Math and engineering students earn state, national recognition

04.30.2015 | By Rob Vanya

San Jacinto College math and engineering students continue to attract state and national recognition for their innovation and achievements.

Microgravity Science and Technology (MSaT), a national educational journal, recently published an essay about a successful acoustic flame suppression pilot project performed by a team that included San Jacinto College and University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL) professors and students. Acoustic flame suppression involves using sub-woofers to manipulate sound waves to extinguish fire. Nate Wiggins, San Jacinto College math and engineering professor cited in the MSaT essay, says that the San Jacinto College-UHCL project is significant because it examines how acoustic flame suppression functions in microgravity. “Research about putting fire out with sound has been around for a long time,” commented Wiggins. “But the San Jacinto College-UHCL team is perhaps the first group to test the effectiveness of acoustic flame suppression in a microgravity environment that simulates space. That means it has potential as a fire extinguisher during space flights, which could conceivably improve safety.”

Having research published in the MSaT journal is viewed as a significant achievement in the field of education and research, according to Wiggins. “When we were chosen by MSaT, they spoke highly of our methods of data collection and ability to verify the validity of methodology (in other words, our computer skills to understand the physics were really solid),” he remarked. “MSaT is the most prestigious journal in the microgravity area, and it is really an honor to be featured there.”

The San Jacinto College-UHCL acoustic flame suppression research is also scheduled to be a part of a national television show. “We are in talks with the Discovery Channel about a show that will be aired sometime during the summer that deals with acoustic flame suppression research,” Wiggins commented. “The show will focus on work done by Georgetown University and George Mason University. The work performed by the San Jacinto College-UHCL team was the pilot research in the area, so we are scheduled to be included in the broadcast. We are still working out the details, so I do not know exactly what our part will be in the show.”

San Jacinto College was also the only community college to participate in the recent Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge, an educational outreach program sponsored by NASA. Other colleges taking part in the Design Challenge include Lamar University, the University of North Texas, and the University of Texas at Brownsville.

At the Design Challenge event, two San Jacinto College student teams – the Smart Watch Design team, and the Mars Drilling team – made visual and oral presentations about their in-depth research projects. Each team earned scholarship funds for participating in the Design Challenge. The scholarship amount each student will receive will be announced at a later date.

The Smart Watch Design team researched the feasibility of using smart watches as control devices during space missions. The Mars Drilling team proposed creation of a durable and adaptable drilling system that theoretically could be used during Mars exploration.

Wiggins says every student gained valuable hands-on experience by participating in the Design Challenge. “The students gleaned what I call system skills, which helps them to integrate concepts they learn about in class,” he said. “So, for example, they incorporate computer science and mechanical engineering skills, which make use of calculus that they learn about in math classes, while at the same time they learn how to handle challenges they will face in the industry. The combined skills and synergistic environment introduces them to working in industrial standards of interpersonal communication and systems processes.”

San Jacinto College students participating in the Design Challenge project included Jocelyn Gutierrez, Duncan Moore, Edgar Garcia, Dat Tran, Kevin Fuentes, Brian Ortiz, Edwin Avila, Jesus Lopez, and Nadia Molina.

Tran, a member of the Smart Watch Design team, enjoyed learning about how smart watches might be used to monitor the environment of space vessels, as well as the health of astronauts during missions. He also learned a lot about teamwork and time management. “Time was very limited during the project, so each team member had to learn how to work together and to use time efficiently,” he commented. “We learned to develop a plan, to divide the plan into smaller tasks, and then to combine everything into a finished work.”

Tran is studying computer science and plans to earn an associate degree from San Jacinto College next fall before transferring to the University of Texas, where he will continue studying computer science.

Dr. Humboldt Mandell, retired NASA program manager who served as an educational mentor for the Design Challenge project, said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the participating students. “We face a real challenge in our nation to attract young people to careers that support space programs,” Mandell commented. “Our aim with the Design Challenge is to create enthusiasm and get students interested, so that there will be political support for space programs in the future.”

San Jacinto College encourages undergraduate research and participation in science, technology, engineering, and math projects through its STEM Council. For more information, please visit sanjac.edu/stem-council.

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit www.sanjac.edu, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.