College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Paulo Figueiredo de Lima, freshman international exchange student, showing a prepared ink used to infiltrate the origami shapes.

Reinventing an Ancient Art

The ancient art of paper-folding, or origami, utilizes simple techniques to transform a two-dimensional piece of paper into a complex, intricate, three-dimensional structure. Though traditionally used for ornamental artwork, students in the Origami-Inspired Manufacturing of Composite Parts Creative Inquiry took a more functional approach with origami.

Human Powered Vehicle

Human Powered Vehicles

Each spring, ASME hosts a nationwide competition for engineering programs to develop a vehicle entirely powered by a human. While the thoughts of a human-powered vehicle may invoke images of a Fred Flintstone-esque rudimentary car for some, do not make this mistake. Over twenty members strong, this Creative Inquiry combines some of the best mechanical engineering students Clemson University has to offer to produce a cutting edge, innovative design capable of ranging from carrying groceries to endurance racing.

Apps R Us

Offering students the chance to develop apps for needs around Clemson’s campus, Dr. Roy Pargas, associate professor in the School of Computing, invites students to the Apps R Us Creative Inquiry team.

Can You See The Rain?


Rainfall, itself, seems like a simple concept, but have you ever stopped to think about how hard it rains, the amount that falls or even how a raindrop is shaped?

In the Creative Inquiry project High-Speed Imaging of Rainfall, undergraduate students collect images to investigate raindrop shape, size and fall velocity. They then analyze these images in the context of the environmental factors and processes that govern these raindrop characteristics. By doing so, this project may identify measurement errors in polarimetric weather radar, a type of radar used to locate precipitation, calculate its motion and collect rainfall amounts.

This research is funded by the National Science Foundation and designated as Award No. AGS 1144846. It is offered as a Creative Inquiry project to support the project’s goals to integrate teaching and research and help develop the pipeline of well-educated, research oriented students who will pursue graduate studies in this field of study.

Undergraduate students are involved in every facet of the research. Students help to establish field sites, learn how to properly install the rainfall instruments, analyze data and participate in writing reports. Rain data will be collected over a two-year period with the goal to analyze as much rain as possible.

During their project meetings, students discuss their research progress and findings with the team leader Dr. Firat Testik, an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. Once the data is collected, studied and processed, Testik and his students intend to publish their findings and present them at professional conferences.

Testik regards the development of thinking skills as a fundamental part of this Creative Inquiry project. He also believes that working on this project will develop students’ originality.

“I want to keep the Creative Inquiry a little bit open-ended, and if there is a good problem we identify, I want us to follow that problem and seek some answers,” Testik said.

Testik’s students enjoy the practical experience they receive from this project. “I get to see hands-on experience. Every week we meet, we bounce ideas off each other so you’re actually in the process of coming up with the solutions at the end of the day,” Karuiam Booker, a senior civil engineering major, said.

Fellow senior civil engineering major Eric Hall shares his classmate’s opinion and also likes seeing the results of their own technology.

“Throughout this project, I encourage all of the students to be involved in publications through conferences, especially undergraduate research conferences,” Testik said. “I want them to send abstracts, posters or papers to these conferences and attend them as finitely as possible. I want to integrate this research as part of my teaching, so I see this as a great opportunity for undergrads to be exposed to a research environment, as it is important if they want to do research-based work as a career after graduation.”

The Sound Synthesizers


In the basement of Holtzendorf Hall on the Clemson campus, there is a lot of noise. Dr. William Park, associate professor of electrical engineering, and his team of nine students create the clamor while working on a project that will take them through the process of designing, building and mass-producing synthesizers.

“I have been interested in music since I began to learn piano when I was five years old,” Park said. “I began building electronic ‘doohickeys’ from kits when I was about twelve [and] I began building my first synthesizer from scratch—work which I eventually turned into my master’s project.”

Students working with Park come from a range of interests and experience, which are similar to his own. Walker Hagan, a freshman bioengineering major, is also interested in the correlation between music and science.

“Music is a hobby of mine so analyzing the theory of sound and the physics behind it all is interesting, especially when I can manipulate it through a keyboard. Simply listening to the sounds we can create with manipulations of voltages astounds me,” Hagan said. Mary Lawrence Thomson, a sophomore electrical engineering major agrees.

