UM Engineering Faculty Collaborates on Deep-Space Communications

Team includes researchers at Jackson State University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Caption for photo 1: UM researchers, from left, Kenneth S. Andrews, Ramananarayanan Viswanathan, John N. Daigle, Jon Hamkins, Dariush Divsalar and Lei Cao meet in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in July 2015. Submitted photo

Three University of Mississippi engineering professors are collaborating with colleagues at Jackson State University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to improve communications with deep-space probes and, perhaps even, manned missions.

Lei Cao, Ramanarayanan Viswanathan and John Daigle, all professors of electrical engineering, are working with researchers at Jackson State University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a project funded by NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR.

The project, “A New Paradigm for Efficient Space Communications: Rateless Coding with Unequal Error Control and Data Fusion,” has achieved good results in theory and simulations. The team has proposed a new protocol for deep-space communications that may both improve the reliability and increase the reception rate of images or data received from spacecraft.

The results may provide a basis for improving data transfer rates over wireless systems, such as cellular phones. The project also may help enable the co-existence of different wireless communication systems for sharing the same frequency spectrum.

“Our simulation results demonstrated that the new protocol could improve the telemetry channel throughput by 46 percent over a fixed-rate communication method,” Cao said. “It could also achieve 92 percent of the theoretic upper-bound, while eliminating the need of retransmission.”

The primary challenge in deep-space communications is that as spacecraft travel farther from Earth, the vast distances cause substantial round-trip delays in the signal and high bit error rates in wireless communications.

“For instance, the round-trip time for (a) radio signal is from 8 to 40 minutes between the Earth and Mars,” Cao said. “This feature makes the protocols based on the receiver acknowledgment and transmitter retransmission of lost data packets that are currently deployed in our daily-used, land-based wireless communications networks no longer appropriate for deep-space communications.”

Also, the long distances cause large attenuation (loss in the signal’s strength along the path), various noise and distortion due to the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun’s corona.

“The water vapor, in particular, affects higher-frequency microwave signals, such as 32 gigahertz Ka-band,” said Kenneth Andrews, of the JPL. “If a spacecraft is on the far side of the sun, and the sun-Earth-probe angle is less than about 3 degrees, then the received signal that passes close enough to the sun will also be distorted by the tenuous plasma of the sun’s corona.

“Therefore, the signal-to-noise power ratio at a receiver is often extremely low, which easily raises the bit error rate to higher than 1 percent in many deep-space communication scenarios.”

Solving these difficult problems is critical because the need for higher data-rate communications for various exploration missions continues to grow, said Viswanathan, who also is chair of the UM Department of Electrical Engineering.

“Through this cooperative agreement, the research team at UM has made significant contributions to improve both the quantity and quality of information obtained through deep-space exploration,” he said.

Participants at the NSF I/UCRC Broadband Wireless Access & Application Center workshop, held at UM in 2015. Photo by Kevin Bain Ole Miss Communications

Data in communications are in the form of binary bit sequences. One bit sequence is often segmented into a number of packets, or basic data units. For example, a few thousand bits could be grouped into one packet. Bits in the packet can be coded together to increase their resilience to signal distortion.

To deal with the effects of long round-trip time, instead of transmitting the original data packets, the researchers encode the packets into a large number of new packets for transmission. At the receiver, the original packets are recovered by using sophisticated algorithms to decode a number of new packets.

“The success of recovery will not depend on which new packets are received but on the number of packets received, which is slightly more than the number of original packets,” Daigle said. “As a result, the new protocol eliminates the need of requesting the transmitter to resend any unsuccessfully delivered packets.”

Together with this new protocol, a number of advancements, including effective coding and decoding algorithms, dynamic selection of the code rate of error control codes and channel prediction algorithms, have been made so that substantial improvements in data transmission over space-to-earth channels can be achieved.

In addition, efficient methods of fusing data to improve the quality of information derived from the collected data have also been developed. New strategies have been proposed to determine what kind of information should be sent to the fusion center from different observers and what optimal fusion rule should be used to maximize the detection probability while minimizing the false-alarm probability.

“The theoretic advancements and practical implementation methods made through this project have been documented in more than 20 peer-referred publications and invited talks and conference presentations,” Viswanathan said.

Besides the technical achievement, a research team, which includes three professors and several graduate students in the Department of Electrical Engineering, has been formed to focus on areas of fountain codes, signal detection and wireless communications. This team, working with other faculty within School of Engineering, has been pursuing collaboration and research opportunities with other agencies and companies.

A stand-alone mobile communication network, built by UM undergraduate students using OpenBTS and USRP, was tested in the field last March 2017. Submitted photo

One prominent success is the establishment of the UM site of the Broadband Wireless Access and Applications Center in 2016. BWAC is a multi-university National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, led by the University of Arizona in partnership with UM, Virginia Tech, University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America.

