room visits.

The team recognizes the potential for policy advocacy using this data. Serban says she has started working closely with Georgia’s Department of Public Health, but there are countless ways the claims data could be used to better inform decision-making in public health.

“Health care is a field with a huge amount of data,” Zheng says. “Those findings can really help make better decisions and inferences.”

Serban says that so far, state agencies have been responsive to the hard numbers she and her team have been able to provide in terms of Medicaid patients’ access to care (or lack thereof) and — especially — ways to save costs.

“[The data] allows us to compare the expenditures per patient in different geographical areas,” says Julie Swann, ISyE professor and co-leader of the team. That kind of comparison allows decision makers to see how others are doing on health outcomes and what they’re spending to achieve them.

“You can compare Georgia to North Carolina to Tennessee…and so on,” Swann says.

And the data allows much more granular analysis than that. The files contain individuals’ information; identifying information that is highly sensitive and thus highly confidential.

That’s important because studying public health outcomes on a county level, as is often done with census data, leaves much room for error.

“Think about Fulton [County]. There are hundreds of census tracts…” explains Serban. “If you take Edgewood versus Lake Claire, they’re very different communities and they have different behaviors.” When trying to target Fulton County generally, she says, one wouldn’t know which area to target for which needs — they vary too greatly within the county as a whole.

While other academic institutions have some CMS data, Georgia Tech’s team has unique access and the ability to use the data from these billions of claims effectively. That’s in large part due to the school’s top-rated computer science and industrial engineering schools and the top-tier students with that sort of expertise.

“In other places, IT does the queries and the doctors make requests [for data analysis],” says Serban. But at Tech, Serban and Swann take on roles as public health scholars, physicians, policy advocates, and data scientists when working with the claims data. Both professors are trained statisticians.

Though the Health Analytics team bought the data from CMS in the beginning of 2011, it took members almost a year to complete the database they needed to build in order to actually access it. It’s this infrastructure — the physical storage and property, the security needed to go with it, the skills to build software to query the data, the manpower to actually do it, and continue to do so — that makes working with Georgia Tech’s data set so valuable.

So far the team has had some meaningful collaborations with Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and — most closely — Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which has played a huge role supporting the team’s work.

But with billions of claims and the seemingly infinite angles they offer to examine Medicaid and the U.S. health care system at large, there is much, much more to be done. And plenty of opportunities for collaboration.

The Health Analytics team is eager to secure more partnerships that would allow them to use their analytical expertise to better the health care system in some way.

“We want to go beyond Georgia — we want to go national,” says Serban.

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The Health Analytics team is analyzing 500 billion Medicaid claims that are right at Georgia Tech.

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Answering the Call for Mastery

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Everybody, it seems, wants Ari Siesser. Young, intelligent and personable, Siesser says a week doesn’t go by without at least one corporate recruiter emailing him with a job opportunity.

That’s because Siesser (B.S. industrial engineering 2014, M.S. analytics 2015) has something that companies covet: the knowledge and skill to help predict the future.

“A lot of what I do can be used to predict the success of a marketing and advertising campaign,” says Siesser, who works for Atlanta-based business intelligence firm Cardlytics. “For example, we use credit card transaction data to evaluate how effective certain ads are in getting people to purchase products. We then use this information to identify which ads in the future will have greater purchase power.”

At 25, Siesser acquired his analytical wizardry through a highly specialized graduate program. The master’s degree in analytics blends the data modeling and statistical analysis expertise provided by the Stewart School of Industrial Systems & Engineering (ISyE) with the computational firepower of Georgia Tech’s College of Computing and the business analytics acumen from the Scheller College of Business.

While distinct, the program is actually one of several relatively new master’s degrees involving the College of Engineering that have a strong professional emphasis – two others being a master in supply chain engineering (SCE) and a master of biomedical innovation and development, or BioID. Together, the degrees demonstrate a remarkable level of agility from the nation’s largest engineering college, particularly in the ability to forge robust academic offerings that answer the fast-emerging needs of industry.  