“I am a music minor, so it has been a really great way for me to combine my major with one of my other interests.”

Park describes the project as an ongoing attempt to deepen students’ knowledge in musical instruments and the engineering behind them. The goal of the project is to give students the opportunity to use hands-on experiences to learn about the mass-production of synthesizers, which are electronic musical instruments used to produce a wide variety of sounds. They are often controlled by a keyboard, which is how Park and his students control their machine. Park also hopes to illustrate the overall design process—from concept to marketable product—to his students by allowing them to learn various tools and techniques in the design and construction of electronic circuits and user interfaces.

“We don’t just design the circuit boards, but we also get to learn how to use the circuit board software, print out the design on the boards, etch the boards, design the graphics for the panel, and then install the individual panels into the final synthesizer,” Thomson said.

The beginning of the process involves designing and building circuit boards that control one aspect of the instrument. Students use trial-and-error to fine-tune their circuits and then move on to larger, more complex boards that will come together in one machine to control all functions and sounds. Engineering is not the only part involved in building these synthesizers; each instrument’s exterior appearance also plays an important role.
“From the standpoint of usability, a logical panel design is probably more important than pure aesthetics, but making it attractive does help to market a product,” Park said. “It not only sounds cool, it looks cool!”

As Park and his team continue working and learning, they will have first-hand experience that will eventually lead to the construction of the final synthesizer. The hands-on approach of the project has become an important way for students to practice what they learn in the classroom.

“I’ve learned more in this Creative Inquiry than in my electrical engineering coursework, so it has definitely helped me understand the practical sense of engineering,” Hagan said.

Most of all Park is happy to see his students having fun. “Essentially every student had the same reaction when they successfully hooked their first simple circuits up to the [test synthesizer], ‘That’s really cool!’”

Building Haiti on Bamboo


Nearly four years have passed since the earthquake in Haiti. The country of Haiti, though progressing forward in reconstruction, is nowhere near operating at the same speed it was before the 2010 destruction. A group of civil engineering students at Clemson University are developing a way to help restore Haiti. By researching the use of bamboo reinforced concrete, they hope to provide an economical and efficient way for Haitians to rebuild and recover.

Bamboo is about one-third the strength of steel Although not quite as strong, it is far less expensive and much easier to produce.

“We look into bamboo reinforced concrete because we know that bamboo can be grown in Haiti—it can be grown in just a couple months to get to its full height. It’s basically free and grows almost like weeds,” Dr. Weichiang Pang, assistant professor of Civil Engineering, explained.

Pang holds up a piece of bamboo about a foot long and around a half-inch thick. “This can hold around 1000 pounds of force.”

Assessments to test the strength of bamboo include putting a small sliver of bamboo in a machine that continuously pulls at the specimen.

“We test it in the frame there for tension capacity,” Pang said. “So, basically you will pull it apart and we see how much load it will take to break it. Based on that we can see the cross-section and calculate how much pressure it takes to break it. That’s how we’ve found that it is one-third of steel.”

Graduate student Nathan Schneider, pursuing his degree in Civil Engineering, points out the major breaking point of a bamboo.

“Most likely it’s going to break at the node. The bamboo is divided by the diaphragms so, that’s kind of where you can see the fibers are a lot more chaotic, the way they form. That’s generally the weaker part of the bamboo,” Schneider said. At around 1600 pounds of pressure, the bamboo will finally break.

“Well, if you’re falling off a cliff and you see if a piece of bamboo, it’s a safe move to grab it,” Pang said. Because of bamboo’s impressive strength, this Creative Inquiry team is experimenting with how to successfully strengthen concrete structures with the bamboo as that reinforcement.

“The other task we are doing right now is looking at the bonding between concrete and bamboo,” Pang said. “Bamboo is like wood, so it will absorb moisture. So, one thing we need to address is how to prevent it from absorbing moisture when we cast concrete.”

The team is also testing different lengths of bamboo in conjunction with different waterproofing techniques to ensure that the bamboo will be adhesive when cast to concrete. In working with bamboo-reinforced columns, students have created a new technique to bend bamboo.

