Mark Griep Graduate Research
Mark Griep, Graduate Research
Nancy-Jeanne Bachmann Graduate Research
Nancy-Jeanne Bachmann, Graduate Research
Matthew Drewek Graduate Research
Matthew Drewek, Graduate Research
“People don't know about these systems. If they understood them better, they might use them more.”

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Graduate Research

There are currently six National Science Foundation graduate fellows on campus. Each receives a $30,000 yearly stipend, while the University receives a "cost of education" allowance of $10,500 each year for each student.

Student team aims to protect soldiers

Mark Griep is engrossed in small matters in a big way.

Griep, a PhD student in mechanical engineering, is on a team of students making a nano-sensor that detects biological and chemical toxic agents. The effort is sponsored by the US Army Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The sensor is a biological-electrical device, not mechanical, and it uses a protein as a switch or sensor that converts optical energy into an electrical signal.

Current devices used to detect chemical toxins are big and slow, and they take a group to operate and up to an hour to work-fatal shortcomings when lethal toxins can strike in minutes.

The idea behind the quick-response, nano-sensor is that individual soldiers can carry one. "It's potentially instantaneous," Griep says, "and doesn't have to be manually operated at all."

One-square-inch in size, the device will have a million sensors-vastly more than needed, but the technology is ripe with other applications, such as smart weapons; for instance, a robot, equipped with the nano-sensor, that troops could send around a hill to see if they are in harm's way.

Griep's team includes other mechanical engineers, and students in electrical engineering, biology, and physics. He is happy to conduct practical, meaningful research. "The door is open," he says of the opportunity.

Water, water everywhere

Storm water, rushing from storm sewers to streams, can erode the landscape and scour watersheds; so inventive people have come up with ways to slow the runoff and ease it into waterways.

These alternative storm water management systems include rain gardens (placed, say, where downspouts empty); bioswales (switchback drainage channels, with vegetation, on downgrades); pervious concrete; and paving stones with corners cut off. All catch and dissipate storm water.

Immersed in this technology is Nancy-Jeanne Bachmann, a master's student in environmental engineering. She is monitoring one of these systems to assess its performance.

The site, in Virginia, is underlaid with dense clay soils, which shed water like a sluice; so if the techniques, complemented with drain pipes, work in clay, the potential applications in other soils is great, Bachmann says.

The point of it all: "People don't know about these systems. If they understood them better, they might use them more."

Her faculty advisors are Associate Professor David Watkins, civil and environmental engineering, and Associate Professor John Gierke, geological and mining engineering and sciences.

Terrorism-trying to pinpoint target

Doctoral student Matthew Drewek is trying to zero in on a moving target.

Drewek is working on a PhD in civil engineering, and his research assesses areas of a community that are vulnerable to a terrorist attack. It's a slippery proposition.

"After a terrorist activity, there's a spike of fear. People don't want to go to those places. If civilians no longer go places, that changes their pattern of behavior, and that changes their vulnerability. This is where you run the risk of always being one step behind the terrorists."

Drewek uses a computer model to create "a moderate American society of regular people." But extremists exist, and some become terrorists who want to destroy the most wealth-real or presumed.

"Terrorist agents do not necessarily attack areas that have large resource concentrations. They tend to focus on areas where people are passing through on their way to these large resource concentrations.

Drewek says that gauging where terrorist are likely to strike affects planners, law enforcement, government agencies, and engineers, like himself, who design facilities.

He describes his computer model, which can develop and look at a society over a thousand years or week-to-week, as "quasi-realistic" and an effort to, not predict, but calculate "probabilities and consequences"-all to get an idea of where events might occur so there is a better allocation of anti-terrorism resources.