Joel Sokol, ISyE associate professorAnd “robust” is not an exaggeration. In a single year’s time, the programs immerse students in specialized knowledge, real-world projects and team-building experiences that exemplify the working world. 

“Global supply chains are complex systems,” says Alan Erera, who directs the master’s in supply chain engineering program. “The ideas can be challenging to learn. But the training in statistical tools and operations research we provide helps students learn these powerful ideas and use them smartly to better plan and control supply chains.”

Over in the analytics program, the distinction begins with a customized mixing of courses from three top-ranked programs. 

“Ours is truly a co-equal degree,” says Joel Sokol (left), who oversees the program. “ISyE is No. 1 in the nation and is particularly strong in statistics and operations research. The College of Computing has one of the best machine learning groups in the country. And Scheller is No. 5 in quantitative analysis.” He ties it all together to emphasize the point: “Only six universities in the U.S. are in the top 10 in industrial engineering, computing and business, and we’re the only one that has integrated all of these into a single degree.”

The three professional master’s programs share much in common besides their one-year time frame. Each enrolls highly diverse cohorts – different ages, nationalities and levels of work experience. And each gives students a unique, front-row view of industry through guest speakers, location tours and on-site project work (internships, practicum or capstone). The goal is to produce graduates who will be ready to perform on day one.

Rebecca Silver is one such graduate. An avowed supply chain enthusiast – “Whenever I order online, I like to see how long it takes for the order to change to ‘ship’ status” – Silver graduated from the M.S. in supply chain engineering program in 2014 and immediately went to work for Nike. Her job was to improve the inner workings of the company’s only U.S. distribution center for shoes. In early 2015, when Nike moved to a gargantuan facility of 3 million square feet – where all footwear, apparel and equipment would be shipped, usually within 24 hours of ordering – Silver’s role in Nike logistics expanded.

“When it came online, the new building had 31 miles of conveyer belts,” Silver says. “It also required a new warehouse management system and processes. There was a lot to test and a lot of places where things can go wrong.”

Originally assigned to the engineering team over one area of the center, Silver is now on the planning team to optimize order processing and shipping for the entire building. She credits her Georgia Tech graduate education for her rapid rise at Nike. 

“The program gave me the ability to work on teams, think analytically and know how to ask the right questions,” she says. As an example, she cites her capstone project for Pacific Star, a Mexico City-based food supplier to KFC, Pizza Hut and other restaurant brands. Silver and her three project teammates examined vast amounts of data provided by the company, then flew to Mexico to study operations. 

ISyE master's student“There were a lot of refrigerated and frozen products, so of course everything has an expiration date,” she says. “Our team recommended how they could improve several processes – how they place orders, load trucks and ship products without spoiling. We actually got to see some of the recommendations incorporated while we were there.”

Sathya Gourisankar describes similar real-world projects that have emerged from the BioID program, which he directs. “One group worked on a novel method to reduce pain during urethral procedures – they came up with an extraordinarily clever and innovative design for a urethral stent,” he says. “They created and tested a prototype. The performance was so promising, their clinical mentor, who was a urologist, said the product would be a great benefit to his practice. That was a huge compliment.”

The connection works the other way, too – students already in their careers bring a professional perspective to the professional degree programs. Having worked for 18 years in the financial and technology industries, Ankur Garg came to the M.S. in analytics program after seeing how the data landscape was changing in the corporate world. He was struck by the ways in which the analytics degree could be customized based on each student’s interests. 

“We have the ability to choose one of three separate tracks,” he says, referring to the analytical tools of ISyE, the business analytics of Scheller and computational analytics of the College of Computing. “The blend itself is really unique, and the number of electives is very large.”

No matter which combination of courses graduate students take as they pursue their degree, those working toward the M.S. in analytics will be attractive to prospective employers. Big data is becoming an increasingly big factor in corporate decision-making. 

“Some companies are pretty advanced in analytics, while others are happy to get the basics up and running,” says Katherine McKenna, who will complete the program this summer. “But it’s challenging to keep up with new algorithms and technologies, which is why there’s such a big demand for people.”