“We just have a big PVC pipe that we hook up to a steam box and hook it up with a hose,” senior civil engineering major Austin Chalker explained. “It’s almost like a sauna that we can put up to fifteen pieces of bamboo into. It becomes flexible enough where you can bend and touch it side-to-side and turn into a complete circle. Then, we have a form that we just put up to nine at a time in and let it dry for thirty minutes, and it stays in that shape we formed.”

Schneider believes that this part of their research has been very distinctive. “Nobody’s done that before. So, that’s something that we haven’t found any other information about other people ever using,” said Schnider. “That’s been really kind of unique part to this research.”
Pang’s team is also excited to transfer their research into hands-on activities. “Last semester was more research based while this semester’s been cool transitioning into actually putting it together,” Corey Crowder, a civil engineer senior, said. “It’s definitely been a lot of fun. Especially seeing it all come together,” Schneider added.

Once the bamboo-reinforced concrete structures have been tested, the team hopes to travel to Haiti to introduce this idea to the population. Teaching Haitians how to rebuild their structures with bamboo reinforced concrete is now a feasible goal, and this team of students is determined to get there.

Carbon Dioxide Flux

A group of Clemson students is collecting information on the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) from natural and human/artificial sources, and some might consider them trailblazers in this new field.

Geologic Indicators of Climate Change is a Creative Inquiry in the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. A team of geology major seniors is exploring and analyzing CO2 fluxes from soils, rocks and bodies of water. Using their own individual experiments and observations, these seniors are developing and collecting a new information baseline for the southeastern region.

“There’s not much research in this geologic, climatic, biome. Most of the research is being done in other places. So, we’re right now creating baselines for the southeast,” research assistant professor of Geology, Scott Brame said. Brame, the leader of the team, has narrowed the focus of the Creative Inquiry to a particular region. “We’re focused on a temperate deciduous forest ecosystem found in the southern Appalachians. It’s a narrow scope,” he said.

The main focus is to understand how much CO2 is produced by humans as opposed to the CO2 that is emitted by decaying matter and other natural processes. In order to enhance this understanding, Katie Hickok is performing a lab experiment that measures differences in CO2 emissions from store-bought and natural soil. She manually changes the temperature, moisture and other factors to determine which conditions produce the most CO2. Hickok said that she likes the hands-on experience of working in the field, but for this particular experiment it was best for her to be in a lab setting.

“I thought for me that it would be easier to understand in a lab setting where I can physically change it. Where I am boss, I am God of this experiment,” said Hickok.

Ashley Coffin also believes that her experiment will be of use to farmers in the future. Her research on till versus no-till farming could lead farmers to change the way they manage their crops. Coffin studies the amount of CO2 emitted from tilled soil versus the amount emitted from soil that is not tilled. In “no-till” farming, crops are planted without plowing the soil. This practice is believed to add organic matter to the soil as well as to decrease erosion. She suspects that no-till farming will reduce CO2 emissions the most.

“It would be trying to prove that and then make recommendations to the organic farms saying ‘You should switch and change to no-till,’ in order to reduce CO2 emissions. So (my research) has a real world application built into it,” Coffin said.

The Creative Inquiry group is also conducting experiments on CO2 levels in the water from nearby Lake Hartwell. Lacy has started a data collection project that he hopes will be continued by other students and professionals.

“I’m doing one arm that goes into Lake Hartwell and seeing how much carbon actually comes in through waters and soil samples, leaves falling off trees and how much is actually moving through the water,” Lacy said. Lacy also explains that a lot of the carbon in such a system is from natural sources, such as dead fish and decaying leaves and trees.

As for the continuation of this project, the students and their faculty leaders have high hopes that the information they are collecting will encourage corrective actions towards reducing carbon emissions.

“Not many people are aware that the carbon flux is of issue,” Brame said. “We’re just trying to measure this natural phenomenon.”

