Engineering at Nebraska Fall09
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DOE funds Saraf’s work to engineer electronic interface between living cell and nanodevice

Dr. Ravi Saraf, Lowell E. & Betty Anderson Professor of Engineering, received a grant of nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Sciences for a three-year research project.

Saraf and his team with the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering will develop bio-nano hybrid systems based on chemical reaction in living cells.

"Each cell is a miniature chemical reactor, Sasraf said, describing how electrons shuttle from one molecule to another in a process called redox. "The question is, ‘Can we use this electron production to flip a switch in an electronic device, on or off, similar to a transistor?’

Saraf has developed specialized devices that can sense a single electron while functioning at room temperature, instead of previously observed lower temperatures where cells will cease to function. Another challenge was size incompatibility between cell and device, with a cell (measured in microns) typically 1,000 times bigger than an electron (measured in nanometers).

"We made a nanoparticle-based device that is as large as a cell and operates at room temperature, Saraf said, "and we have shown the cell can turn this device on and off when it is fed nutrient. Focusing on cells’ metabolic activity, he will regulate their exposure to a food source to ultimately build "smart sensors that respond to specific chemicals.

Saraf said this work "will represent a new paradigm of hybrid bio-nano devices involving a broad range of high-impact applications with the potential for inexpensive manufacturing.

Applying this research with living cells in the human body can reveal how drugs affect cells, to predict how cells will respond, Saraf said. Another example could be a microorganism as an intelligent and adaptable "driver that is sensitive to detect agents, such as anthrax. He added it may be possible to extend the idea to directly convert food for the microorganism into electricity.

Christopher Tuan, professor of civil engineering, received the 2009 Best Journal Paper Award (for the period of 2006-08) from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Technical Council on Cold Regions Engineering. His paper, "Roca Spur Bridge - the Implementation of an Innovative Deicing Technology," appeared in the Journal of Cold Regions Engineering in March 2008, pp.1-15.

Michael Crabb and Gina Halbom, architectural engineering students, were elected to UNO student government—as president and vice-president, respectively. AE senior John Wrobel is a senator representing the College of Engineering’s Omaha students.

Ron Yoder, head of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, was named one of two Fellows in 2009 by the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Architectural Engineering Institute. He also gave a presentation for the Nebraska Honors Colloquium 2009-10: "Blooming Desert Along the Silk Road: Irrigation in Western China.

Subramanian gains NIH grant to study ultrasound as cartilage repair bioreactor
Anuradha Subramanian, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has earned a National Institute of Health grant for Design and Evaluation of Ultrasound Stimulation Aided Bioreactor Configurations.

With this $533,941 grant, she will study articular cartilage: the tissue that covers the human body’s joints with a durable, weight-distributing surface. Cartilage has little capacity for self-repair when damaged by illness or trauma.

Subramanian, who is also a faculty member in Biomedical Engineering, said the long-term goal of her research is to design and develop bioreactors or bioprocessing units to generate engineered tissues.

"Our objective … is to develop a bioreactor that utilizes stimulation by ultrasound, Subramanian said, "and conduct a detailed study on the effect of ultrasound on chondrocytes cultured in 3-D scaffolds in vitro. Having observed cellular response to ultrasound exposure, Subramanian and her team will apply this technology to efficiently and effectively grow cartilage cells in 3D culture systems.

"Ultrasound has been shown to impact cartilage function at the cellular level, Subramanian said, but added "there is still a need to better understand the effect of ultrasound stimulation of cartilage cells.

An abstract with the project’s description can be viewed at; search the term "Design and Evaluation of Ultrasound Stimulation Aided Bioreactor Configurations.

Tan earns NSF support for nanoparticle thin fibers to advance thin solar films' energy efficiency Working on the nanoscale properties of materials, Li Tan, assistant professor of Engineering Mechanics, excels at taking a closer look. He was awarded $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to study the thin fibers of conjugated polymer nanoparticles to enhance photon-toelectron conversion and improve energy efficiency in thin solar films.

Tan will freeze-dry the nanoparticles in the fibers to better understand their properties. He plans to develop a "forest of thin fibers, investigate the unidirectional growth of the fibers both in situ and in 3-D, and explore the role of surface tension in their assembly. Tan will involve graduate and undergraduate students in the work, through classroom instruction and summer research experiences, and will also engage high school teachers in the project.

Building DistinctionsAt the annual competition of the North Central Region IV Association Schools of Construction (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) in October 2009, UNL placed second in two categories: Residential and Commercial divisions. Thirteen of the 14 universities in the seven-state region were represented, with 25 university faculty and 29 teams totaling 200 students present. Placing for Nebraska in the Commercial competition were Ben McMillan, Paul Rahfeldt, Darren Thomas, Matt Ramm, Brandon Engler, Derrick Krienert and Kevin Grosskopf, team coach. UNL’s Residential team included Joe Jelden, Sean Yahnke, Ryan Chamberlain, Nick Pearce, Adam Sawyer, Joe Reiter and Charles Berryman, team coach.