Likewise, the BioID program produces graduates who are day-one ready to work in the expanding medical device industry. “Companies invest a lot of time training employees,” says Gourisankar, who spent three decades in the medical device industry before Georgia Tech hired him. “That’s why they brought an industry insider like me to run the program – to bring real-world practices to the classroom. We also have a team of big-gun medical device people, so the students get mega world exposure through the program.”

Lance Black is one such student. A practicing physician in the U.S. Air Force and biological engineering graduate from Louisiana State, he recounts how he pivoted from medicine to medical devices. “Being an engineer ruined me for being a physician,” he says, laughing. “Shortly after I started treating patients, I realized this wasn’t what I wanted to do the next 25 years. There aren’t a lot of creative outlets in practicing medicine. You’re not making things up as you go along, because you really shouldn’t be.”

A consultant with the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), billed as “the Southeast’s first and only comprehensive medical device innovation center,” Black says the center director encouraged him to apply to the BioID program. He did and found the yearlong program “a safe environment to think outside the box.” After graduation, GCMI hired Black full-time as its medical affairs manager, helping entrepreneurial physicians who seek to develop medical devices. 

ISyE's Joel Sokol with students“I’ll spend hours in the office brainstorming ideas, working through different iterations, doing risk assessment,” he says. It’s an experience that perfectly blends his engineering and medical backgrounds, and Black credits the BioID program for helping him achieve his larger goal of contributing to the growth and development of an industry. 

In a similar way, graduates of the M.S. in SCE program are evolving the supply chain industry by optimizing the supply chain, a critical goal for companies searching for new ways to serve their customers better. Georgia Tech ISyE master’s students in supply chain engineering have an edge compared to students in traditional supply chain management programs – rather than simply plan activity in the supply chain, they engineer solutions to optimize it at any point. 

“The best thing I learned is being open to how to solve a problem,” says Subhash Segoreti (M.S. SCE ’15), who is now working to optimize the European supply chain for Cisco. “Beyond the hard skills, I learned about working with different cultures and being adaptable. At Georgia Tech, you learn the skills that are very important.”



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At the crossroads of supply chain activity

As elevator speeches go, Tim Brown’s take on where Georgia stands in supply chain and logistics is impressive:

Atlanta was founded as Terminus, based on logistics, with two rail lines coming together. When mail distribution moved to the air, Atlanta was chosen over Birmingham as an airport hub. Since then, Hartsfield-Jackson has grown to one of the busiest airports in the world. Savannah is now the nation’s second largest container port. Brunswick is No. 1 in auto imports. Atlanta is one of just two U.S. cities that have three interstates intersecting through it. Georgia is home to two intermodal yards in its ports, two more in Atlanta. It’s also the headquarters of global supply chain retailers – Coca-Cola, Newell Rubbermaid, Home Depot, others – and of course, UPS.

Small wonder that Georgia Tech has chosen to become a major partner to the industry, not only through the College of Engineering’s graduate program, but also through an Interdisciplinary Research Center (IRC) for Supply Chain & Logistics, for which Brown serves as managing director.

One of seven such centers on campus, the IRC unites supply chain programs and professionals across Georgia Tech in research, education and outreach. Among other activities, the center:

o    pursues major grants for multi-disciplinary research in transportation, logistics and other areas;
o    orchestrates professional development courses for people in the industry and provides course content; and
o    coordinates industry projects for more than 2,000 Georgia Tech students, including capstone experiences for graduate students.

The IRC also houses the new “Physical Internet Center,” an endeavor working to apply the fundamentals of the Internet – speed, standardization, interconnectedness – to the operation of logistics and supply chain systems.

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Joel Sokol, ISyE associate professor
ISyE master's student
ISyE's Joel Sokol with students


Specialized graduate programs demonstrate CoE’s agility in responding to industry needs.

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First, Win InVenture. Then, Take on High School?

Monday, May 16, 2016

A video opens on a scene in a school classroom.  Five  late-elementary age students, ranging in height from very small to only slightly less small, stand in a row. The video serves as their pitch for an invention they dreamed up.