Writing Fellows


Walking into the Writing Center in the Academic Success Center, it is impossible to overlook the buzz of activity. The sounds of paper rustling and group collaboration are nothing new for the Writing Fellows, a group of impressive undergraduates who help all members of the Clemson community become more confident and effective writers. The Writing Fellows assist undergraduate students, graduate students and even faculty members with all forms of expository writing. By working closely with undergraduates in various disciplines, the Writing Fellows have contributed to Clemson’s recent recognition by U.S. News & World Report as one of nineteen colleges that make the writing process a priority at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum.

Dr. Meredith McCarroll, director of the Writing Center, associate director of major fellowships and professor of American literature, realized that peer tutoring in writing involves more than one-on-one conferences; it involves studying the function and effectiveness of tutoring. McCarroll developed the Writing Fellows Creative Inquiry, a subset of the Writing Fellows program, in which a handful of Writing Fellows immerse themselves in self-led research on different aspects of peer tutoring. The purpose of the Writing Fellows Creative Inquiry is to help students conduct and continue this research as they prepare for the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPW).
The range of research conducted by the Creative Inquiry is exemplified by Caroline Mercer, a senior English literature major. Mercer sees the growing importance of technology and decided to conduct her research on the quality of online tutoring compared to sessions conducted in person.

“This next generation is really techy, so I think that online tutoring will only become more and more prominent over the years,” Mercer said.

Mercer’s fellow Creative Inquiry team member, sophomore industrial engineering major Shannon Kay, is also delving into research that will expand her knowledge of peer tutoring and enhance her own sessions. Kay’s research focuses on sequenced assignments, which refers to the relationships between given assignments. McCarroll believes that such student-driven research is one of the most powerful and memorable experiences that an undergraduate can have.

“It gives students a glimpse of what they can do beyond just one class,” McCarrol said. “Self-guided experiences help students feel autonomous and empowered.”

The semester-long research of Mercer, Kay, and the four other Creative Inquiry team members culminated with the National Confrence on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW), held in Tampa, Florida in November 2013. At the conference, the students presented their research and had the opportunity to hear ideas from students from other universities. Both McCarroll and Mercer agree that this conference is the most exciting aspect of the Creative Inquiry, as it places Clemson into the growing discussion of peer tutoring and strengthens the university’s emphasis on writing across the curriculum. Returning from the conference, the Creative Inquiry team returned with new ideas and perspectives to share with the other Writing Fellows that they can then implement in their tutoring sessions.

Ultimately, McCarroll hopes that her students will walk away from the Creative Inquiry knowing that they can effectively communicate their ideas and use these ideas to impact their professional work.

“In a large or small way, they have something to contribute –they are going to enter their job and not only do great work, but also help to transform their field,” she said. Both McCarroll and her students believe that peer tutoring in writing is not about comma splices and superficial issues, but rather about content and delivery. It is these two aspects that drive the Creative Inquiry and push Clemson further into the academic discussion of writing across the curriculum.

Improving Wheel Traction in Sand and Lunar Terrain


In a warehouse, a team of mechanical engineering students is conducting research to be implemented where few undergraduate endeavors venture: the moon. Their work involves improving a wheel that must roll smoothly through sand, gracefully manage rock piles and scale daunting inclines.

The project, led by seniors Steven O’Shields and Zach Satterfield is composed of nine undergraduates. Mechanical engineering professor Dr. Joshua Summers began the Creative Inquiry, Development of Sand Traction Concepts, more than seven years ago.

“The purpose originally was for NASA. It was a NASA-funded project to come up with a wheel,” Satterfield said. NASA developed an All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE), a multi-legged robotic platform for transporting large items, such as a living space for astronauts, on the moon. However, since the lunar terrain differs in texture and consistency from the asphalt that most earth-bound vehicles are designed for, ATHLETE needed a new type of wheel on its “feet.”

The average vehicle wheel intended to travel over asphalt is convex, or curved outward. The convex tread pushes debris, which would otherwise cause friction and slow down the vehicle, out from under the wheel. The tread is the shape of the tire’s exterior that creates traction.

“The tread helps you be efficient with moving the vehicle,” Satterfield said. The team has determined that a concave shape, with an indentation around the middle of the wheel’s exterior, is the most efficient shape for moving across sand. This design grips the sand and gives the wheel something more solid to push off of, so that for each rotation, it travels the maximum distance possible.

