engineering - College of Engineering & Computer Science


What is soft robotics?

Mechanical engineering doctoral student Caroline Schell and postdoctoral associate Peter Bui take us inside the emerging field of soft robotics in this experTU video. Members of Biological Robotics at Tulsa, these scholars understand what it takes to make their soft robot, fittingly named “Squishy,” respond to its environment, fragile objects and touch.

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Want to contribute to robotics research and development? You’ll find the ideal academic home in TU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Ready, set, simulate! ChemE Sports team competes at nationals 

University of Tulsa students competed in a new event at this year’s American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE) conference. Four chemical engineering seniors represented TU in the ChemE Sports competition on Nov. 10 at the AIChE Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida.

The competition challenges students to operate a distillation column and simulate the separation of chemicals through a software program offered by Simulation Solutions Inc., a New Jersey-based company that provides generic process simulations for chemical refineries. Combining case studies, computer-aided design and simulation, the software primarily trains refinery employees but also is used for educational purposes by a small group of universities, including West Point, Stanford and Columbia.

When Columbia engineering faculty member Robert Bozic learned there was strong interest in developing an event that tested the knowledge and skill of chemical processing, the idea for a ChemE Sports challenge was born. Bozic worked closely with President Donald Glaser and chemical engineer Matthew Garvey of Simulation Solutions to develop the contest, inspired by Esports and designed to educate students on chemical process engineering. “We adapted the software for competition by adding a score-based component based on profitability and safety,” Garvey said.

Teams must complete a simulation within safety standards while producing a material that is profitable after factoring in the cost of cooling water and raw materials. Competitors are eliminated until one team is declared the champion. Based on the overwhelming amount of feedback Garvey said he and his colleagues received the first year, organizers hope to open the ChemE Sports competition to a larger number of teams in the future. “We’re looking at allowing teams to compete remotely at their university or attend a regional event to narrow down the field for the in-person simulation at nationals,” he said.

Practice makes perfect

In preparation for the competition, the TU team met in a chemical engineering lab once a week to gather around a cluster of computer monitors that displayed fluid levels, temperature gauges and other readings. The students spent hours operating the distillation column, troubleshooting problems and familiarizing themselves with the gauges, instruments and equipment. “This is a 3-D simulation where you get to walk around and see how all of the equipment would be laid out, how the pump can turn on or off and what the readings would show,” said team member Olivia McLaughlin of St. Louis, Missouri.

Practicing the simulation involved adjusting valves manually through computer commands to separate the chemicals without triggering any safety alarms. “We tried to compile a lot of information to have on hand for the competition so that we could make changes quickly,” said teammate Nick Biasetti from Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Chemical processing in the real world

Biasetti describes the event as an environment where students are virtual operators in a processing plant. The simulation focuses on plant components where separating two chemicals could produce benzene or other industrial applications. Processing these types of chemicals is a lucrative industry with high consumer demand. “We tried to simulate conditions we might see during the event,” he said. “We did a cold start with everything closed and nothing in operation and chose different conditions for a good baseline before we started tweaking things.”

During a simulation, students had to think on their feet and resolve problems, such as machines switching off or breaking.

“The most difficult times in a plant are startup and shut down,” McLaughlin explained. “A cold start simulates a startup procedure when the pressure is fluctuating wildly compared to starting the process from base conditions when everything is running fine. You don’t want pumps to turn off or valves to fail. It’s so complex.”

Other team members were Donny Gross of Lake Zurich, Illinois, and Annabeth Fouts of Edmond, Oklahoma. The group’s faculty adviser was Chapman Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Laura Ford. “The months of preparation and experience in competition helped the students gain a deeper understanding of the interconnections between the parts of a distillation column,” she said. “The dynamic simulation allowed them to see how one change they make propagates through the entire system over time.”

From simulation to graduation

The TU students competed against 15 other teams and had the opportunity to network with other chemical engineering students as well as industry professionals at the AIChE meeting. Internship experience at Tulsa engineering firms, including Zeeco and GasTech Engineering, along with the AIChE challenge has influenced the team’s career goals; Biasetti remarked he’s interested in process engineering after he graduates in May 2020.

“I like troubleshooting and making sure all of the products are to spec,” he said. “I’d like to have the responsibility of making sure everything is safe and running according to plan. It’s cool to do this simulation outside of the classroom setting because it’s something I could be doing for a living someday.” 