With NSF support, the center works to advance wireless technologies and provide cost-effective and practical solutions for next-generation – 5G and beyond – wireless systems, millimeter-wave communications, wireless cybersecurity, shared-spectrum access systems, full-duplex transmissions, massive multiple input, multiple output techniques, and more.

“The mission of BWAC is to collaborate with industry research partners to create flexible, efficient and secure wireless networks that satisfy broadband communication needs in businesses, in the home and in the lives of individuals,” Daigle said.

“Through this UM site, the research team has been collaborating with companies including Intel, Qualcomm, Raytheon and C Spire in various projects in wireless communications, particularly in antenna design, 3-D printing and cognitive radio in 5G wireless systems.”

Some of the work directly links to the technologies and expertise developed through this NASA project.

“To contribute to the higher education in the state of Mississippi, the research team has also actively involved undergraduate U.S. citizen students into the project to gain them hands-on research experience,” Cao said. “Using Universal Software Radio Peripheral and GNU radio, the undergraduate students at UM have built up some interesting projects in wireless communications.”

For example, they have built a small network that can perform the same basic functions as a commercial Global System for Mobile network, including voice, Short Message Service, Multimedia Messaging Service and General Packet Radio Service.

“The advantage of this implementation is that a self-contained cellular network can be created with a single computer,” Viswanathan said. “This simple network can be extended with multiple nodes to ideally use for situations where mobile communications infrastructure is absent or compromised, such as in disaster-struck areas.”

The students presented their work at the 31st National Conference on Undergraduate Research and published a paper in the UM Undergraduate Research Journal.

This project is funded by NASA cooperative agreement No. NNX14AN38A. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

UM, Jackson Prep Offer Pre-Engineering Course

Marni Kendricks and Marsha Hobbs co-teach Engineering 100

Marsha Hobbs (in green top) discusses 3-D graphics with students enrolled in Engineering 100 class at Jackson Preparatory School. Submitted photo

Marsha Hobbs had been teaching physics and engineering courses at Jackson Preparatory School for two decades when she decided it was time for a change: not where she taught or what she taught, but how she taught.

“I just thought it was time for a 21st-century approach,” said Hobbs, who holds degrees in physics and electrical engineering from the University of Virginia. “These kids have grown up with the internet and technology. That has changed the way they learn. They like a more hands-on approach.”

So that’s what Hobbs gave her students. She developed a project-based engineering course that emphasized collaboration and kinesthetic learning over traditional text and lecture methods. She set up the “FabLab,” outfitted with everything from a 3-D printer to soldering irons, and “maker spaces” to facilitate individual experimentation.

As she was organizing her new course, Hobbs also wanted to make sure that it would be a gateway to the engineering profession. Toward that goal, she worked with Marni Kendricks, assistant dean of the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, to establish a dual-enrollment program with the university. Once again, she was breaking new ground.

“This was the first dual credit at our school,” Hobbs said. “I made a ‘cold’ call to the (engineering school) and was immediately put in contact with Kendricks. I think they had done this somewhere before, but she and I basically tailored it to the needs of our schools.”

The two women teamed up for the ENGR 100 course and co-taught an engineering graphics course. Witt Lovelace, now a junior mechanical engineering major, was one of the first dual-enrollment students to benefit from Kendricks and Hobbs’ class.

“Both women are very understanding of industry needs,” Lovelace said. “With the help of  programs like AutoCAD and Arduino, their students have been able to further advance their engineering ‘tool boxes.’ They both understand teamwork, communication and the organizational skills that the best engineers utilize every day.”

Lila Burton, another member of the inaugural class, agreed.

Engineering 100 students enjoy discussing technology in class. Submitted photo.

“Mrs. Hobbs was a great teacher that guided me in deciding on my major at the University of Mississippi as a chemical engineer,” she said. “Through the course she taught, I was prepared more than the others here at the university, and already ahead on how to use a variety of software that is utilized in the engineering curriculum, such as AutoCAD. Along with the syllabus and Mrs. Hobbs’ guidance, I highly recommend taking the opportunity of dual enrollment in order to advance with a major in the STEM programs.”

As a former engineer herself, connecting theoretical learning objectives with practical skills is something Hobbs believes will help promote interest in the field of engineering.

“The skills the students learn teach them to think like engineers,” she said. “They just finished the mousetrap catapult. I was fascinated to see them engage with the design process. I know that will improve throughout the year.”

Giving her students a valuable head start might be reward enough for a dedicated teacher, but Hobbs’ work has also been recognized nationally. In 2016, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, administered by the National Science Foundation.

 

Catherine Grace Norris: Muzungu from Mississippi

UM geology and geological engineering graduate joins Peace Corps, works in Zambia

Catherine Norris (center) embraces twin sisters Jane (left) and Joy Mulambila. ‘We are triplets, and they taught me how to scream when you see vermin as well as how to cook.’ Submitted photo.

