college of engineering and natural sciences

Students and faculty conduct COVID-19 research during pandemic 

Students and faculty in The University of Tulsa’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences are doing their part to combat COVID-19 by calling upon the skills and innovative ideas they practice in daily life. The world is struggling to control the pandemic, but the TU community’s resilience shines through when members band together to support health care workers. 

COVID-19 Research

Chapman Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Robert Sheaff and Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Syed Hussaini are working on two COVID-19 projects.  

  1. Development of a novel test for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 virus. This project will provide a faster and more economical method for the detection of the virus. It is based on a standard biological readout system, which will be modified chemically to provide an assay in which light emission will be used to detect the presence of the virus.
  2. Evaluation of chloroquine’s biological effects on human cells. The second project will evaluate the effect of chloroquine and its synthetic analogs on human cells. The aim is to contribute to the biochemical understanding of how chloroquine works as a treatment for COVID-19 and to find chemical analogs of chloroquine with increased efficacy and reduced side effects. 

Surgical mask straps 

covid-19 researchMechanical engineering student Tom Rendon has been printing surgical mask straps to give to people who wear the masks for lengthy periods of time, as well as hospital workers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The straps keep the elastic off the ears and allow the user to adjust the tension of the elastic. He added a little local branding to them as a way of encouraging and supporting local communities. 

Currently, Rendon has printed around 200 of the straps and hopes to give away more in the future. Each strap takes around 30-40 minutes to print. 

PPE Donations

covid-19 researchThe Department of Chemistry gathered the following personal protective equipment (PPE) items to donate to Ascension St. John Medical Center in March: 

  • 8 50-packs of surgical face masks  
  • 54 cases of Fisher Scientific nitrile exam gloves  
  • 5 boxes of safety goggles (36 count in each box)  

The TU Hurricane Health Clinic gave 23 boxes of nitrile gloves, disposable gowns, hand sanitizer and face masks to Saint Francis Health System; and TU’s School of Nursing in the Oxley College of Health Sciences delivered the following PPE to Hillcrest Medical Center: 

  • 70 disposable isolation gowns  
  • 4 full boxes and 2 partial boxes of surgical masks  
  • 9 N-95 masks  
  • 15 face shield masks  
  • 1,150 pairs of nitrile exam gloves  
  • 500 pairs of stretch vinyl gloves  

The Russell School of Chemical Engineering and TU’s athletic training program also donated gloves to Saint Francis. 

Face shields

COVID-19 researchMechanical engineering senior Jacob Martinez partnered with Tulsa’s medical community to help make face shields for local hospital workers. Using a laser cutter in Stephenson Hall’s Projects Lab, he cut the plastic pieces that attach to the clear shield, which were then packed in kits and sent to hospitals. The latest batch was sent to Saint Francis Health System. 

TURC program demonstrates benefits of undergrad research

The Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) is one of The University of Tulsa’s most celebrated programs for providing undergraduate students with dynamic projects that advance research, support scholarship and enrich the community. Students from every college participate in year-round TURC research endeavors that fuel the curiosity of their minds and challenge the possibilities of discovery.

The following student projects showcase the diversity and value of TURC research and mentorship.

Maureen Haynes, senior, sociology and biology

TURC programMaureen Haynes of Tulsa began her freshman year at TU as a mechanical engineering student, but an intro-level sociology class persuaded her to switch majors. Later, as a sociology student, she realized she missed studying the natural sciences and working in a laboratory, so she added biology as a second major. Haynes conducted research with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Keller in high school as a Junior TURC student and then as a TU student. She worked with graduate students to develop and rigorously test methods for the synthesis of microencapsulated magnetic nanoparticles designed to self-sense damage in synthetics.

