Friday, January 18, 2019

Parfait Masungi escapes the Congo to find opportunity

By Milady Nazir

Parfait Masungi is one of the lucky ones. At the age of 15, he won a green card lottery visa  and with it, a ticket to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This was his chance to escape the country embroiled in “Africa’s World War,” the Rwandan Genocide civil war where more than six million people were killed. His home is the same place that became synonymous for the use of children as soldiers and where thousands of kids work deep in the mines with bare hands to dig for cobalt, the mineral that makes mobile phones possible.

“The future is death,” says Masungi about what youth in the DRC feel. “I couldn’t let that happen to me. I had an opportunity to do something better.”
The road that led out of the DRC for Masungi started with walking seven miles each day just to get to school. And on Saturdays, when kids usually play, he went back to school to learn English instead. His daily life was made even more dangerous as he had to be wary of guerrilla violence from the encroaching war into the capital Kinshasa, where he lived. Many times, curfews were the norm.

Then in November 2010, after a year of going through extensive interviews with the American consulate, Masungi, with the rest of his family, landed in Dallas, Texas. He knew his parents didn’t have the means to pay for a higher education. Athletics became the path to excel and get into college as he played football and track and field; however, he was diagnosed with a heart condition that required emergency open heart surgery, cutting short any hopes of athletic stardom.

Masungi leads middle school students on a tour of UTSA's downtown campus

Masungi learned about the University of Texas at San Antonio's engineering program and applied to it. Four years later, he walked the commencement stage with cum laude distinction in civil engineering. This year, he won “best presenter in civil engineering” at the SACNAS (Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) convention and competed against students from the nation’s most competitive schools including MIT and UC Berkeley.

During his time at UTSA, Masungi worked on testing high-strength reinforcement steel bars, a building component that promises to save energy and money in new construction.
The 80-ksi bars are designed with spiral patterns that focus on flexure and anchorage behavior. They are fabricated by cold working, long a method of producing high-strength reinforcement below the recrystallization temperature.

“In our study, we investigated the mechanical properties and performance of the spiral steel in concrete slabs by conducting monotonic tension tests. Current building codes in the United States limit the use of high-strength reinforcing steel,” Masungi explains. “These limitations are mainly due to a lack of profound research and understanding and limited test data on the performance and effects of high-strength steel in concrete structures.”

The use of high-strength steel bars in reinforced concrete has the potential to improve design methods in concrete members and significantly reduce the quantity of steel used in construction. This would reduce energy consumption related to fabricating, manufacturing, and transporting the steel.

Masungi recently graduated from the University of Texas San Antonio with a B.S. in Civil Engineering

Upon graduation, Masungi has an offer to start a PhD program at the University of Florida, where he previously interned and assisted in the development of a pilot program to work on algorithms that guide driverless buses. Right now, he’s hoping to win a fellowship from the National Science Foundation and perhaps pursue more training at UTSA so he can be close to his sister, who currently attends the institution.

As Masungi relates, “If I receive the NSF Fellowship, I would like to pursue more training in structural and transportation engineering. This would focus on high-strength materials and sustainable design of reinforced concrete and structural steel members and frames.” The top schools where he would like to pursue his advanced graduate studies include Stanford, UTSA, Princeton, University of Florida, or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Although he’s only 22 years old, Masungi is mature beyond his age. Yes, he has some unpleasant memories of the Congo, but he also feels a responsibility to give back to other Congolese youth so they no longer envision a bleak future. He wants to have his own engineering firm, set up educational exchange programs, and export infrastructure technologies back home.

“I want to give Congo students the opportunity to come to the U.S. and get that education. I don’t take being here for granted,” Masungi says.

Milady Nazir is a public affairs specialist at the University of Texas at San Antonio Office of University Communications and Marketing

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Wave energy converter successfully tested for powering oceanographic instrumentation

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (EXWC) has announced the most recent round of wave energy converter (WEC) testing at the U.S. Navy's Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) off Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), Kaneohe, Hawaii, on the Island of Oahu.   

