Calling All Connections

Alumni, constituents asked to submit suggestions for 2017-18 Ole Miss Engineer

Engineering friends,

I have had the privilege of serving as one of the editors the past few years and more recently as editor-in-chief of Ole Miss Engineer magazine. We are gearing up for the 2017-18 edition now. I so enjoy collecting great articles to share with our alumni, friends, prospective and current students, visitors and university community through this publication of the School of Engineering Dean’s Office. This is definitely one of the most fun things I get to do for the school.

In addition to great new material from departments, you will soon read about news from our research groups, engineering advisory board, Center for Manufacturing Excellence, co-op program and other engineering school entities. We’re considering Ole Miss Engineering connections as the theme for this year’s feature story. And there are many!

If you have a story to share about an interesting connection that led you to Ole Miss Engineering, a great job connection after graduation, classmate connection, even a random “Hotty Toddy” in an airport that led to a connection – we want to hear it! I’ve collected a few stories so far and can’t wait to hear more! 

Please email marni@olemiss.edu and we’ll get connected! 

Engineering Students Enjoy Summer Internships

Prospective employers provide employment, training to four from UM

Professional development is vital to the preparation of future engineers. Students who graduate with some type of internship experience are more likely to gain employment upon graduation than those who do not, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Many students receive employment offers directly from their internship employers.

This past summer, several University of Mississippi engineering students completed internships, gaining skills and experience that will be beneficial as they complete their degrees and seek future employment.

Ben Maples at International Paper. Submitted photo

Benjamin Maples of Lucedale completed an internship with International Paper in Vicksburg. The junior mechanical engineering major learned about this

opportunity by attending the biannual Engineering, Manufacturing and Technology Career Fair, co-sponsored by the School of Engineering and the UM Career Center. As part of Maples’ internship, he worked on a variety of projects in the powerhouse area of the mill and worked closely with a reliability engineer on tracking shipments.

“This experience has been invaluable because I have learned to apply topics that I learn in class to real-world problems and situations,” he said. “I’m also getting exposed to topics that I will soon learn about in class like heat transfer.”

Maples also said that communication is important when working with a team on complex projects. While he considers himself a good communicator, he said the internship helped him develop more effective communication skills.

William Peaster at BASF. Submitted photo

Yazoo City native William Peaster also found that communication was important through his internship with BASF in Mobile, Alabama. The company produces chemical products for customers across the country. Peaster helped with creating new diagrams for all of the process lines in the plant.

He also had the chance to create a mass balance that helped identify some yield issues within the plant, and was exposed to the business side through working with the supply chain management team.

During his time at BASF, the senior chemical engineering student was able to see firsthand the inner workings of a chemical plant, and like Maples, see things that he could not glean from a textbook. It also helped him define his future role as an engineer.

“Part of being an engineer is being able to come up with an answer and a solution when things are gray,” he said. “My internship experience allowed me to see the constant communication between engineers, managers, accountants, operators and other team members.”

Jake Azbell at Dynetics. Submitted photo

Electrical engineering senior Jake Azbell spent his summer interning with Dynetics in Huntsville, Alabama. The Riddleton, Tennessee, native learned of the internship opportunity from Ole Miss graduates who were recruiting on campus. Since working in Huntsville, Azbell has worked on data simulation and real-time processing for a radar prototype and has implemented the simulation using GPU programming.

Like Peaster, he said his experience as an intern has helped him see what the professional world will look like after he graduates this upcoming year.

“Being an intern has given me the chance to see how a postgraduate career will look and how to better prepare for life after school,” Azbell said. “I have had the opportunity to explore different aspects of engineering at the company and develop needed skills for my future career.”

While he found it challenging to learn the software for his projects in such a short time, he said that his course work had provided some basic experience in the area. He would also consider working for Dynetics as a result of his positive experience working with the company.

Catherine Teh (left) at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Submitted photo

Like Maples, Catherine Teh secured her internship with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality after interviewing with representatives at the on-campus career fair. However, she initially received notice from MDEQ that she had not been selected for a spot. Nevertheless, she received a phone call in mid-May, informing her that the department was interested in offering her a position, and she gladly accepted.

Although the process did not begin how she wanted, Teh, a sophomore chemical engineering major from Brandon found the internship experience to be eye-opening. According to Teh, MDEQ interns spend five days in each of the seven divisions of the Pollution Control office and are given small projects in each division. This way, they are exposed to all areas of the organization. She was also able to shadow an MDEQ mentor and go out into the field as well as take part in some sample collection.

“Even though I learned a great deal of technical skills, I took from the experience that it’s OK to make mistakes and how important interpersonal skills are in the workplace,” she said. “It’s important to seek out challenges and opportunities to grow. I received that from my internship with MDEQ.”

Teh said one of her biggest challenges was rotating between all the different divisions and getting to know so many people. As a rising sophomore, she found it difficult since she didn’t have an opportunity to settle into a routine. She does hope, however, to secure future internship opportunities to continue to develop her skills.

 

 

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.