By testing different wheel designs, the team found that a concave tire covered in non-porous foam moves most efficiently. While they were satisfied with its traction, they wanted to make the tire more durable, because the foam was easily damaged during testing.

“We don’t always get the perfect prototype. Dr. Summers harps on that you learn more from failure than from success,” Satterfield said. To make their product more suitable for extraterrestrial travel, their latest design includes a layer of Kevlar, a strong yet lightweight material, over the foam-covered concave tire. The nine student engineers hope that this design will successfully combine an efficient tread with materials strong enough for use on the moon.

The team tested various characteristics of their Kevlar design, such as velocity and endurance, with the longest test running up to ten hours. By passing the durability test, which previous versions had failed, the Kevlar prototype has become their most successful design yet.

Although the project is intended for space exploration, Satterfield and O’Shields anticipate that their work will also be practically applied on Earth. Their new wheel could be used on any vehicle that travels over sand, from recreational dune buggies to military transports. It would allow a vehicle to move more efficiently thus using less fuel.

In Aug. 2013, Summers, O’Shields, Satterfield and senior Justin Moylan attended a conference for the American Society for Mechanical Engineers in Portland, Oregon. Their paper, which Satterfield presented, was the only undergraduate publication at the conference.

“I don’t think many other schools have undergrad research like this, where it’s run by undergraduate students,”

O’Shields said. The team looks forward to presenting at more conferences as they continue to determine the weaknesses of their Kevlar-covered wheel and how it can be improved.

The students are the driving force at every level and stage of the project because Summers believes that giving the students ownership of the project provides them with more learning opportunities.

O’Shields and Satterfield also gain leadership experience. Along with the other seniors, Moylan, Brett Smenteks and Coleman Heustess, they partner with the students who have not yet taken advanced mechanical engineering courses.

“It’s really a lot of fun working with these people, working with their strengths and weaknesses and trying to get the ultimate goal accomplished of getting a tire that works right” O’Shields said of younger team members.

The Solution is All in Your Head

The story of robotics hasn’t always been a happy one, with countless tales of robots causing an end to humankind However, Dr. Delphine Dean and Dr. David Kwartowitz have put a new spin on the classic tale. Their Creative Inquiry project in the bioengineering department focuses on helping people by using neural signals to control machines.

It all started as a student-led project, dubbed MindBot, that was an attempt to show the public just how far neural technology had progressed and what could be done using cost-effective equipment. But for these bioengineering students the project also provided an outlet for their creative juices to flow. Dr. Dean mentioned, “What makes this project really fun to work on as an advisor is that the whole process was extremely student driven; all the ideas originated from the students, which is why I think the project was so original and ‘out of the box.'” The team drew up a concept design that used cranial electromyograms (EMGs) to direct a two-wheel robot to move forward, backward or to rotate.

The Mindbot was a great success! The team received a grant and is now working on the second phase of the project: to develop a device that’s wirelessly controlled?through a neural headset?to navigate a maze while overcoming physical obstacles.

The project’s potential is vast and far reaching. Joe Connolly, a senior student on the team, explained, “Through this experience, I was allowed to show my project to kids ranging from elementary school to college. CI served as a conduit to allow me to share my passion my the younger generation.” This type of technology could someday be used in anything from helping mobilize quadriplegics to mind-controlled video games to effortless driving.

Team members not only get the satisfaction of knowing that their product may someday be used to help society, but they experience hands-on engineering in the fields of electrical and mechanical design, computer programming and system architecture. They also get a taste of how signal/image processing and psychological feedback work. Connolly commented, “With the help of my fantastic mentors, I had the freedom to work with a diverse team and explore an idea. I applied the concepts I learned through my college experience in a way that interested me the most.”

New team members aren’t expected to know the difference between a PIC and an ARM or how to handle segmentation faults, but if they’re a devoted student ready to learn more in a teamcentric environment, they are perfect for the team. Connolly summed it all up perfectly when he said, “The most rewarding thing I took away from the Creative Inquiry was showing other people the “cool” side of engineering – the side they may not realize exists.