In October 2018, the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) at the University of Hawaii, with funding from NAVFAC, and in partnership with the University of Washington, Fred. Olsen, Ltd., and Sea Engineering, Inc., began the second round of testing of the Fred. Olsen (of Norway) BOLT Lifesaver WEC device. The device uses three power take-off (PTO) units that convert the motion of passing waves to electrical power by way of rotary electrical generators. Control and health-monitoring of these on-board systems is housed in the control center. The WEC is not connected to shore, and the power generated is stored in a battery bank.

This phase of Lifesaver testing at WETS has two primary aims: first, to improve device reliability and power performance, through alterations to the device mooring strategy, and second, to demonstrate an alternative means of powering oceanographic instrumentation without using utility-supplied electrical grid power or single-use batteries. The instrumentation, known as the Wave-powered Adaptable Monitoring Package (WAMP), is being tested on BOLT Lifesaver and was designed, assembled, and integrated with the WEC by the Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC), University of Washington, leveraging the capabilities of the Applied Physics Laboratory (a U.S. Navy University Affiliated Research Center) and the department of Mechanical Engineering. Receiving its power from the Lifesaver, the WAMP provides persistent underwater sensing, and supports unmanned, undersea vehicle (UUV) re-charge using a wireless power transfer system developed by Seattle startup Wibotic, Inc. The WAMP is the latest in a series of demonstrations of the core AMP technology and is being used in this application to better understand the marine environment around an operational WEC buoy.

The joint Lifesaver-WAMP test is funded by NAVFAC, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Science Foundation. The overall effort is part of a larger joint U.S. Navy, DOE, academic (University of Hawaii, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and University of Washington PMEC), and industry research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) project. This is the world's first demonstration of the potentially transformative capability for WECs to enable persistent oceanographic observation and UUV re-charge without a cable to shore.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Daikin announces first U.S. supermarket retrofit of R-22 to Creard R-407H refrigerant

Daikin America has partnered with TOPS Friendly Markets to complete the first refrigeration conversion of a U.S. supermarket from R-22 to Creard R-407H refrigerant. At the TOPS store in Alden, NY, 1200 pounds of Creard R-407H has been used to provide more than 25 cooling tons in medium-temperature refrigerated cases and displays

Daikin's new Creard R-407H refrigerant is a low global-warming-potential (GWP) blend designed for new refrigeration systems and as a replacement for R-22, R-404A and R-507 in existing systems. Creard R-407H has a GWP of 1380, one of the lowest GWP options for refrigeration systems, providing a combination of performance while being economical relative to the products it is replacing. This comes in response to regulations to phase out ozone-depleting substances resulting from the Montreal Protocol.

Daikin engineers worked closely with TOPS to address key requirements:
  • A GWP of less than 1500 to position TOPS with a sustainable solution for the useful life of the equipment in the event of any future climate related regulatory policies.
  • Equivalent or better energy efficiency and refrigeration capacity across the entire operating range.
  • A close match in temperature, pressure, and volumetric flow rate properties to R-22, to use the same expansion devices, distribution system, and piping.
  • Traditional chemistry, with proven material compatibility with legacy R-22 equipment.
  • Cost-effectiveness in long-term operation.
After the conversion from R-22 to Creard R-407H, the system was monitored for three months. Throughout the test, data was collected on operating pressures, temperatures, and energy consumption of the system. The power consumption during the test months when compared to R-22 was 2 percent higher after the first fill and system shakedown and then improved to 0.5 percent lower after the controller was tuned. The cooling capacity remained the same between R-22 and R-407H.

Tim Bowen, TOPS Markets maintenance manager, states, "Creard R-407H is a great help to TOPS Markets' bottom line due to its energy efficiency, cost, and requiring minimal changes to our equipment. Since Creard R-407H has demonstrated to be a low-GWP match with R-22, this really becomes a great solution for TOPS Markets as we move forward with our conversion program this year."