Haynes’ sociology TURC research involved researching the narrative experiences of Oklahoma’s public school teachers, which ultimately evolved into her senior thesis. She conducted in-depth interviews with teachers from across the state before and after Oklahoma’s historic teacher walkout in 2018. She coded for similarities and analyzed how they presented their profession, work and politics surrounding the education field. Haynes presented her research findings in a 2019 TEDxUTulsa talk “What Oklahoma’s Protesting Teachers Can Teach Us.”

TURC programHer third TURC research component included an independent research project with Assistant Professor of Biology Matthew Toomey to study the metabolic conversion of yellow and red carotenoids in the avian visual system. Haynes also participated in the 2019 National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program by examining the metagenomics of animal mortality composting through sophisticated sequencing platforms in genomics.

While her research has spanned a broad scope of subject matters, Haynes explained there are common themes. “These experiences solidified my adoration for the research process and how collaboration across people, disciplines and students yields powerful scientific findings. I love the research process and the research community here at TU.”

Nathan Blue, senior, English

TURC programNathan Blue’s TURC research project involves helping with cleaning, rehousing, digitizing and documenting the metadata of fan letters sent to musician Bob Dylan. Many of the letters have never been opened and were written at a pivotal time in Dylan’s career — following a motorcycle crash the singer survived in the summer of 1966. “These letters are an unprecedented glimpse into pop and rock fandoms at a time before magazines dedicated to rock music criticism like Rolling Stone came about,” Blue said. “Through our metadata documentation, these letters will become a wellspring of insight into mass fandom in the 1960s.”

Blue became infatuated with Dylan’s music and its cultural impact in high school, eventually transferring from Tulsa Community College to TU in hopes of getting involved with the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies. He works closely with Sean Latham, institute director and English professor; Kate Blalack, lead archivist at the Woody Guthrie Center; and Mark Davidson, manager of the Bob Dylan Archive at TU’s Helmerich Center for American Research. “My research has taught me more about music fandom than I thought possible,” Blue commented.

He plans to continue studying the Dylan fan letters while pursuing a master’s in English literature at TU.

Luis Juarez, senior, chemical engineering

TURC programFor the past two summers, Luis Juarez has studied silicon dioxide (SiO2), the main component of sand, for potential new optoelectronic technologies. He and Associate Professor of Chemistry Gabriel LeBlanc explored how the electrodeposition method for obtaining purity c-Si from SiO2, coupled with temperature ionic liquids, could significantly reduce the cost of obtaining c-Si necessary for the production of solar cells, computer chips and smartphone chips. The process could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“What caught my attention with this project was the impact it could have on the world,” Juarez explained. “We could increase the production of solar cells/panels as well as other new technologies that required c-Si while reducing the amount of energy required for c-Si production and pollutants.”

The project has taught him the importance of green chemistry and how new methods of obtaining c-Si for solar panels will help incorporate solar energy into our daily lives. After graduation, he plans to work in the pharmaceutical, environmental or energy sectors of the chemical engineering industry.

Andrew Helt, senior, psychology

TURC programFor his TURC project, Andrew Helt partnered with Associate Professor of Psychology Lisa Cromer and a group of graduate students to develop new forms of therapy to treat nightmares in children. He and doctoral student Mollie Rischard found that inhibition and set-shifting may improve with treatment. “Helping kids cope with nightmares through relaxation strategies, helpful sleep habits and changing the script of their dreams to make them less scary could also potentially help them change from recess to math class more effectively or suppress an impulse to distract their classmates,” Helt stated.

After screening for children’s nightmares at a local psychiatry clinic, he also began to wonder why more families were not taking advantage of free sleep treatment. Helt and doctoral student Jack Stimson interviewed caregivers via phone to learn why more children did not seek treatment; for some, the nightmares subsided on their own while others chose to learn more about their options. “Thanks to ownership of a project as an undergraduate, I’ve come to enjoy research far more than I expected, and I’ve started thinking about a career in research,” Helt explained. “I’m grateful for the role TURC has played in that journey.”