The kids start firing questions with an enthusiasm otherwise found on early morning infomercials: “Do you hate wearing your helmet?” one student asks. “Have you ever decided to not wear your helmet and then gotten an injury? Does your head get cold when you’re riding your bike in the winter?” 

“If you said yes to any of these questions, our invention is for you!” the student exclaims. And then, all in unison, “Safety… Safety… SAFETY!” The group members hold their arms out like actors in a Broadway musical.

This is the beginning of just one of dozens of pitches reviewed by Roxanne Moore, a research engineer who heads Georgia Tech’s K-12 InVenture Challenge, held in March each year. The competition is a grade-school spin-off of Tech’s InVenture Prize, the nation’s largest invention competition for undergraduate students. 

In the K-12 Challenge, teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the state are invited to cultivate innovation in students, facilitating projects worked on either while in school or in extracurricular settings. Schools are invited to send at least one team to Georgia Tech for the spring competition, where winners are chosen at the elementary, middle, and high school levels for first, second, and third places. Awards are also given for “People’s Choice,” as well as best use of manufacturing and IronCAD  (Computer Aided Design) software 

This year’s event hosted 60 teams from 31 schools — over half of them elementary schools — from 12 counties in and around Atlanta. Winners included “The Succulent Solution,” a mechanism that extracts liquid from inside a cactus to be used for medicinal purposes; “Wheel Barrel,” a portable water filtration system inspired by sanitation needs in Sudan; and “Noise X,” noise-isolating headphones that eliminate distracting sounds for students with attention deficit disorders. 

Student projects are judged by industry experts and Georgia Tech faculty members on a range of factors including practicality, design-based thinking, marketability, and social responsibility.

This early exposure to engineering and entrepreneurship has played a powerful role in students’ lives. Nick Rupert, now a freshman at Georgia Tech, is a K-12 Challenge winner from last year. Rupert and his collaborators plan to make their winning project — an app that helps chemistry students “visualize both abstract and invisible content”, bringing scientific studies to life on the screen—publicly available by this fall. 

For Angelique Johnson, another K-12 Challenge winner, the experience offered a “different type of opportunity” to be creative and tackle a problem otherwise unavailable in typical high school curriculum. Johnson also went on to attend Georgia Tech, attributing a large part of her choice to do so to her interaction with the school through the K-12 Challenge. 

The competing students’ pitches are taken seriously — students even get to meet Tech President Bud Peterson — and are critiqued by industry officials and professors. One of Rupert's app’s first critics, a Georgia Tech professor who judged his K-12 Challenge, is now Rupert’s research advisor. 

“You build confidence early and repeatedly around an experience that feels technical in some way, or feels entrepreneurial in some way,” says Roxanne Moore. “The more you can create that kind of positive experience, the more a student can self-identify into that type of goal.”

For Moore and others at the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CIESMC), it’s important to use the K-12 Challenge as a way to increase diversity in science, technology, engineering and math fields. She says that gender diversity is notably more present at the elementary school level, where they see a lot more female inventors at the annual competition. 

She tells a story of one group of girls who wore suits to the K-12 Challenge  and  brought business cards with their titles — chief executive officer, of course — printed. 

“They’re just super confident,” Moore says of the girls she sees at the competition. “They haven’t developed a preconceived notion of what they can or can’t do, or be.” 

Jeanette Phillips teaches at North Oconee High School, which has sent a winning team to the Challenge for two of the three years it’s participated. Phillips will retire this year, but she plans to continue facilitating the school’s involvement in the K-12 Challenge. 

The competition is “educator heaven”, she says, explaining how watching students choose a problem and invest their time and creativity into finding a solution has been a highlight of her professional career. 

Though the number of schools and teams has doubled each year since the competition’s inception in 2013, Moore has dreams of expanding the K-12 Challenge even further. Currently, most of the schools that send student teams to compete are in the metro Atlanta area, but Moore would like to see students coming from more rural areas and from more middle and lower socioeconomic backgrounds as well as higher ones.