It’s a long way from the Grove, but Zambia is going to be home now for Catherine Grace Norris (BSGE 16).

Norris took her “still warm” diploma around the world to find relevance and reward in her major. She is working with strangers who have become her closest friends overnight, literally. The night is a good time to have close friends when living in a mud hut, draped in mosquito netting, listening to the small and large sounds that waft through the walls and settle silently in the corners.

So, the truth is, Norris is no ordinary young woman.

With a good education and job prospects to contemplate, she jumped off the edge of the cliff and joined the Peace Corps, a decision born of spirit, spunk and gargantuan optimism. Norris embraced the certainty that there would be hardships and languages to learn, she opened her future to the world and gave up her apartment. Little did she know that the three-month training and the mountain of “Google-ese” were only the caption on a full-color, 3-D, action-packed movie of her future.

Norris calls herself stubborn, but committed may be a better word. At 23, she is both respectful and impulsive, and she touts being adaptable as well. She served for two years as the Girl Friday in the dean’s office in the School of Engineering and did some awesome work, all the while under appreciating the indoor plumbing and Wi-Fi. She has neither now, but she is effusive in her praise of the Peace Corps’ grassroots development model and “mandatory” orientation.

Norris references her upbringing in the Bible Belt and acknowledges the culture shock of Luapula Province in the district of Mwense bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has picked up some Bemba with a just sprinkle of Lunda. Norris has fought the good fight with malaria mosquitoes and rumored black mamba snakes (lethally venomous), and she still insists “this is the most amazing thing I have ever done.”

One of the early highlights of her Peace Corps assignment was discovering an elephant orphanage near her town. Although it is a tourist destination, it has a commendable mission to rehabilitate elephants orphaned by the poaching in Zambia. While the entrance fee of 50 kwacha (about $5) was beyond her Peace Corps salary … “it’s free on Mondays!”

Norris’ work has involved meeting with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a rice nongovernmental organization, to discuss hosting a workshop in Luapula Province. She frequently hosts demonstrations on how to make compost fertilizer and smaller projects involving animal husbandry, women’s empowerment and hydrogeology. At the end of the day, Norris cooks her dinner on her brazier, fends off mosquitoes, plays with her cat and dog, and watches the corners of the room for signs of life.

A true sign of contentment is that Catherine signs her blog “Your African Queen.” Not a bad job, and who wouldn’t want to be Katharine Hepburn?

 

 

Valuable Lessons from a Candy Bar

Assistant professor demonstrates practical applications of chemical engineering to freshmen

Madeleine Mixon (left) and Cole Bofrek prepare caramel for their chocolate bar. Photo by Brenda Prager

Chemical engineering students enrolled in Ch E 101: Introduction to Chemical Engineering were required midway through the semester to use their cooking expertise to prepare a Snickers bar. Why, you might ask?

After observing the strengths and pitfalls of carefully preparing caramel dispersed with roasted peanuts, and mixing nougat to the correct consistency with a scrumptious peanut butter flavor, the freshmen investigated in depth a chocolate bar manufacturing process.

Many were surprised to learn that everyday items often taken for granted were part of an intricate chemical process. They learned that food manufacturing requires careful planning of unit operations and their order within the overall process, as well as accurate control of many variables (particularly temperature) within each step.

Students worked in groups of four, learning valuable teamwork skills, which included the inevitable compromise and dealing with conflict and, of course, an overall enriching experience and greater depth of learning through collaboration.

Writing up a practical report was a first-time experience for many students. Not only were they required to describe the chocolate bar preparation, but they also had to consider likely equipment items, draw process flow sheets, and conduct basic chemical engineering calculations such as flow rate and average molecular weight of the nougat stream.

“This project was a very fun endeavor, as it allowed me and my group to indulge some delicious treats while also applying scientific methods and analytics to our process,” said Walker Abel, one of the students.

After working in both industry and academia as a chemical engineer, I first learned about Differentiated Teaching and Learning when I completed an M. Teach (secondary) from the University of Melbourne, and subsequently taught high school chemistry, physics and mathematics for five years. Coming back into academia and chemical engineering, I decided to implement these techniques into my freshman classes in order to present students with a more targeted education that best matched their learning needs. This method of teaching is common in many K-12 settings but underutilized at the university level.

Freshmen often come from varied backgrounds and different high school experiences, and it is important that their first year adapts to their needs and assists in progression of both learning and retention. Differentiation is characterized by a) understanding student need; b) presenting concepts in multiple ways; c) providing challenging learning experiences; d) promoting collaborative tasks; and e) progressing students into independent learners.

By successfully preparing students with these skills in their freshman year, they are more likely to thrive in later years and proceed to completion of their course.

Through the Snickers bar project, students learned new chemical engineering skills and reviewed most of the engineering calculations covered previously within the course as well. Throughout the project, students were required to make decisions and judgments about various sections of their written reports, providing real-life experiences of working in teams and becoming independent learners.