Daikin America provides refrigerant gases, fluoroplastic and fluoroelastomer polymers, and coating materials designed to support a diverse set of industries. It is a subsidiary of Daikin Industries of Osaka, Japan, a manufacturer of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment and fluorochemical products.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sarah Wilson elected board chair at McMillen Jacobs

The McMillen Jacobs Associates board of directors has elected Sarah Wilson as board chair. Wilson is a vice president at McMillen Jacobs, where she has worked in tunnel design and construction management for more than 19 years, and she has spent the past five years in board service for the firm.
According to a recent study by Heidrick & Struggles, the appointment of women to board-of-director positions is hitting an all-time high in 2018. But a recent ENR study found that to be strategic on current and emerging issues, engineering and construction boards must better embrace a diversity of experience and perspectives. When asked to comment on her appointment, Wilson said, “I’m proud that McMillen Jacobs is on the cutting edge of the industry with a woman board chair. My 8-year-old daughter is so aware of girls and women as powerful forces in the world, and I hope to set a good example for my 1-year-old son. We also have two outside directors that enrich our collective experience on a very active board. I see the board chair’s responsibility as driving communication between the board and company management, and I’m lucky to be working with some extremely talented people.”

Wilson’s leadership experience and technical expertise stem from final design roles on transit, dam and water conveyance facilities, and construction management experience on numerous underground contracts in both soft ground and rock. Wilson received her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia and was featured on the school’s “40 under 40” list in 2015.  She earned her M.S. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. She has authored numerous professional papers and articles on geotechnical and construction management topics and is a past president of the American Rock Mechanics Association. She is a CMAA certified construction manager and a registered professional civil engineer in California.
Based in Seattle, Washington, McMillen Jacobs Associates is an employee-owned environmental, engineering, and construction company providing technical services to the heavy civil, underground, and water resources markets. The firm has offices around the country and in Canada, Australia, and New England. For more information, visit