Ashok Samal, professor of computer science and engineering, is part of an NSF-funded Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. With this five-year, $3.1 million grant UNL will begin a multidisciplinary graduate initiative focused on resilience and adaptive governance in stressed watersheds. This collaborative effort involves more than 20 UNL faculty and will integrate scientific, social, economic and legal aspects of managing complex water issues.

Hendrik Viljoen, Eljse Pienaar, Aaron Fluitt, Linda Beckwith and Scott E. Whitney represented Nebraska Engineering at the 2009 American Institute of Chemical Engineers' (AIChE) annual meeting. Viljoen, CHME professor; grad students Pienaar and Whitney; and undergraduates Fluitt and Beckwith (leaders of the UNL AIChE chapter) gave session presentations. Schuyler Drain (senior CHME) attended the meeting as chair of UNL's AIChE chapter Chem-E-Car efforts. A UNL team poster won first place in the Food, Pharmaceuticals, and Biotechnology Student Poster Session with the topic: "A kinetic study of in vitro analysis of Mycobacterium smegmatis."

Elsje Pienaar, grad student, received a $1,500 travel scholarship to attend the October 2009 Keystone Symposia meeting, "Overcoming the Crisis of TB and AIDS," held in Arusha, Tanzania. The award was made possible through the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dakota Kelley, a senior majoring in architectural engineering, received first place in the Architectural Acoustics Student Paper Competition at the Acoustical Society of America’s meeting in Portland, Ore., in May 2009. His paper was titled, "Correlation of subjective and objective measures of spectral quality."

Jennifer Brand, professor with the Engineering Research Center, was elected vice chair of UNL’s Academic Program Council.

AE student John Tran was one of the outreach chairs for the 2009 National Earthquake Engineering Research Institute Student Leadership Council. He was involved with the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Symposium and helped coordinate a tour of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, Calif., a structure chosen for the tour because of its seismic features.

Bing Chen, chair and professor for the Department of Computer and Electronics Engineering, was elected to the Board of Directors of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association. He serves as secretary-treasurer this year, then as vice president in 2010 and assumes presidency of the organization in 2012.

Derek Bierd, a student in The Durham School, completed the 2009 Omaha Marathon and made his participation a fundraiser for his church. He also earned first place in the LifeTime Fitness indoor triathlon, including 10-minute swim, 20-minute run and 30-minute bike components.

Congratulations on College of Engineering faculty milestones in their UNL careers:

  • 55 Years: Morris Schneider, Industrial & Management Systems Engineering
  • 45 Years: Thomas Sires, Construction Systems
  • 35 Years: John Ballard, Industrial and Management Systems Engineering; A. John Boye, Electrical Engineering; Paul Harmon, Construction Management

New faculty arriving in 2009 included:
Josephine Lau, assistant professor (AE); Deepak R. Keshwani and Adam J. Liska, assistant professors (BSEN); Xue Liu, associate professor, and Anita Sarma, assistant professor (CSE); Yi Qian, assistant professor (CEEN); Kevin R. Grosskopf, associate professor (CNST); and Jinsong Huang, assistant professor (MECH).

Nebraska Engineering students earned four of 33 prestigious UNL graduate fellowships announced in October. The engineering grad students earned Othmer Fellowships, named for Donald Othmer, a 1924 chemical engineering alumnus. Hunter Flodman, Columbus, is seeking a Ph.D. in chemical and biomolecular engineering. Chris Bruening, Hartington, is pursuing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Lincoln’s Justin Rousek is earning his Ph.D. in industrial and management systems engineering. Abhishek Majumdar, Kolkata, India, is studying for a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering.

GuardrailMidwest Roadside Safety Facility’s Development of Midwest Guardrail System for Special Applications program was honored by The Roadway Safety Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration. The Midwest Guardrail System, in response to studies showing high rollover risks for traditional guardrails, worked to design new standards for the construction of guardrails on highways, creating a design that performs better in crash tests at lower costs than other systems. The system is currently under consideration for adoption by 12 states.

"In the unfortunate event of a crash, motorists have another safeguard keeping them on the road thanks to the efforts of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, said Greg Cohen, executive director of the Roadway Safety Foundation. "Ingenuity like that exhibited by the MwRSF helps save countless lives every year, and every motorist should be thankful that they have people like these on their side.

UNL's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, led by Dean Sicking, has been in operation since 1974, has garnered more than $14 million in external research funding, and is recognized as a global leader in roadside safety research. Its safety products have been adopted widely and benefit everyone from motorists to race car drivers.