“As a team, we achieved our goal of making the bar, as well as applying the techniques that we used in the preparation of the candy bar in a large-scale setting,” Abel said.

The semesterlong course contained targeted instruction covering the five points described above. Formal feedback from students upon completion of the course showed important progress in the implementation of differentiated learning at a college level. For example, 83 percent of the class found active reading and problem-solving study skills sessions extremely or very useful; and 87 percent used the differentiated homework sheets to challenge themselves or choose questions matching their current ability level.

With respect to the chocolate bar project, 70 percent learned a lot about cooperation and compromise within a group setting; almost 60 percent were more confident with engineering calculations encountered earlier in the semester; and 87 percent learned – as a team – the key points in writing a technical report.

Research in this area is important to pursue. It is vital that students receive a targeted education to meet their needs and successfully graduate. STEM education is important for the nation, and although improvements have been made, a 2016 report showed that attracting high school students to STEM education in college remains a challenge. The students in STEM courses must be cultivated and encouraged from day one, so teaching and learning strategies that are targeted to students’ needs is an important step in attracting more students into these areas.

Brenda Prager is an assistant professor of chemical engineering in the UM School of Engineering.

 

UM Engineering Science Ph.D. Continues Research at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Mamun Miah studying earthquake hazard simulations, risk assessments

Mamun Miah, a UM chemical engineering graduate, is a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Submitted photo

From the suburbs of his native Dhaka, Bangladesh, to the Energy Geosciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, Mamun Miah has been on an incredible journey. And the faculty, courses and programs of the University of Mississippi School of Engineering have played an important role in his career path.

“During my undergraduate study, I felt the need to further my technical as well as communicative skills, which made me think of coming to the USA,” Miah said. “Following that dream, I applied and got accepted into the civil engineering programs at several U.S. universities. Ole Miss has a good engineering program and offered me financial assistance, which helped me decide to attend Ole Miss eventually.”

After earning his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2009, Miah entered UM.

“Ole Miss is a great school, not only for its academic curriculum but also for its sincere engagement in students’ overall well-being,” he said. “Some courses that shaped my career include Finite Element Analysis for Structures provided by Dr. Christopher Mullen, Continuum Mechanics by Dr. Ahmed Al-Ostaz, Shear Strength of Soil by Dr. Chung Song, Groundwater Modeling by Dr. Robert Holt and Engineering Analysis by Dr. Wei-Yen Chen. Ole Miss Engineering also has some career fair and diversity inclusion programs, which helped me further my career by building connections and communications beyond the school.”

Miah’s former UM engineering professors have fond memories of him.

“A hardworking student, Mamun showed great interest to learn new technologies and accept challenging research topics,” said Waheed Uddin, a professor of civil engineering who directed Miah’s thesis. “His M.S. thesis research involved traditional two-dimensional and innovative three-dimensional geospatial analysis for floodplain mapping and aviation infrastructure visualization. I am glad that he successfully pursued and completed his doctoral degree.”

“In academic and technical matters, he transitioned almost seamlessly from a transportation-oriented master thesis to a structural engineering-related research project to a geophysics-based dissertation,” said Christopher Mullen, professor of civil engineering and Miah’s dissertation director. “Mamun has demonstrated both self-motivation and talent in applying programming-based computer modeling to numerical simulations of some very complex problems in engineering science. It has been a pleasure to see him develop from a graduate student unsure of his direction in life to a highly skilled, self-assured postdoctoral researcher at one of the world’s most respected government research laboratories.”

Yacoub “Jacob” Najjar, chair and professor of civil engineering, said Miah was an outstanding graduate student during his time at Ole Miss.

“Besides working on his research, he was also nicely engaged in teaching and helping CE faculty in a number of courses,” he said. “Above all, Mamun is one of those exceptional doctoral students who was able to choose his Ph.D. research topic and get it funded by an external sponsor. We are very proud of him and his achievements. I wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.”

It was at a UM career fair where Miah connected with the Berkeley Lab.

“I attended a National Lab day in 2012, which was held at The Inn at Ole Miss,” Miah said. “By talking and engaging in discussions with the scientists from across the nation, I eventually availed an internship at the prestigious Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2013. After a successful internship, I wrote a grant proposal to LBNL for my Ph.D. thesis, which they approved.”

At Berkeley, Miah found a very sound research resource on his thesis topic. He also kept attending science and engineering seminars provided by some of the world’s most renowned scientists and professors.

“I think this internship opportunity had a tremendous effect on my career success,” he said.

Miah received his master’s in engineering science in 2010 and Ph.D. in the same field in 2016, both from Ole Miss. He then became a postdoctoral fellow at the Energy Geosciences Division at LBNL.