Learn more about how to support TURC students by contacting Natalie Adams at natalie-adams@utulsa.edu.

Mechanical engineering student unveils Sights and Sounds sculpture on campus 

sights and soundsMechanical engineering senior Rachel Deeds and TU President Gerard Clancy unveiled the Sights and Sounds sculpture between McFarlin Library and Kendall Hall in August. In 2018, the University Innovation Fellowship program suggested the idea for a sculpture that would represent the collaboration and connectivity of campus. TU’s NOVA Fellowship sponsored the project early on before Deeds pitched the idea to the 2018-19 mechanical engineering senior class. She and a group of seniors took on the sculpture as their capstone project, and after the spring semester ended, the sculpture became her Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) project. She worked with TU Physical Plant to complete the construction and installation.

Sights and Sounds is intended to represent inclusion and diversity on campus. Six stainless steel columns stand for the variety of academic endeavors at TU, connected by the curved stainless steel beams across the top. The cherry wood beams that link the curved beams symbolize the spirit and creativity of TU students past, present and future. Stained glass windows, made by TU students, are included in the wooden beams. Members of the TU community who walk through the sculpture can pause and wind up a music box that plays the TU alma mater fight song. The tune unites everyone through the universal language of music.

sights and soundsDeeds said the entire project would not have been possible without the involvement of organizations, departments and faculty from across campus. Mechanical engineering advisers John Henshaw and Steve Tipton supported the project, and Clancy encouraged the students when they were required to pitch the idea to the TU Board of Trustees for installation approval. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Clancy praised Deeds and her fellow students for a student-led and student-designed project. The senior design project group included Deeds along with Abdullah Alnajrani, Kevin Kim, Sammy Ibala, Drew Port and Zeming Wang.

“I hope this project inspires others to take their ideas and grab the reins of their education here to really make the most out of all the possibilities,” Deeds said.

sights and sounds
Deeds with company representatives from Wallace Engineering, JP Metal Works and Neosource Inc.

Companies and organizations around the community also supported the project with mentorship on design, fabrication and engineering. Those involved were Jason Pingleton of JP Metal Works; Sam Ray at Wallace Engineering; Dan Moran at Fab Lab Tulsa; Elijah and Mitch Anderson at Andy Anderson Metal Works; Shannon Bentley at Plastic Engineering Co. of Tulsa; Rule Co.; and Tim Clement at Neosource Inc.

“I would like to say thank you to everyone who helped pull this project together,” Deeds said. “And a super special thank you to John Turner and Terry Hutson at TU’s North Campus for the long days, endless advice and high-quality work they put into helping me bring together all of the pieces at the end.”

TU receives more than $1M in DoD funding

roger maillerThe University of Tulsa will soon improve its interdisciplinary research and training with a new Department of Defense award received by Associate Professor of Computer Science Roger Mailler. The Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) award, totaling more than $1 million, will allow faculty working in neuroscience to purchase a state-of-the-art scanning confocal microscope that can provide a clearer picture of individual neurons.

“The system will be used like an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), similar to the one used to study humans,” Mailler said. “Instead of measuring how a nervous system produces behavior on a scale of tens of thousands of neurons, this system does it on the scale of individual neurons.”

The microscope will be used to reverse engineer the nervous system of roundworms in ongoing research titled “Choosing a Direction: Neural Models of Decision Making.” In this study, Mailler and a group of TU scientists will investigate how these creatures regulate their speed and direction. Roundworms, or specifically Caenorhabditis elegans, exhibit qualities of autonomy and adaptability. Researchers in this project hope that it will be a stepping stone toward developing advanced, adaptive machines that can recognize and respond to the outside world, also known as intelligent systems.

According to Mailler, “The technology is the most sophisticated technique available, relying on the fusion of genetic engineering, cutting-edge optics and advanced image processing and data analysis.”

The technology can essentially analyze individual neurons and reverse engineer nervous systems using light. This empowers more than just current research projects, but also opens the door to pioneering discoveries in multiple disciplines.