Ultimately, Moore says, proponents of engineering and STEM need to be creating messaging that appeal to more people. For her, this means showing people that engineering is, at its core, human-centered—a “very broad and really flexible toolbox” for tackling problems humans come across. 

“Engineers are totally focused on problems that affect people and affect their lives and affect society, but that’s not always clear when you’re taking thermodynamics, or when you’re taking algebra,” she says. 

When asked why it’s important to maintain a K-12 version of InVenture along with the original challenge for college students, Jeanette Phillips puts it simply:

“Why wait?” 

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A spinoff of the InVenture competition invites (really) young engineers to design inventions. 

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Health Is Star (Again) at Spring Capstone Design Expo

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It was a big night for health at spring's Capstone Design Expo, as teams targeting medicine and wellness took home nearly half of the event awards.

The Expo's overall winner, Hub Hygiene, was an interdisciplinary team that aimed to reduce bloodstream infection rates. The group showed off a device that cleans a needleless IV connector.

In recent years, health-centric projects have grabbed center stage at the Expo, which is in some ways a compass for Georgia Tech at large. The Expo began as an exhibition for mechanical engineering alone, but it now hosts hundreds of students and reflects the Institute-wide emphases on real-world applicability and human needs.

Each Capstone Design Expo showcases senior projects from about a dozen Georgia Tech schools (most of them in the College of Engineering). The idea is for students to create prototypes that solve problems, though projects at the Expos are as diverse as the students themselves.

Many teams work with big-name sponsors – The Coca-Cola Company, Ford Motor Company, The Home Depot – to tackle corporate issues like supply chains. Some groups strike out on their own, designing new inventions that sometimes become foundations for full-fledged startup companies.

Other universities host similar events, but Georgia Tech’s version stands out thanks to heavy alumni involvement and participation from around the Institute.

See a full list of spring 2016 winners. 

Team Purrfect Engineering, which designed a better way to make paper tunnels for pet-toy company Dezi & Roo, worked in the Invention Studio to create a prototype.

“It just looked like such an interesting project,” said team member Joseph Tenpenny. Thanks to his mechanical engineering team’s work and its Invention Studio creation, Dezi & Roo has a more efficient manufacturing process for its cat tunnels.  

Team Second Self, which won the industrial engineering prize, boasted a different kind of Georgia Tech connection: Its sponsor was a brewery owned by two Tech alumni. And plenty of graduates attended the Expo as either visitors or judges, giving students a chance to network and show off their skills. 

“A Georgia Tech alum who’s now attending medical school came by our table and said [our project] is really interesting,” said Shirin Kale, a biomedical engineering senior and member of the Infinitis team. Her group, which designed an IUD that’s easier and more comfortable to insert than current models, eventually won the prize for best interdisciplinary project.

Twelve teams, out of 207 total, ultimately earned awards at the spring Expo. But with so many students competing, prizes aren’t always the point.

The biomedical engineering team All-in-Vein, which developed an automated system to check for IV infiltrations, was sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Infiltrations happen when IV catheters slip from veins and leak fluid, and they can mean big trouble for kids.

Although graduation is just a couple weeks away for the All-in-Vein members, they plan to continue their work, said group member Kaci Crawford.

“We were really encouraged after getting our provisional patent,” she explained.

Judges finished assessing spring Expo teams by 7 p.m., and by 8:30, the evening’s awards, photographs and speeches were all over. But for All-in-Vein and plenty of other teams, the work has only just begun.


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Interdisciplinary team Hub Hygiene won the evening's top award.

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Engineering Majors Win Big at Student Honors Celebration

Monday, April 25, 2016

College of Engineering students were big winners at the 2016 Student Honors Celebration. The event, held April 20, recognized students throughout Georgia Tech who have demonstrated excellence in their fields of study. 

Jonathan Tuck, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, received the prestigious Love Family Foundation Scholarship. This scholarship is given each year to a member of the graduating senior class who has the most outstanding scholastic record. Tuck received an award cup along with a check for $10,000. 