“I am working on exascale-level computing for regional-scale earthquake hazard simulations and risk assessments in the San Francisco Bay Area,” he said. “I am also working on earthquake soil-structure interaction for safety of nuclear power plants managed by (the) U.S. Department of Energy.”

Miah said he also appreciated the instruction he received at Bangladesh University.

“Almost all the faculty members have a very solid understanding as well as teaching capability for the comprehensive civil engineering program,” he said. “Their teaching style along with relevant learning materials and homework problems made the courses really interesting to learn and apply for the practical engineering purpose. I owe them a lot for my today’s career.”

For more about Mamun Miah and his work at LBNL, visit

https://eesa.lbl.gov/meet-postdoc-mamun-miah/

By Edwin Smith

-30-

 

 

Inoka Widanagamage Joins Geological Engineering

Newest assistant professor brings teaching excellence, research expertise to department

Inoka Widanagamage conducting geological research in the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. Submitted photo

Inoka Widanagamage has been fascinated by geology as long as she can remember and wanted to share her fascination with others interested in the subject. As the newest faculty member in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, she is fulfilling her passion by teaching class and conducting research.

“I found this position through the higher education website,” Widanagamage said. “Because of my interest of teaching geology, I thought that this position is a good fit for my interest and expertise. So I decided to apply.”

Widanagamage’s educational background extends from pure geology (e.g., Precambrian geology, structural geology, mineralogy, petrology, high-temperature geochemistry) to applied geology (e.g., environmental geochemistry, low-temperature geochemistry). She has the ability to teach courses in a wide spectrum.

“I teach Earth Dynamics, Environmental Geology, Economic Geology, Geology and Geological Engineering seminar, Physical Geology, Historical Geology and co-teach Mineralogy and Petrology,” she said. “During the summer, I also teach a geological field camp in Ada, Oklahoma. I enjoy sharing my teaching and research experiences with students in a classroom setting to develop their theoretical and practical knowledge.”

Her research interests are stable isotope geochemistry, environmental mineralogy, structural geology and tectonics.

“I mainly focus on the trace metal (stable isotope) distribution in biogeochemical cycles,” Widanagamage said. “I approach my research goals via three major components: studying the natural environment, designing and performing laboratory experiments, and modeling.”

Widanagamage said her short-term plan is to establish a strong teaching profile by teaching a variety of geology courses according to the departmental requirements. Her long-term plan is to develop new upper-level courses related to her research background.

“Also as a long-term plan, I expect to work with senior undergraduate geology students to continue my research projects that I initiated during my tenure as a postdoctoral associate in Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,” she said. “I am also working on [a] few external grant proposals, seeking potential collaborations within, as well as outside, of our department.”

Widanagamage is a welcome addition to the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor.

“She has infectious enthusiasm for teaching, both in the classroom and getting students out into the field,” he said. “We are excited that her position will be reclassified in 2018 as an instructional assistant professor. This will allow us to take greater advantage of her research expertise in isotopes and geochemistry, expanding her impact with Honors College classes, assisting with undergraduate research and teaching graduate-level classes.”

Widanagamage received both the Best Teaching Assistant Award and the Outstanding Ph.D. Student Award in the Department of Geology at Kent State University in 2014. She was also nominated for a University Fellowship Award there the previous year and completed an e-Learning training course with honors at UM.

“These are among my most gratifying professional achievements thus far,” Widanagamage said.

She is married to Waruna Weerasinghe, a mechanical engineering student at the university. The couple has one son, Senidu Weerasinghe. Widanagamage said she enjoys spending time with her family and, of course, exploring the geology of the earth.

By Edwin Smith

-30-

 

 

 

Joe Cerny Enters New Chapter in Life

Successful chemical engineering alumnus retires after a half-century in nuclear science

Joseph ‘Joe’ Cerny, a 1957 UM chemical engineering alumnus, recently retired after a prestigious half-century career at the University of California at Berkeley and Berkeley Lab. Submitted photo

After more than half a century of research and leadership at Berkeley Lab and the University of California at Berkeley, University of Mississippi chemical engineering alumnus Joseph Cerny (ChE 57) has retired.

The former head of the Nuclear Science Division and associate laboratory director at Berkeley Lab, professor of chemistry and former chemistry department chair, graduate division dean, provost and vice chancellor for research, Cerny left with another singular honor to add to a long list: the Berkeley Citation, awarded to those “whose attainments significantly exceed the standards of excellence in their fields” and whose contributions are “above and beyond the call of duty.”

Cerny reflected upon how he came to Ole Miss.

“Even though my parents were from Illinois and Kansas, my father was offered a faculty position in the Ole Miss business school,” Cerny said. “He accepted the job and we moved to Oxford in 1946, where I entered the sixth grade.”

As he finished high school, Cerny decided that he wanted to become a chemical engineer. That decision is what prompted him to enter the university’s School of Engineering.

“I had many classes with Frank Anderson, who was a great teacher,” Cerny said. “Other professors I remember as extremely demanding were C.N. Jones and Samuel Clark.”