Monday, December 17, 2018

Three ways to boost STEM education to prepare the workforce of the future

By Brad Anderson
Editor-in-chief of ReadWrite

It’s obvious: Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are integral parts of everyone’s life. Since 2009, STEM has accounted for more than 
800,000 new jobs in the United States, more than double the number of new jobs in non-STEM sectors.
That growth should be exciting, especially considering the boom of innovation that’s sure to follow. However, for companies that operate in STEM fields, the unprecedented growth is a little staggering. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, nearly 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled by the end of this year.
Traditionally, a shortage of employees in a certain field most likely indicates a general lack of interest in that field, but that isn’t the case this time. The shortage is the result of the demand for STEM jobs growing at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs for about a decade, according to the SSEC.
The scope of STEM is so broad that there’s bound to be a related career path, no matter what students are interested in. Developing a workforce of more STEM-qualified individuals is a matter of introducing people to the possibilities and providing opportunities for training.
New Ways to Teach STEM
In the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, conducted in 2015, U.S. students ranked 38th and 24th out of 71 countries in math and science, respectively. The National Math & Science Initiative reports that only 36 percent of U.S. high school graduates are ready to take college-level STEM courses.
Knowing that STEM will soon dominate major aspects of virtually every industry, many stakeholders are aiding in efforts to focus on STEM education and encourage students to get excited about developing these skills. Here are just a few key things being done to boost STEM education to ensure that tomorrow’s workers will have the skills they need.
1. Programs are taking learning outside the classroom.
While schools at all levels are making their STEM curricula more robust, there are also learning opportunities happening outside the classroom that are aiding in skill development, including after-school programs, summer camps, and tutoring. And the demand for STEM jobs nationwide is increasing interest in local programs to address the need.
A STEM growth report by Varsity Tutors, which provides concierge-level STEM tutoring and support, shows that STEM tutoring has boomed in the Midwest, especially in cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. The organization credits this increase in STEM learning to the number of companies offering flexible working conditions that allow employees to work remotely, which means Midwesterners can refine their skill sets to be competitive for these jobs wherever they’re located.
2. Business leaders and educators are building bridges. 
Students aren’t the only ones with STEM skills learning on their minds. The educational institutions responsible for teaching them and the companies that will soon need to hire them are also expanding their reach by partnering. The Business-Higher Education Forum was created specifically for building such bridges, and in the face of the STEM skills shortage, those bridges are an even more vital resource.
Through BHEF, universities that offer undergraduate STEM programs can share their curricula with the local business community. Businesses can offer feedback and potentially chip in to expand the programs. For instance, Northrup Grumman Corporation and the University of Maryland, College Park joined forces to establish the first undergraduate residential honors program in cybersecurity in an effort to better meet the demand for cybersecurity professionals in the state.
3. Resources help parents and teachers make STEM relatable to their kids.
While businesses, universities, and community organizations work to connect STEM students with their futures, there are plenty of resources available for parents and teachers to make STEM more relatable and appealing to upcoming generations. Younger children may not fully realize the importance of STEM, but they can enjoy it when it’s fun.
Through informal educational activities, they can also prepare themselves to pursue an education that focuses on the STEM skills they’ll likely need. Programs such as Engineering for Kids and STEM Minds offer a wide range of resources for parents and educators to make STEM learning exciting for children. These and other programs are designed to empower young minds by connecting the principles of science, technology, engineering, and math to fun projects and team exercises.
It’s worrisome that current figures predict a potentially devastating shortage of STEM-related innovators in the U.S. economy very soon. However, it’s encouraging to see schools, companies, organizations, and parents working together to help students gain interest and knowledge in STEM fields.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Engineering capstone project saves MSU researchers time and money

Countless hours spent hunched over petri dishes, using needles to pluck tiny samples from bacteria colonies and place them in test tubes, are not the most exciting experiences for researchers in Seth Walk's lab at Montana State University. Walk, who studies the complex microbial communities in the human gut, had considered paying $70,000 for a robot to perform the time-intensive routine. But then he learned that MSU engineering students could make one for him.
His satisfaction with the MSU-made device was evident as he took a close look during the biannual Design Fair recently, when roughly 30 teams of engineering students displayed their senior capstone projects in the Strand Union Building ballroom. "They did a great job," said Walk, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in MSU's College of Agriculture and College of Letters and Science.
The desk-sized research apparatus came to life with a few computer commands, its needle sliding into place above a petri dish. An optical sensor stood ready to scan the petri dish's contents, detecting dots that represented distinct bacteria colonies ready to be sampled. "With this, we'll grow the bacteria and then let the machine do the work, which frees up time to focus on our research," Walk said, noting that the device also sterilizes the needle in between each sampling.
Over the course of two semesters, the four-person capstone team — likely the first-ever all-female team in mechanical engineering — took Walk's request and created a product that needs only some software tweaks to be fully operational. "The students came up with the entire design," says team adviser Ron June, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.
"It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it," recalls team member Tayler Fortner, a mechanical engineering major from Winnett, MT. Along with teammates Katelyn Kalberer and Anna Teintze, Fortner focused on designing the complex mechanical system that precisely moves the needle to sample the bacteria. "It was a very involved project," Fortner said. "It was an application of everything we've been doing in school."
"There was a big learning curve," said fourth team member Sandra Zmeu, who focused on the electrical and computer parts of the machine. To program the code that guides the machine's motions and controls the optical sensor, she had to learn two computer languages, she says. "It was a real learning experience," says Zmeu, who is heading to a job at Boeing in Seattle following graduation.
Mechanical engineering technology major Teintze, from Bozeman, MT, said she enjoyed the collaboration on the project. "Working with an enthusiastic team was really cool," she remarks. Kalberer agreed: "An important part of being an engineer is being able to work with other engineers," she says.
All seniors in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering complete capstone projects as a requirement for earning their degrees. Working in teams and advised by MSU faculty — and sometimes sponsors from private industry — the students find solutions to engineering problems. Other projects at the Design Fair included solar-powered car components, a snowplow radar system, and self-activated ergonomic seating. "Several faculty members have had research equipment built by capstone teams," June says. "The teams are a major contributor to our research at MSU."
According to capstone coordinator David Miller, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, there is always a need for capstone sponsors. That presents an opportunity for MSU faculty who need any manner of customized equipment. He states, "The capstone projects solve real problems while providing an opportunity for students to learn."