The Helen E. Grenga Outstanding Woman Engineer Award is given in memory of the first female faculty member in the College of Engineering. This year’s recipient was April Gadsby, a civil engineering major. She received this award for her outstanding scholarship, leadership and service in her field. The award consists of $2,500 and a plaque.  

The Davidson Family Tau Beta Pi Senior Engineering Cup was presented to mechanical engineering major Joshua Wade, who received the award for  academic excellence, leadership and service. He received a gold cup along with $5,000. 

Three College of Engineering students received the Alvin M. Ferst Leadership and Entrepreneur Scholarship Award, given for entrepreneurial and leadership skills. All recipients received $2,500. These students are:  
●     Alexandra Flohr (mechanical engineering)
●     Titilayo Funso (industrial engineering) 
●     Henderson Johnson II (aerospace engineering)

The Georgia Tech Faculty Women’s Club Scholarships were given to undergraduates who are students of Georgia Tech employees. Each recipient received $1,500 based on academics and extracurricular involvements. These students included:   

●    Victor Barr (computer engineering)
●    Reed Morris (mechanical engineering)
●    Kexin Zhang (industrial engineering)

Eleven CoE students received the Henry Ford II Scholar Awards. The recipients, who were awarded $1,000 each, are the engineering students with the best academic records at the end of their third years. These students included: 

●    Jacob Boyle (civil engineering)
●    Christopher Campbell (nuclear and radiological engineering)
●    D. Keith Coffman (materials science and engineering)
●    Gregory Cooke (electrical engineering)
●    Ang Deng (electrical and computer engineering)
●    Joshua Ekstedt (civil engineering)
●    Jamin Hershberger (mechanical engineering)
●    Anirudh Joshi (biomedical engineering)
●    Cyril Lukianov (chemical and biomolecular engineering)
●    Madison Luther (aerospace engineering)
●    Sean Monahan (mechanical engineering)


The event honored academic achievement and leadership among Georgia Tech students. 

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Fulbright Grant Gives CE Student a 'Once-in-a-Lifetime' Research Opportunity

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What’s that old saying about being in the right place at the right time?

For Ph.D. student Aaron Bivins, news last week that he has won a Fulbright grant means he’ll get to experience the reality of that maxim.

Bivins will spend nine months in Nagpur, India, working with other scientists to study a community that is building the infrastructure to provide continuous running water to 2.5 million residents for the first time. That means Bivins will be able to test water quality and the community’s health before and after the switchover.

“The transition of the Nagpur water supply from intermittent to continuous supply is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to document the impacts of intermittent supply through a natural experiment,” Bivins said. “The staff and facilities at [India’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute] are top notch. So this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research the right subject in the right place with the right people and equipment.”

Bivins said receiving the Fulbright changes the whole scope of how much work he can do as Nagpur improves its water system.

“Our original plan for the research consisted of data collection in six-to-eight-week intervals during the summer. Eight weeks sounds like a lot of time, but with the type of sampling I'm doing, it takes a week to collect and process eight or so samples,” he said.

“With the Fulbright, I can live and work in Nagpur for nine months. This means that we are able to collect more samples and approach the design and collection in a more comprehensive and systematic way. This ultimately leads to more insight into how intermittent supplies impact the health of their users.”

Bivins is in his third year of doctoral work with Assistant Professor Joe Brown, who also has several ongoing projects in India. The country is ripe for their work, Bivins said, because every major city in India is served by an intermittent supply.

“I am very interested in a global academic career. This is a tremendous opportunity to learn with and from some very capable researchers at NEERI,” Bivins said.

“The challenges we are currently facing in water and sanitation are going to require global collaboration and capacity-building, and exchanges such as those funded by Fulbright are the cornerstone of solving these problems. I'm also very proud to represent Georgia Tech and CEE as a Fulbright Scholar.”


Aaron Bivins will test water quality in Nagpur, India.

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As Luck Would Have It

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Luck seems antithetical to engineering. There are no equations, statistics or models for luck – there is no control.

But to Wick Moorman (CE '75), the recently retired chairman and CEO of railroad company Norfolk Southern, luck matters. It has, he insists, been a central force of his career. 