In addition to the benefits to TU researchers, it also affords students the opportunity to train on cutting-edge technology that will set them apart in science, technology, engineering and math fields. This award opens access to one-of-a-kind tools exceeding anything available in the southcentral United States, distinguishing TU as a True Blue institution for faculty and student-researchers alike.

Foutch and Inhofe named to ENS Hall of Fame

The University of Tulsa College of Engineering and Natural Sciences inducted Oklahoma energy entrepreneur Randy Foutch and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe into its Hall of Fame during a special ceremony March 7, 2019, at Gilcrease Museum. Foutch and Inhofe were honored for their outstanding accomplishments and contributions that bring significant recognition to TU.

Randy A. Foutch

Randy FoutchRandy A. Foutch is an experienced energy executive and advocate for independent oil companies across the nation and has established several successful startup companies as a respected leader in the oil and gas industry. He has served as chairman of the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board and the International Society of Energy Advocates and is a previous director of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.

Foutch currently is chairman and CEO of Tulsa-based Laredo Petroleum Inc., a New York Stock Exchange listed company, LPI, which he founded in 2006. Laredo is an oil and gas company focused on exploration, development and acquisitions in the Permian Basin in West Texas. Prior to Laredo, Foutch founded and later sold Colt Resources (1996), Lariat Petroleum Inc. (2001) and Latigo Petroleum Inc. (2006).

Foutch has been a loyal supporter of The University of Tulsa for more than a decade, designating funding to areas such as the McDougall School of Petroleum Engineering, Gilcrease Museum and Golden Hurricane athletics. He currently serves on the board of directors of Helmerich & Payne and The National Petroleum Council, The Independent Petroleum Association of America and is chairman of the Energy Institute Advisory Board at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously, he served on the board of directors of Cheniere Energy, Bill Barrett Corporation and MacroSolve Inc., among others. Foutch is a member of several nonprofit and private industry boards including the Gilcrease Museum National Advisory Board and The University of Tulsa Board of Trustees. A licensed pilot, his passions for aviation and the history of westward expansion as well as the art and artists of the great American West are reflected in his support of Gilcrease Museum and the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana. Foutch has been inducted into the Tulsa Historical Society Hall of Fame and the TU Collins College of Business Hall of Fame and is a current member of the Golden Hurricane Club. He holds a bachelor of science degree in geology from the University of Texas and a master of science degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Houston.

Foutch and his wife, Jean, are parents of four grown daughters and have four grandchildren.

James M. Inhofe

Jim InhofeJames M. Inhofe serves as Oklahoma’s senior U.S. senator and is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe is a proud Oklahoman and long-time resident of Tulsa. He received a bachelor of arts degree in economics from The University of Tulsa in 1973 and was first elected to the United States Senate in 1994.

Inhofe has supported the Integrated Petroleum Environmental Consortium, a joint project involving TU, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and other companies and institutions. As a longstanding supporter of Oklahoma’s energy and aviation industries, he has contributed to the Center for Aviation Systems Support and Infrastructure, a collaboration between TU, OU, OSU and Tinker Air Force Base, while advocating for TU advancements in computer science and cybersecurity.

In Inhofe’s 25 years of public service as a U.S. senator, he has championed long-term reform to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Defense Department and has focused on streamlining the acquisition process. He has received the Eisenhower Award from the National Defense Industrial Association for his commitment to raising public awareness of U.S. military and defense community needs.

Inhofe serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the Committee on Environment and Public Works and is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. As a committed supporter of U.S. infrastructure, he has worked to implement policies that encourage the United States to meet its energy needs domestically. One of his greatest achievements to date began in 1999 when Inhofe introduced a bill to give states the freedom to make their own decisions about oil and natural gas regulatory structures, including those concerning hydraulic fracturing. The bill was incorporated in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

An avid pilot with more than 11,000 flight hours, Inhofe is an advocate for aviation professionals and became the only member of Congress to fly an airplane around the world when he recreated Wiley Post’s legendary trip around the globe.