Monday, November 26, 2018

USGBC announces LEED initiatives and updates at Greenbuild

The Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, presented by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), concluded recently in Chicago, where thousands of members of the global green building community gathered. The theme for this year’s Greenbuild was Human X Nature, representing how the green building movement embraces all of humanity by making sustainable buildings and environments accessible to everyone while benefitting the natural environment all around us.

During the opening plenary, human rights lawyer and humanitarian Amal Clooney delivered a keynote that discussed her work and reminded attendees the role the green building community plays in addressing today’s challenges: “Despite challenges, I am optimistic. Because all around the world I see that even where governments fall behind, individuals and companies can make a difference,” said Clooney.

USGBC President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam also gave remarks highlighting plans for the future and USGBC’s role in creating a new living standard for all people: “In the past, we have delivered on our promises of certifications, signifying high quality spaces in which we can live and work,” said Ramanujam. “Now, by harnessing the power of our partnerships with companies and organizations the world over, we will explore creating a new campaign – a Living Standard that indicates that an environment is healthy and safe for all who inhabit it – from buildings, to communities, to cities, to entire nations. Because a higher Living Standard is what every person on the planet deserves.”

Several programmatic updates to the LEED green building rating system were announced throughout the week including:

LEED Transit Rating System – USGBC released LEED green building certification standards for new transit stations, which were also announced during Greenbuild India, taking place simultaneously. LEED Transit was developed with input from the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation in India (DMRC), Shanghai Shentong Metro Group Co. Ltd. for China (Shentong), and Shanghai Green City Architectural Technology Co., Ltd. With LEED Transit, transit owners can reduce their environmental footprint while engaging riders on the importance of sustainability and the opportunity the public transportation sector has in minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

LEED Zero Certification – USGBC officially introduced a new LEED Zero certification offering. The new program recognizes buildings or spaces operating with net zero carbon emissions from energy consumption and occupant transportation to carbon emissions avoided or offset over a period of 12 months. LEED projects can achieve LEED Zero certification when they demonstrate net zero carbon emissions, energy use, water use, or waste.

Integration of STAR and LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities – It was announced that the STAR Community Rating System, which offers certification for sustainable communities, has been fully integrated into USGBC’s LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities programs to help advance sustainable cities and communities worldwide. Some 75 cities and communities have achieved STAR certification, and 20 additional cities and communities are seeking STAR certification. All of these localities will transfer into the family of LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities.

LEED Recertification – All LEED projects – past, present, and future – are now eligible for recertification by providing 12 months of data, powered by Arc, that shows consistent or improved performance, using the most recent version of the LEED rating system. This recertification will be valid for three years and is an important step in ensuring that a green building is operating the way it was intended.

The week of Greenbuild also included green building tours around Chicago; three day-long immersive summits; the sold-out Women in Green luncheon; recognition of sustainability all-stars at the Leadership Awards Reception, including the announcement of 25 new LEED Fellows and this year’s USGBC Leadership Award recipients; a 600-vendor expo hall that featured a Net Zero Zone; and dozens of inspiring signature events and education sessions. Greenbuild concluded with San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, who was recognized by USGBC for the City of Chicago’s LEED Platinum certification.