"I have led a life of extraordinary good fortune," says Moorman.

Which is not to say that years of railroading experience (as well as that Georgia Tech degree) didn’t help him along the way.

An engineer by training and a businessman by trade, Moorman recently delivered spring’s Hyatt Distinguished Alumni Leadership Lecture, a biannual event sponsored by the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

During his speech, held in Tech’s Engineered Biosystems Building, he shared lessons in leadership and stories from Norfolk Southern, where he spent nearly his entire professional life. 

​Moorman is an accomplished and well known businessman. But in his speech to a room of professors, students, and even some former NS employees, he emphasized the role played by sheer luck.

“A big, big part of that good fortune,” he told the crowd, “was finding my way up here, to Georgia Tech.” 

‘Pure serendipity’
Like many kids, Moorman grew up loving trains. He was also good with numbers and enjoyed science, so when it was time for college, engineering seemed like a natural choice for his major.  

​Moorman launched his railroading career at Georgia Tech, taking a co-op position with Norfolk Southern predecessor Southern Railway. Though he enrolled at Tech as a mechanical engineering major, he was referred to a civil engineering group when trying to find co-op work with the rail line. Before long, he switched majors and become a civil engineering student.

“Pure serendipity,” he says.

He continued working for Southern Railway after graduating. Early on, he labored in the track department before heading to Harvard Business School. He returned to the railroad company after receiving his MBA, and he went on to hold illustrious titles with NS such as assistant vice president for stations, terminals and transportation planning, and  vice president for information technology. In 2005, he was named president and CEO, and the title of chairman was added in 2013. 

Taking the reins at Norfolk Southern
When Moorman was in the running to become CEO, he figured he was as qualified as any other candidate. But when his boss told him that he’d been chosen for the job, Moorman says, it was “one of the most sobering moments of my life.”

Suddenly, the momentousness of the role was laid bare. He realized, again, how luck had shaped his life’s course and propelled him toward his company’s top post. 

And so Moorman got to work to make the best of his fortune. 

Norfolk Southern had cultivated a reputation for prioritizing safety among its employees, operations, and communities served. To lift that commitment to the next level, Moorman reasoned, it was time to examine the company’s own culture and try to improve from within. 

“Corporate culture is extraordinarily important,” Moorman says. He’s proud that during his time as CEO, NS hashed out a set of company values and tried to improve employees’ experiences. 

During his lecture, Moorman was also candid about the lessons he learned along the way. His honesty is perhaps borne of a certain freedom – he is retired, after all, and he doesn’t have to answer to anyone these days. But listening to him speak, you sense that self-reflection has always been natural for him. 

He ruminated on the importance of being receptive to bad news. 

“You don’t ever shoot a messenger,” he told the crowd. “You honor a messenger.” And he said that although vision and decisiveness are important traits for a CEO, so is the need to “remember you’re human.” 

The power of trains 
Decades before the fancy titles and big responsibilities, though, Moorman was just another train-loving guy at Georgia Tech. And in some ways, that part of him is still the core of who he is. Though his career hinged on the business side of Norfolk Southern, he is grateful for his engineering education.  

​Moorman grew up in Mississippi, but he knew that “Georgia Tech was the preeminent engineering school in the South, if not the nation, as it is today.” And so, lured by the strong reputation, life in a big city, and a chance to work as a co-op student, he came to Tech without having ever set foot on its campus before. (There’s that good luck again.)  

His enthusiasm for trains hasn’t dimmed over the years. He talked up the railroad business during his lecture, highlighting its role in moving everything from gravel to big-screen TVs. 

He hopes some of today’s Georgia Tech students find the same excitement in trains that he does. And if they do, he’d encourage them to pursue their interests and make their own luck, so to speak.

“Anyone who has any interest in a company where you can go do interesting things, where you will be given a lot of responsibility, and where you can, if you want, have a career,” Moorman says, “should look at the railroad business.” 

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Civil engineering alumnus Wick Moorman found serendipity in a life of railroading.

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