New carpal tunnel tests may aid industry
Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Robert G. Radwin and his graduate students have developed two biomedical instruments for monitoring employees for carpal tunnel syndrome that are no more difficult to take than a common hearing test. (Most current tests are not very accurate, and can sometimes be painful.) In one test, workers run their fingers over a smooth metal plate that is split by a variable-width gap. Because carpal tunnel syndrome dulls touch, sufferers tend to feel only the wider gaps. The other test is a simple video game controlled by squeezing bars together--patients with carpal tunnel syndrome use more force than others. These tests are now being studied to learn if they could be used for early detection, allowing for intervention to possibly prevent a long-term problem. Currently the researchers are testing both devices at UW Hospital and will be starting a new study at selected industrial sites with a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Modeling polymerization reactor operation to design high-tech polymer products
Low cost, safe, and environmentally friendly process operations leading to high-quality polymer products depend on having a fundamental understanding of polymerization reactor operation and how to control polymer molecular architecture. Vilas Professor W. Harmon Ray (Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering) and his student research group have been creating polymerization reactor models to satisfy these polymer production requirements. The group is currently studying polymers including polyethylene, polypropylene, nylon, polyester, rubbers, latex coatings and liquid crystal polymers. One important byproduct of the research being done by this group is POLYREDTM, a software package which allows industry to build models to predict both process behavior and the properties of the final polymer product. More than 20 companies around the world are currently using POLYREDTM, including S.C. Johnson and Son, located in Racine, Wisconsin.
Creating new integrated circuits for faster devices
The need for faster communication links to satellites is driving the development of high-speed gallium arsenide integrated circuits. The physical size of the device controls its speed -- the narrower the gate electrode, the faster the device will be. For high power, the gates need to be several hundreds of microns long. A scanning electron microscope shows a finished device at left, complete with metal interconnects. The gates themselves are barely visible, buried under the larger metal structures. These circuits were manufactured using X-ray lithography at the Center for NanoTechnology as part of a collaborative project with Sanders, a Lockheed-Martin company. The gates -- only 0.2 microns wide -- were exposed at CXrL, and the rest of the processing performed at Sanders. The work is supported by DARPA and directed by Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Franco Cerrina.
Making turbine engines more efficient
The trend in the gas turbine industry is to run new engines hotter to increase efficiency. But hotter engines need better cooling. Karen A. Thole, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is investigating ways to make turbine engines more efficient by understanding the major influences affecting turbine blade heat transfer and determining new blade cooling schemes. First, new cooling schemes are determined through computational fluid dynamics. The schemes are then tested in a new wind tunnel facility, capable of generating winds of up to 120 mph, that the group helped design. With this facility, they will use state-of-the-art techniques such as laser Doppler velocimetry to measure simulated turbine blade flowfields, surface thermocouples and liquid crystals to quantify blade heat transfer, and hot-and cold-wire anemometry to measure velocity and thermal turbulence characteristics. In addition to the turbine blade cooling problem, Thole's group is involved in optimizing the performance of compact heat exchangers. The turbine blade work is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Pratt & Whitney, while the heat exchanger work is sponsored by University-Industry Relations and Modine Manufacturing Company.
The MAF formula: small, fast and powerful
Virtual reality, 3-D imaging and parallel processing have a broad range of possible uses for engineering teaching and practice. Since many professors don't have time to test this new technology, the college assembled the Model Advanced Facility (MAF) in the Computer-Aided Engineering. MAF features cutting-edge engineering workstations and supercomputers, loaded with thoroughbred software, and linked with an ultra-fast fiber-optic network. It is available to professors and students working in computer technology that is "cutting-edge and expensive to implement," says MAF director Todd Tannenbaum. "We try to come up with new ways of using this technology, and of moving it into the regular instructional program," he says. All projects must be within two focus areas: visualization and simulation, and parallel or distributed processing. Visualization allows a user to see relationships hidden in vast amounts of data; parallel or distributed processing allows many processors to work together to solve a problem. For example, engine researchers use visualization to show how pressure changes in a cylinder of an internal combustion engine during the power stroke. MAF also brings new technology to industrial partners including Fiskars, Inc.
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1996 Annual Report Contents