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Innovation at work: ASU students conduct impactful research in armor coatings, additive manufacturing and rehabilitation

by | Apr 20, 2022 | Features, Fulton Schools

Arizona State University aerospace engineering major Jake Trenter (right) is researching the use of polyurea as an armor coating for security applications. He is conducting this research with his faculty mentor, Professor Pedro Peralta, in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative program, one of the signature student research programs in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU in which students conduct hands-on research to solve real-world challenges. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

This article is part two of a two-part series highlighting student researchers and faculty mentors presenting at the Spring 2022 FURI Symposium on April 22. Read part one. Learn more about the symposium.

Developing new rehabilitative methods, testing next-generation armor coatings, helping farmers markets with data science and preventing battery degradation with additive manufacturing technology are just some of the ways students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University are making real-world impact through research.

Enhancing classroom knowledge with hands-on research is a signature part of the engineering experience at ASU through the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI, and the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, programs. 

FURI and MORE student researchers spend a semester conceptualizing an idea, developing a plan and investigating their research question with a faculty member.

The Grand Challenges Scholars Program, or GCSP, also encourages students to conduct research projects related to their chosen National Academy of Engineering grand challenge theme.

These opportunities for Fulton Schools undergraduate and graduate students provide new perspectives for finding solutions in data science, education, energy, health, security and sustainability. Students also develop independent-thinking and problem-solving skills to support their future careers and higher education pursuits. 

FURI, MORE and GCSP students are invited to participate in the FURI Symposium, an event held near the end of each semester in which student researchers present their findings in a poster session.

Learn about five Fulton Schools students who are participating in the Spring 2022 FURI Symposium. Meet these students and 115 other student researchers at the public event on Friday, April 22, 1–3 p.m. at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the ASU Tempe campus.

Aerospace engineering major Jake Trenter

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Jake Trenter

Aerospace engineering junior Jake Trenter is studying how polyurea, an elastic and viscous polymer, reacts under compressive stress to see if it could be used as an armor coating. As a FURI student working with Professor Pedro Peralta, Trenter is learning about all the details that go into engineering research.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI?

I wanted to work on an engineering project outside of class, and the different engineering research projects that professors at ASU were working on got me interested in FURI.

Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

I chose to work with Dr. Peralta on a research project involving polyurea because of the many applications that an armor coating material can have to improve the design integrity for anything from aerospace applications to defense and more.

How will your research project impact the world?

Developing polyurea into an armor coating that can protect a system in an environment where shock loading (when a sudden force is applied) may be present can not only improve countless applications but can also save lives. As an aerospace engineering major, one of the potential applications I’ve thought about is utilizing this coating to protect manned spacecraft against space debris in orbit. Upon impact from a projectile in space, if the polyurea armor coating could prevent breakthrough — a situation where depressurization is likely — only deformation would occur, saving lives.  

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher in FURI?

My most memorable experience as s student researcher is speaking with Dr. Peralta and Tyler Eastmond, a doctoral student in Dr. Peralta’s research group, about all the intricate steps involved to use x-ray scattering to view how the polyurea is responding to stress at the atomic level. These conversations made me realize the complexity and level of detail that goes into acquiring this material data, and I found it to be quite fascinating.

How do you see this experience helping with your career goals?

I believe that the engineering design experience I’m acquiring from working on this project will allow me to showcase some of the work I am doing outside of class. I think this will help with job applications, and it will help me if I decide to pursue an advanced degree after my undergraduate education as well.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

The FURI program is a great way for students to acquire some real-world engineering design experience outside of class while earning their degree. It’s a great way to build your resume and expose yourself to the research and development side of engineering. 

Learn more about Jake Trenter’s Spring 2022 FURI project.

Biomedical engineering graduate student Emmanuella Tagoe

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Emmanuella Tagoe

Biomedical engineering graduate student Emmanuella Tagoe is developing a rehabilitative training method to help improve dexterous control of the fingers for people who have had strokes. Tagoe, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, says the MORE experience of conducting research with faculty mentor Professor Marco Santello has been a fulfilling one.

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What made you want to get involved in MORE?

The MORE program gives graduate students the opportunity to have hands-on lab experience and engage in full-scale, graduate-level research, and that is what I wanted to do. 

Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

As a biomedical engineering student, I always wanted to apply my knowledge and skills to develop solutions for people with disabilities or neurological disorders like stroke. My current project allows me to investigate how training could improve dexterous finger force control, which could be very instrumental for stroke recovery.

How will your research project impact the world?

The training protocol developed from my research project, if it improves hand dexterity, will serve as a rehabilitative tool for stroke recovery, which in turn can improve the quality of life of stroke patients.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

Yes, things may not always go as planned in research. Designing my experiment setup did not go exactly as I planned, but with guidance from my mentor and perseverance, I worked to get everything going.

How do you see this experience helping with your advanced degree goals?

I will be pursuing a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering to delve deeper into working to find solutions for patients with disabilities and/or neurological disorders. My experience as a student researcher in this program has prepared me to handle roadblocks that come with graduate research.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

Getting involved in the MORE program as a graduate student will equip you with the right tools to become a good researcher. You will learn to work on a schedule, navigate all the roadblocks that come with research and improve your presentation skills. 