TU recruits tackle STEM Bootcamp before classes start

The first semester of college is an exciting time for students, but living in a different environment, adapting to university academics and making friends can cause anxiety. That’s why The University of Tulsa is introducing a STEM Bootcamp to prepare incoming students for this new and challenging phase in their lives.

Thirty-three participants will begin the TU program Aug. 5 and spend two weeks working on activities involving math, chemistry and academic skill development while completing self-paced math skill sessions and exploring science and engineering career opportunities. Students also will take field trips to facilities such as Fab Lab Tulsa to complete projects that reinforce concepts discussed in the classroom.

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Improving the student experience

“The bootcamp is designed to help students feel confident in their abilities and know where to turn if something doesn’t go as planned,” said program coordinator Sheila Givens. “Our goal is to make sure that participants transition into their studies at TU with motivation and preparation and possess tools that can help them succeed to the point of graduation.” 

STEM BootcampGivens said students should expect an intense two weeks of college prep, but she also recognizes that learning occurs off campus. Some of the additional science and engineering excursions planned around Tulsa include stops at ONEOK Field and The Gathering Place.

The College of Engineering and Natural Sciences is sponsoring the program and will pick up the tab for participants’ first-semester math and chemistry books — a $400 value.

TU studied other university summer programs to identify best practices before developing its custom model. “We looked at a lot of schools close to us in the state or similar in size. We chose a program with carryover into the semester because that’s when it becomes real to students — four weeks in, they’ve got their first mid-term,” said Amy Schachle, senior math instructor and lead faculty for the bootcamp.

The summer session and six follow-up meetings are an incentive for students because those who complete the program will earn class credit. Once the semester begins, Schachle said the STEM Bootcamp participants will be required to check in regularly with her and Gabriel LeBlanc, Wellspring Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, to evaluate how they are adapting to their classes and college life. Providing extra resources, boosting skills and starting the college transition process early are all priorities to improve the student experience, which program organizers hope will result in higher retention and graduation rates.

Math + chemistry = STEM foundation

LeBlanc said his role as a faculty adviser involves teaching students how to apply chemistry principles differently than they did in high school. Presenting these basic concepts before the semester begins could prevent some students from leaving the major.

“During a traditional chemistry course, there’s so much content to cover so quickly that we don’t get to spend very much time discussing how to set up problems to solve them,” LeBlanc explained. “Students who don’t understand that baseline information within the first week or two of the semester are destined to do poorly in class. If we can master some of this material on the front end, then chemistry won’t become a deterrent to their career path.”

Although math and chemistry are the two main topics that Schachle and LeBlanc will teach, representatives from TU’s Center for Student Academic Success will lead sessions on study skills, identifying and applying personal learning styles, notetaking, conquering test anxiety and exam prep, goalsetting and more. “It’s important we break down some of those barriers to tutoring, studying and taking notes the right way,” LeBlanc explained.

Students with STEM plans

STEM BootcampGivens said many of the students invited to attend the bootcamp program are interested in using a STEM degree to advance health care or pursue other philanthropic projects that make a difference globally. To become a scientist or engineer, Schachle said it all begins with a strong foundation in mathematics.

“We want to make sure they’re ready to hit the ground running,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure they can do college-level math by starting that transition process a little earlier and providing extra resources.” 

Givens explained the program is designed to improve student learning, but it is also a learning opportunity for TU. Participant feedback will be used to develop future summer programming and allow TU to better understand how to serve students such as Mai VuLe of Broken Arrow, who wants to one day serve in the medical field.

“I hope to make all types of friends, know the campus better, enjoy dorm life and become more prepared for my classes in the future,” VuLe said. Studying biochemistry is the first step toward her career goal to learn about the chemical processes that occur within living organisms.

“It’s a good opportunity to start in advance on being a college student,” VuLe said. “I’ll already have an idea of what classes are like, and I’ll be able to learn how to make sure I’m ready for each class.” 

Read more about TU’s efforts to serve students and help them achieve success in college. 

True Inclusion: Senior Rachel Deeds is Building Space for Women in STEM

Engineering and other STEM fields can be a boy’s club, but mechanical engineering senior Rachel Deeds is working to make sure women have a strong future in STEM. As a student at The University of Tulsa, Deeds rose quickly through the ranks in the Society of Women Engineers, interned for national organizations during the summer and worked tirelessly to create space and opportunity for other women and girls interested in engineering.

