FALL SEMESTER 1996 -- VOL. 1 / NO. 1

A newsletter for alumni, students, and friends of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Three Assistant Professors Receive Prestigious NSF Career Grants

Karen A. Thole is the latest Mechanical Engineering assistant professor to receive a National Science Foundation award and grant, receiving the prestigious honor this past July. Assistant Professors Rajit Gadh and Vadim Shapiro received their awards last year.

The NSF grants are Faculty Early Career Development awards to recognize outstanding young faculty in science and engineering by providing flexible support for research and teaching. The support comes in the form of a four-year grant of $210,000 plus $100,000 in matching funds from an industry sponsor.

Karen A. Thole, who joined the ME Department in December 1994, received her award to continue her research on gas turbine blade cooling, becoming one of only three people in the country to receive a NSF grant in the area of thermal transport and thermal processing. Thole's industrial sponsor for the first year has been Pratt & Whitney.

Her research approach has two elements, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and experiments. The CFD models help design the experiments as well as give some insight as to the important parameters. The experiments are done to benchmark the CFD models as well as to further develop the models.
Wind tunnel facility

Assistant Professor Karen A. Thole and graduate students Roger Radomsky, Boris Bangert, and Marlow Springer use a wind tunnel in their study of boundary layer heat transfer to improve cooling methods for gas turbine blades. (46K JPG)

Her research plan is a study directed toward improving the efficiency of gas turbine engines through a better physical understanding of turbine blade heat transfer and then using that knowledge to improve the cooling process. The emphasis is on understanding freestream turbulence effects. Thole and her grad students carry out their work in a wind tunnel the group designed and had installed in the Engineering Research Building. With this facility, which can generate velocities up to 120 mph, the group uses state-of-the-art measurement techniques such as a laser Doppler velocimeter to measure how well the cooling air blankets the blade and how much the boundary layer is disturbed by the cooling air.

Thole's NSF Career Grant contains both the research and an educational plan. The educational plan is designed to recruit and retain women in engineering and to develop a curriculum in the thermal sciences area. To carry out the retention plan, Thole is teaching two sections of the freshman design class that deal with the issue of being a woman in engineering. "The class allows freshman women to build up their confidence and meet professional women role models," she said. Thole also teaches fluid mechanics and heat transfer to undergrads and convective heat transfer to graduate students.

Rajit Gadh's award is to work on computer-aided design in two areas, virtual design and prototyping. His industrial sponsors are Ford, Alcoa, and Texas Instruments. The virtual design allows the designer to put concepts into a computer with natural human gestures by wearing virtual gloves and three dimensional glasses and working at a special computerized table. The goal is to use both voice and hands to design shapes instead of a keyboard or computer mouse, a method which is now cumbersome and hinders creativity. His principal research uses geometric modeling to support this design. Gadh calls this approach COVIRDS, the Conceptual Virtual Design System, and hopes that it can accomplish via computer the design stage that is now done by intuitive paper and pencil sketching.

Gadh's virtual prototyping is a method of determining manufacturing implications of product components through the geometry rather than physical models, a method that should prove to be much less expensive for industry. He is working on "feature extraction" on the computer to pull out parts of a prototype and decide how they should best be molded or die cast.

Vadim Shapiro received his four-year CAREER grant for his work to make the design and manufacturing of mechanical artifacts more rational, systematic, and efficient. Central to this research are thorough industrial studies of how parts and assemblies are designed and manufactured in today's competitive environment. Such studies may lead to a radically reengineered design process and a new generation of software tools.

Examples of computer-aided design tools currently being developed include software for design and packaging of moving parts and assemblies, new product representations combining physics and geometry, robust algorithms and software for working with parametric families of mechanical parts, and novel methods for solving spatially distributed physical problems. Shapiro's sponsors include the automobile and CAD/CAM software industry, as well as national laboratories.

Shapiro and a group of graduate students conduct their research in the Spatial Automation Laboratory. In 1995, they were awarded a second NSF grant of $300,000 for research in solid modeling.

ME Newsletter is a periodic publication of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Correspondence should be sent to the address below.

ME Newsletter
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1513 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1572

      Editor: Gail Gawenda

Designer: Lynda Litzkow

Last Modified: Monday, 24-Mar-1997 11:37:11 CST

FALL SEMESTER 1996 -- VOL. 1 / NO. 1 Contents