Learn more about Emmanuella Tagoe’s Spring 2022 MORE project.

Assistant Professor Kenan Song and mechanical systems engineering major Nathan Fonseca.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Nathan Fonseca

Mechanical systems engineering senior Nathan Fonseca (pictured at right) is exploring additive manufacturing techniques to prevent degradation in solid-state lithium-ion batteries in a FURI project with Assistant Professor Kenan Song. Fonseca got involved in FURI for the opportunity to work on a sustainability-related project and get hands-on experience with state-of-the-art technologies.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI? Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

I joined FURI to further enhance my research curriculum while representing holistic development in diversity. My motivation for this project came from previously working with the Summer Research Internship program where I developed conventional solid-state electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries. However, the process required multiple steps, and the design was constrained to basic geometries and random porosities. This led me to switch from the conventional method of cold pressing pellets to additive manufacturing methods, which are more effective.

How will your research project impact the world?

My project focuses on creating a safer battery via 3D printing. Researchers in this field know that the propagation of dendrites (branching crystalline structures) is one of the main problems that lithium-ion batteries face. Oftentimes, dendrite penetration leads to batteries degrading or internally becoming explosive. Therefore, by studying the effects of different hierarchies designs via 3D printing can help mechanically suppress dendrite propagation. This in effect will lead to a more sustainable and degradable battery with high safety characteristics. Furthermore, by validating its higher safety factor, the promotion from bridge lab production to industrial commercialization will have a higher impact on the battery world.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

3D printing ceramic-based resins is a challenge due to their higher viscosity, brittleness and higher temperature. Furthermore, the connection between powder and slurry for printing was a challenge. I knew that the community of ceramic 3D printing is relatively new as compared to polymers or metals. However, through substantial reading and research, I learned that introducing binders and polymers into the ceramic powders change the powders into a slurry consistency. The amounts of binders introduced had a direct effect on the printability giving a higher self-supporting ink. With this in mind, I worked with other lab mates to tweak the direct ink writing machine where the nozzle would not get clogged and a smooth ink was produced.

What has been your most memorable experience as a FURI student researcher?

As a student researcher, the most memorable experience was being able to go to the Spring 2022 American Chemical Society meeting with all of my lab mates and share our results, learn from leading researchers on state-of-the-art projects and support one another on our symposium presentations. We also did multiple team-building activities and learned a lot from one another.

How do you see this experience helping with your advanced degree goals?

My “aha!” moment during this project was realizing that I want to continue my graduate school studies and keep cherishing memorable moments such the ones at the American Chemical Society meeting.

As I pursue a doctoral degree, FURI has allowed me to connect with many faculty members and learn from them. I have come to the realization that I want to be someone who promotes the holistic development of minorities. My end goal is to continue to develop groundbreaking technologies where the diversity of color, culture, background and many other factors does not matter, but the harmonious goal to positively impact our society and play a major role in the world do matter.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

Keep a humble heart and cherish the relationships you have built.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

It is a great opportunity to learn about groundbreaking technologies and be part of a greater cause. Being able to get hands-on research experience is tremendously valuable — theories learned in classrooms are applied and the connection between theory and reality give any student a deeper, more intimate understanding. I’m also looking forward to joining the Master’s Opportunity for Research and Engineering program next semester.

Learn more about Nathan Fonseca’s Spring 2022 FURI project.

Industrial engineering major Raphael David at Tempe Farmers Market.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Raphael David

Industrial engineering senior Raphael David explored how the financial models used by stock market managers could help optimize the revenue of farmers markets in Phoenix. He conducted this work in an interdisciplinary project with Lauren Chenarides, an assistant professor at the Morrison School of Agribusiness in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, as part of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program.

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What made you want to get involved in GCSP and why did you choose the project you’re working on?

I joined GCSP through an invitation as a freshman. I was excited to work on interdisciplinary projects that could be of use to a large group of people. I chose to study the profitability of farmers markets through the guidance of my faculty mentor, Dr. Lauren Chenarides, who had this project in mind and needed a student to carry out the technical analysis and data collection.

How will your research project impact the world?

Farmers markets are important because they are the link between small farmers and their communities. Many farmers markets today are failing because they struggle to make enough profits to pay for things such as rent. By helping farmers markets thrive, we are giving small farmers a chance to compete with big retailers. 

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher?

My most memorable moment was finally getting the portfolio model to work and seeing the true efficient combination of vendors that would help maximize profits at the farmers market.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

One farmers market we studied was extremely inefficient in optimizing its revenue. I have been working on this project since I was a freshman, and this year I saw the market have to relocate because they could not afford rent. This makes my research even more meaningful because I can help them plan better for their new location.

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

GCSP has enabled me to think more broadly about my career options. Next semester I will be doing my master’s degree in Spain, studying data science at Carlos III University.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

Just keep writing.

What advice you do have for other students?

Take every opportunity you can get because you don’t know where it will lead you.

Learn more about Raphael David’s Spring 2022 GCSP project.

About The Author

Monique Clement

Monique Clement is a lead communications specialist for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She earned her BA in journalism from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. For seven years before joining the Fulton Schools communications team, she worked as an editor and journalist in engineering trade media covering the embedded systems industry. Media contact: [email protected] | 480-727-1958 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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