Prior to the U.S. Senate, Inhofe served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Oklahoma House and Senate and as mayor of Tulsa. He and his wife, Kay, have been married 58 years and have 20 children and grandchildren.

 

TU receives $50,000 grant from AEP Foundation for engineering labs

The University of Tulsa has received a $50,000 grant from Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) on behalf of the American Electric Power Foundation to bring new state-of-the-art equipment and technologies to TU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

AEP
Left to right: PSO President and COO Peggy Simmons, Applied Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Douglas Jussaume, PSO Vice President of Distribution Steven Baker, Hans S. Norberg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Kaveh Ashenayi and College of Engineering and Natural Sciences Dean Jim Sorem

The grant will support updates to the department’s Electric Machines Lab, initiating a Power Electronics Lab and supporting physical modifications of lab space.

“I am pleased to announce this grant that will help prepare the next generation of electrical engineers to take on the challenges and opportunities of working with one of the largest, most complex machines in the world – the electricity grid,” said Peggy Simmons, president and chief operating officer for Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO), a subsidiary of AEP. “It’s vital to have highly specialized engineers working to meet the challenges our industry is facing – and will continue to face in the future – as we look more and more toward renewable and alternative energy, smart grids and other potentially transformational technologies.”

Housed in the university’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, the ECE department offers degrees in both electrical engineering and computer engineering. The department currently has 106 undergraduate, eight master’s and nine doctoral students.

“We are grateful to PSO and AEP Foundation for partnering with us to provide students and faculty with cutting-edge facilities. We are eager to work with industry leaders to offer hands-on opportunities that give them an advantage when they start their careers,” TU President Gerard Clancy said. “The University of Tulsa is committed to empowering students with the knowledge and experience to solve the world’s toughest problems. Educating innovative leaders and providing up-to-the-minute technology – such as the labs made possible by this grant – set our students apart.”

About PSO
PSO, a unit of American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), is an electric utility company serving more than 550,000 customers accounts in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma. Based in Tulsa, PSO has nearly 3,800 megawatts of generating capacity and is one of the largest distributors of wind energy in the state.

TU composite research published in Advanced Functional Materials journal

In a recent article available on the Advanced Functional Materials website, researchers in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences at The University of Tulsa have demonstrated a new composite that can indicate damage using visual, temperature or magnetic detection. The article “Multimodal Damage Detection in Self-Sensing Fiber Reinforced Composites,” written by TU Ph.D. candidate Matthew D. Crall, Samuel G. Laney (BS ’16, MS ’18) and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Keller, discusses how the new material is a significant step forward in developing biomimetic materials that allow for rapid and simple detection of damage. This new technology has potential applications in aerospace, where inspecting composite materials (such as carbon fiber or fiberglass) for hidden damage is a complicated and time-consuming process.

composite research
a) Schematic of the active microvascular material system used to deliver the liquid constitutive parts of the magnetic particles. b) Mixing of the liquids causing precipitation of magnetic material in the damaged region. c) Schematic of three modes of damage detection: visual, magnetic, and thermal. Each mode is possible because of the high contrast between damaged and undamaged areas provided by the magnetic particles.

Damage detection is critical in these applications since even small damaged regions in composites can reduce the strength of the material by as much as half. The composite works by incorporating a small channel, such as a blood vessel, that is filled with a liquid, like blood.  Damage breaks open the channels and the fluids bleed into the damaged area where they react and form magnetic particles. These particles can then be detected by a magnetic detector, heated by a magnetic field and imaged with an IR camera, or seen visually by the color change associated with the reaction.

To learn more about this research and the published paper in Advanced Functional Materials, please contact Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Keller at 918-631-3198 or mwkeller@utulsa.edu.