Finding her own role models

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Deeds was a little hesitant when she first became interested in STEM and had to find her own role models. One of these was her father, teaching her to fix things as a child. “He was a stay at home dad who was consistently working on a ton of different projects. I really got to experience giving back to the community in fixing things with him. He inspired me to go against the stereotype and pursue my interests in that,” she said. Deeds also looked up to the great history of women in STEM who went against the grain and innovated in their fields. This would lead her to a major in mechanical engineering at TU, with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, Deeds visited the campus several times when deciding where to finally attend school. In every visit, Deeds was blown away by how welcoming and nice people were at TU. This supportive environment along with the opportunities in her program would eventually help her move on to so much more.

Find out more about UTulsa’s STEM programs.

Internship Success

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During summer breaks, Deeds landed internships with national companies that would help build her résumé and refine her interests. Deeds distinguished herself at Caterpillar, working as the only engineer on a team of business students. “It was kind of challenging at first, being that unique perspective,” Deeds reflected, but she didn’t let it discourage her.

One of the accomplishments Deeds was most proud of at Caterpillar was creating workflow, defining process maps that are still utilized by the company today. “Whenever a new product came online, I mapped out the who what and when,” she explained. Her initiative and talent set her apart in her internships. These qualities would also make her a leader at TU, and eventually in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Check out how Career Services can help you find an internship like Rachel.

Leading the way for women in STEM

Rachel Deeds, women in STEMAttending the Annual SWE Conference in Philadelphia, Deeds had the opportunity to network and connect with other women in STEM fields. “As a prospective college student, I didn’t want to be the only one in my position,” Deeds said. “I looked for a way to give back to students like me.” This experience inspired Deeds to pursue a leadership position within SWE and she was eventually elected president of the TU SWE chapter.

Get connected with the UTulsa chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Deeds’ work in the community doesn’t stop there. She also worked with Make a Difference Engineering at TU (MADE AT TU) to design and build therapeutic devices to help special needs students in Tulsa and was selected as an SWE Future Leader, the first TU student to hold that position. As an SWE Future Leader, Deeds acted as an exponent for SWE, sharing her experience and inspiring young women around the country to become the engineers of the future.

With people like Rachel Deeds leading the way, the future for women in STEM is bright.


Eight ENS professors among new TU faculty for 2018-19 academic year

The University of Tulsa welcomes the following new faculty members to the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences this fall and in January 2019.

Matteo A. Avella

new facultyAssistant Professor of Biological Science

Ph.D., 2010, Marine Biology (Molecular Biology and Fish Reproductive Biology), Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy

Visiting Scientist, 2009, (Molecular Biology and Fish Reproductive Biology), University of Maryland

M.S. Marine Biology, 2006 (Molecular Biology and Fish Reproductive Biology), Polytechnic University of Marche

B.S. Biology, 2004, University of Milan (Bicocca), Milan, Italy

Nagu Daraboinanew faculty

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering

Ph.D., 2008-2012, Chemical and Biological Engineering, University British Columbia

M.E., 2006-2008, Master of Engineering-Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India

B. Tech, 2002-2006, Bachelor of Technology-Chemical Engineering, Jahawarlal Nehru Technological University, Visakhapatnam, India

Nathan Hutchinsnew faculty

Applied Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Ph.D., 2018, Computer Engineering, The University of Tulsa

M.S., 2015, Electrical Engineering, The University of Tulsa

B.S., 2012, Electrical Engineering, The University of Tulsa

Jyoti Iyer

Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Ph.D., 2012, Cancer Biology, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Ph.D., 2007, Biological Sciences, Purdue University

B.S., 2006, Biotechnology, North Dakota State University

Marie Morannew faculty

Applied Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

M.S., 2007, Engineering Product Design, Stanford University

B.S., 2002, Mechanical Engineering, The University of Tulsa

B.A., 2002, Art, The University of Tulsa

Christine Ruhl

Assistant Professor of Geosciences

Ph.D., 2016, Geophysics, The University of Nevada

M.S. 2010, Geophysics (Solid Earth), New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

B.S., 2008, Geology, Radford University

Matthew Toomey

Assistant Professor of Biological Science

Start Date: 1/1/2019

Ph.D., 2011, Biology, Arizona State University

B.S., 2002, Biology, University of Vermont

new facultyJaven S. Weston

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering

Ph.D., 2015, Chemical Engineering, University of Oklahoma

B.S., 2011, Chemical Engineering, University of Oklahoma