Born at the height of the Great Depression, Cerny got his bachelor’s degree from UM with support from the ROTC program. During 1957-58, he attended the University of Manchester in England on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Cerny earned his doctorate in nuclear chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1961 and immediately started work as an assistant professor at the university, simultaneously joining the Nuclear Science Division (then the Nuclear Chemistry Division) at Berkeley Lab (then the Radiation Laboratory, or Rad Lab).

Shortly after the East German government began building the Berlin Wall, Cerny was on active duty as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. For most of the next 16 months, he was in New Jersey evaluating techniques for studying explosive detonations.

Once back at Berkeley, Cerny wasted no time catching up with nuclear science.

“Russian theorists had suggested some interesting ideas about experiments that could be done to study light nuclei very far from stability,” Cerny said. These were isotopes of elements like carbon whose nuclei had more protons than neutrons; most carbon is stable carbon-12, with six protons and six neutrons.

“For example, we wanted to know the lightest carbon nucleus that could hold together on the order of a hundred milliseconds.”

Cerny had a stellar new instrument to work with. His graduate work had been done with Ernest Lawrence’s 60-inch cyclotron, still operating on campus, but upon his return from the Army in 1963, the Rad Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron was up and running. It would be pivotal in Cerny’s research throughout his career.

Using state-of-the-art detectors and electronics developed by Fred Goulding and Don Landis at the lab, Cerny found the answer to the carbon stability question – carbon-9, with six protons and three neutrons, has a half-life of 126 thousandths of a second, whereas the lighter carbon-8 lasts only about 100 septillionths of a second – “a huge dividing line,” he said.

Cerny continued experiments on very proton-rich nuclei while on sabbatical at Oxford University in 1969-70, using a heavy-ion cyclotron at the Harwell Laboratory. He completed these studies at the 88-Inch. The result was the discovery of a new radioactive decay mode, direct proton radioactivity – the first mode of single-step radioactive transmutation to be discovered since alpha decay, beta decay and spontaneous fission.

Cerny received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Memorial Award of the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor of the U.S. Department of Energy) in 1974, for his “discovery of proton emission as a mode of radioactive decay, for investigation of the limits of nuclear stability of a number of light elements” – and, significantly – “for ingenious instruments that made these discoveries possible.”

In 1975, Cerny became chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Chemistry. One of his major acts was a first for the department: the appointment of a woman, Judith P. Klinman, as a tenured associate professor of bioorganic and biophysical chemistry. In 1979, Cerny was appointed head of the Nuclear Science Division and an associate lab director at Berkeley Lab, a time when the lab was operating three national accelerator facilities: the 88-Inch Cyclotron, SuperHilac and Bevalac, with a distinct taste for heavy-ion physics.

Cerny and his group continued research on radioactive decay modes, adding another first: beta-delayed two-proton emission, which had been predicted by Russian theorist V. Gol’danskii. Among other honors, Cerny received the American Chemical Society’s Award in Nuclear Chemistry for work leading to the discovery of “two new modes of radioactive decay: proton emission and beta-delayed two-proton emission.”

In 1985, Cerny was appointed dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate Division, serving in that post until 2000. From 1986 to 1994, he also was provost for research, and from 1994 to 2000 was the university’s vice chancellor for research. And in 1990, Cerny additionally became a nuclear physicist, when the University of Jyväskylä in Finland awarded him an honorary doctorate in physics.

At a festschrift on his 60th birthday in 1996, Cerny presented a proposal for equipping the 88-Inch Cyclotron to handle radioactive beams of light ions. Radioactive isotopes of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen would be made by the cyclotron of the Berkeley Isotope Facility in Building 56, part of the imaging facilities of the Life Sciences Division. The radioactive ions would be transported 350 feet through a capillary down the steep slope of Blackberry Canyon to the 88-Inch.

Dubbed BEARS, for Berkeley Experiments with Accelerated Radioactive Species, the transport system was in operation just three years later, enabling the 88-Inch Cyclotron to produce a world record beam of radioactive carbon-11. That isotope’s 20-minute half-life was easily long enough, once it was created, to mix it with oxygen to make carbon dioxide and send the gas through the pipeline to the 88-Inch, where it was trapped and fed into an ion source at the cyclotron.

Cerny’s research, teaching and service work for DOE, NSF and the UC system are continuing from his base in Berkeley, where he and his family are longtime residents. It’s not unlikely that Cerny will be seen around the 88-Inch, a mainstay of his work since his Berkeley beginnings, for many days to come.

Cerny was married to the late Susan Cerny. He is the father of two sons: Keith, who is the general director of the Dallas (Texas) Opera Company, and Mark, a senior video game consultant with Sony Entertainment.

Cerny’s favorite leisure activities include hiking and worldwide travel.

