2016 Research Magazine

Rath Award

By Scott Balyo

Two Michigan Tech researchers were honored with the annual Bhakta Rath Research Award.

Two Michigan Tech researchers were honored with the annual Bhakta Rath Research Award. The award was established in 2010 by an endowment from Bhakta B. Rath and his wife Sushama Rath. Rath (‘58) dedicated much of his career to promoting science, engineering, and research. Each year a Michigan Tech PhD graduate student and his or her advisor are recognized for "exceptional scientific and technological research in anticipation of the future needs of the nation while supporting potential advances in emerging technology."

These palmsized sensors help prevent damage with real-time monitoring and structural assessments.
These palmsized sensors help prevent damage with real-time monitoring and structural assessments.

Wind turbines appear simple, but it is the complex engineering behind the technology that makes harnessing the wind seem like a breeze. Bridging the gap between mechanical details and large-scale infrastructure needs of wind turbine technology is no easy feat. But that's the research focus of Antonio Velazquez, who earned his PhD from Michigan Tech, and Assistant Professor R. Andrew Swartz, Velazquez's advisor in civil and environmental engineering. Their forward-thinking research on better monitoring systems for wind turbines earned the duo this year's Bhakta Rath Research Award. Velazquez says the award is an honor and a reflection of their hard work, which was published in high impact journals, including the Journal of Sound and Vibration and the Journal of Intelligent Material Systems and Structures.

The research focused mostly on using wireless sensors to monitor the structural integrity and efficiency of wind turbines. "There are the obvious safety implications," Swartz said of applying the models to ensure the turbines are safe to use and work on. But he explains they can also help with more nuanced monitoring for preventive care to reduce the economic risks that come along with these structures. "With the blades and the gear boxes, there's a lot of moving parts that are very big, and they degrade over time and in random ways."

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering and technology; forestry; business and economics; health professions; humanities; mathematics; and social sciences.