Alumnus Establishes Scholarship Fund for Mechanical Engineering

Mike Nash creates endowment to memorialize former department chair James R. MacDonald

Mechanical engineering alumnus Mike Nash of Maryland made the initial donation to establish the James R. MacDonald Scholarship Fund. Submitted photo

As an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at the University of Mississippi, Jonathon M. “Mike” Nash greatly admired and appreciated James R. MacDonald, then chair and professor of the department.

Recently, Nash established the Dr. James R. MacDonald Scholarship Fund at his alma mater as a lasting tribute to his mentor and lifelong friend.

“Much of the valuable guidance I received was based on his industrial experience,” said Nash, who lives in Frederick, Maryland. “Dr. MacDonald would often emphasize that real-world engineering challenges were rarely solved by one person.

“At the end of the day, your professional knowledge and contributions would only be as effective as your ability to coordinate with others.”

Recipients will be full-time students majoring in mechanical engineering as selected by the School of Engineering Scholarship Committee.

“I express my great appreciation to Dr. Nash for setting up this scholarship to commemorate one of the school’s legendary professors and former mechanical engineering department chair, Dr. James MacDonald,” said Alex Cheng, UM engineering dean. “The scholarship will assists students to meet their financial need and to fulfill their education goals.”

Nash earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering science from Ole Miss. With more than 40 years’ experience in the aerospace industry, he manages an independent consulting company that provides aviation market analysis and strategic business support for international clients.

Administrators in the Department of Mechanical Engineering expressed appreciation for Nash’s benevolence in honor of MacDonald.

“Dr. MacDonald was instrumental for setting up all undergraduate laboratories initially,” said Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor. “It is nostalgic to realize how the efforts initiated by Dr. MacDonald as chair during 1957-1967 have today enabled the ME department to become the largest department in terms of undergraduate enrollment within the School of Engineering.

“I am indeed excited about the scholarship opportunity for full-time students majoring in mechanical engineering through the Dr. James R. MacDonald Scholarship Endowment.”

Nash began his professional career with IBM in the late 1960s as an engineer scientist at the company’s federal systems division in Huntsville, Alabama.

Commissioned through the Ole Miss Army ROTC program, he served on active duty in 1968-70 as a combat engineering officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Upon returning from Vietnam in 1970, Nash continued graduate studies leading to his doctorate.

He rejoined IBM in 1973, holding technical and management positions supporting NASA, U.S. Army and Department of Energy programs. Nash’s later responsibilities included serving as strategic planning manager for IBM’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, facility and program manager for the Federal Aviation Administration and International Air Traffic Management programs. He continued in the latter position during the sale of IBM’s Federal Systems Division to the Loral Corp., and the subsequent acquisition of Loral by Lockheed Martin.

Following his retirement from Lockheed Martin in 2004, Nash served for a year as assistant dean for corporate relations in the School of Engineering before establishing his consulting company. A member of the engineering school’s advisory board, he was honored as UM’s Engineer of Distinction in 1996.

MacDonald received his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University in 1927 and his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1936. He worked as a research engineer with Hotpoint Inc., as a process engineer with Boeing Aircraft Co., and as a materials and process engineer with North American Aviation Co. His academic career began as an assistant professor of chemical engineering at West Virginia University and later at the University of Denver.

MacDonald joined the Ole Miss faculty in 1953 as an associate professor of chemical and mechanical engineering. Three year later, he was named professor of mechanical engineering and chair of the mechanical engineering department.

MacDonald was believed to be the state’s first metallurgist. While a member of the Ole Miss faculty, he held summer positions at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, U.S. Naval Mine Defense Laboratory, U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory and the Redstone Arsenal.

He was co-author of “Metallurgy for Engineers” (1957).

MacDonald’s professional memberships included the American Society of Metals, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education. Before his retirement in 1969, he was also elected to Sigma Xi scientific research honorary. MacDonald died in 1988.

Chemical Engineering Graduates Admitted to Medical, Dental Schools

Cary Roy and David Langford headed to UMMC and Columbia University, respectively

Cary Roy has been accepted into the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Submitted photo

As the spring semester ended, many University of Mississippi engineering students began working at various companies throughout the country. Others anticipated pursuing graduate school. And some students, including Cary Roy and David Langford, have chosen to take their problem-solving skills into the field of medicine.

Roy, of Moss Point, and Langford, of Atlanta, have been accepted into medical school and dental school, respectively. Both completed their chemical engineering degrees in May.

Increasingly, engineering students are seeking careers in medicine as the medical field becomes increasingly driven by technology. The addition of a biomedical engineering degree at Ole Miss likely will continue the trend of students seeking engineering degrees as a pathway to medical careers.

“I would have considered pursuing the newly created biomedical engineering degree if it had been available when I chose to enroll here from the Mississippi School of Math and Science four years ago,” Roy said. “I believe that the new program will benefit future students considering careers in medicine.”

But the pre-medicine track offered through chemical engineering worked best for Langford, who was admitted to Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine. He plans to pursue a doctorate in dental surgery.

His interest in following a path to medical school was a result of his interest in both chemistry and mathematics. Chemical engineering allowed Langford to study both concepts.

“Being raised with parents and grandparents who worked in health care, I wanted a degree that would allow me to explore all of my interests,” he said. “I found an intriguing parallel between the fields of dentistry and engineering during my undergraduate studies.”

Roy was admitted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. He, too, felt that a chemical engineering degree seemed like the perfect combination of challenge and interest.

Roy developed an interest in attending medical school to find a career path that allowed him to help others.

David Langford has been accepted into the Doctor of Dental Surgery program at Columbia University. Submitted photo

“My engineering background greatly benefits me as I prepare to attend medical school in the fall,” he said. “It has given me a unique set of skills that are flexible and useful in a variety of areas, including medicine.”

Both Langford and Roy are graduates of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and completed research towards a senior thesis.

Langford’s thesis focused on “Development of Standard Operating Procedure: Admicellar Polymerization of Polystyrene Thin Film (AIBN) on Polysciences 30-50µm Glass Beads Using Cetyltrimethyl-Ammonium Bromide Surfactant.” He worked with Adam Smith, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and John O’Haver, professor and chair of chemical engineering, to complete his project.

Roy worked with Wei-Yei Chen, professor of chemical engineering, to conduct his research on “The Effects of Ultrasonic and Photochemical Pretreatment on Heating Value and Carbon Capturing Ability of Fast Pyrolysis-Derived Biochars.”

Besides Roy’s work on an Honors thesis, he completed a clinical shadowing program at UMMC that allowed him to observe and shadow physicians working in the anesthesiology and family medicine departments. For Roy, this experience was important in his commitment to the medical field.

“This up-close-and-personal experience with medicine strengthened my desire to attend medical school as it showed me how doctors practice their craft and use their skills to help those in need,” he said. “I also believe that the experience proved to be valuable on my medical school applications.”

Similarly, Langford believes that two summer internships with the U.S. Olympic Committee enhanced his applications for dental school. During his internship in Colorado, he worked with USOC physicians, clinicians, physical therapists and other staff in a variety of medical treatments that the Olympic and Paralympic athletes required.

Outside the classroom, both Roy and Langford were involved in a variety of activities. Langford was a member of Delta Psi fraternity, Engineering Ambassadors and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He also was selected for membership in Omicron Delta Kappa society, Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi.

Roy was a member of Tau Beta Pi, AIChE and Engineering Ambassadors. He also served on the Engineering Student Body Leadership Council and was an officer in the American Medical Student Association.

In the future, Roy hopes to work in a public hospital in Mississippi and open a free clinic to provide basic medical services to underprivileged and underserved people. Langford’s plans include postdoctoral residencies in orthodontics, maxillofacial surgery or general dentistry.

World Class Teaching Program Offers Free Online Course

National Board Certification option accessible to all Mississippi teachers

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s World Class Teaching Program, which prepares teachers for National Board Certification, will increase its services this summer by offering a new self-paced online course.

The course will be free to all Mississippi teachers seeking National Board Certification. In Mississippi, teachers who certify receive a $6,000 annual salary supplement from the Mississippi Legislature.

The WCTP has traditionally offered face-to-face mentoring in Tupelo, Oxford and Southaven, but with the addition of the online course, the road to certification is available to all Mississippi teachers regardless of location.

“I first recognized the need for this program when I received a phone call from a teacher who badly wanted to complete the national board process but was unable to participate in face-to-face mentor meetings due to her husband working nights,” said Tammy Kirkland, WCTP director. “Also, we have numerous rural areas in the state that makes traveling to meet with a mentor not a practical option.

“It was important to me to find a way to provide candidate support to all teachers regardless of their location or situation.”

The course will serve two groups of individuals. It will be available as a supplement to face-to-face candidates and will serve as a stand-alone for teachers in rural areas or teachers who are unable to participate in face-to-face mentoring.

The course, called “WCTP 601,” consists of several modules, including an introduction to the national board process, a module for each of the four components of the exam process and a discussion board that allows candidates to connect with others of the same certificate area. The course also provides quality electronic feedback from National Board Certified Teachers.

The first group of national board candidates just wrapped up the pilot of the online course in May. Kirkland also worked with previous WCTP coordinators Jackie Parker and Cathy Stewart, along with candidate support providers, to receive additional feedback and further develop the course to meet the needs of candidates.

“The WCTP online course really gave me direction in pursuing National Board Certification,” said Lissa Doorenbos, a WCTP 601 pilot participant. “The course always helped me to know what to do next.”

Because national board candidates have the choice to complete the certification process in one, two or three years – as well as the order they complete the components in – the course can provide teachers with the resources they need to individualize their certification journey.