College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

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.

Matters of the Heart: They Don’t Miss a Beat

Your pulse is racing and you can feel your heartbeat resonating through your chest. The emergency room doctors hurriedly push you down the cold hallway, trying to hide the panic on their faces. When a patient is lying in the hospital with a serious heart condition, the last thing they need to worry about is the extent of the doctor’s training. Therefore, it is vital for doctors to practice their techniques before interacting with live patients. A team of bioengineering Creative Inquiry students, led by Dr. David Kwartowitz, is working to create an electrocardiogram (EKG) simulation device based on biological signals in the human body. They plan to use the device for training and evaluation purposes.

An EKG is the typical method used to collect data about electrical activity in the heart. Patients are often closely monitored during surgeries to ensure a healthy beat is maintained. However, it is necessary to have a working system that collects the data from the EKG and sends it to a computer for further analysis. This information can be used to diagnose a number of health issues, including heart attacks and heart arrhythmias – which are caused by problems in the electrical impulses that create heartbeats. These issues cause a fast, slow or irregular pulse in the patient.

Amanda Nguyen, a junior on the team, explained, “Working on the EKG Simulation and Modeling Creative Inquiry project has provided me the invaluable opportunity to gain hands-on experience with designing electrical circuits. During the process I learned a lot about the practicalities of electrical circuit design that I would not have been able to gain otherwise.”

The Creative Inquiry team focused on two main goals. First, they designed a system to process the EKG signals. Then, they created a human-like dummy for the simulation. The materials used in the dummy were produced to resemble the texture of human tissue, which creates a realistic environment when operating the EKG system.

This EKG simulation will be used for both teaching and training purposes. The simplistic yet realistic nature of the system allows it to be utilized in a number of settings, from elementary schools to medical training evaluations. As children are taught about the human body and EKG signals, they can visualize the process using the interactive dummy. The kids will be able to physically manipulate the simulation in a hands-on approach to understand exactly how an EKG works. They will also be able to listen to hearts that have abnormalities, like arrhythmias, to engage them in the material and help them better grasp the concept.

Professional medical trainees can utilize the simulation due to the realistic and reliable nature of the system. Doctors will be able to learn, experiment, and evaluate their work on the model. The team created an EKG unit that efficiently filters out electrical potential changes in the heart and amplifies them, which allows doctors to better understand what is taking place in the patient from a safe distance. Nguyen noted, “It has been incredibly rewarding to be able to apply the knowledge I have gained in lecture to produce a working EKG.”

Through creating an advanced electrocardiogram system, this Creative Inquiry team will impact both the educational and medical fields. This versatile project benefits a wide array of people in a variety of situations. The team is breaking down the science of simulations – one heartbeat at a time!

Designing Medical Technology for the Developing World

Getting your temperature and pulse taken in the doctor’s office seem like routine tasks. Many parents even complete these tests at home. In a country with so much medical technology, it is hard to imagine life without our luxuries. However, developing countries lack some of the basic medical instruments that keep us healthy. Bioengineering students are working on a project to create affordable medical instruments for developing countries, specifically focusing on Tanzania. While healthcare is improving in these countries, they still lack much of the medical technology found in the United States, and generally use outdated models donated from other countries. This Creative Inquiry team, led by Clemson engineering professors Dr. Delphine Dean and Dr. John DesJardins, aims to create inexpensive, easy-to-use medical technology for the countries that need it the most.

This team is crafting a number of medical products, ranging from a neonatal heating device for hospitals to an affordable glucose monitor for poor villages. Senior team member Suzanna Langworthy says, “We take concepts from our everyday line of medical care and design a device or tool that can accomplish the same goal, but that is cheaper, easier to use, can be easily implemented, and can be made locally to enhance self-sufficiency.” The education for healthcare workers in developing countries is often limited, so it is vital that they have devices that they understand how to use, but at the same time are comparable to higher-end equipment.

The students have the freedom to design and work on any project that interests them, and as a team they are developing a number of problem-solving technologies. For example, Tanzania has an infant mortality rate ten times that of the United States, mostly caused by failing incubators. This team designed a low-cost temperature monitor that detects the temperature of infants and a heating device to regulate their body temperature. Another project constructs blood glucose monitors, which are an important preventative technology. These machines provide diabetes patients with a way to control their disease to prevent further health complications. Other projects include a blood volume indicator and a bacterial sensor for detecting gastrointestinal diseases, such as typhoid and cholera.

While this project allows students to learn the fine points of producing medical technology, it also emphasizes bettering healthcare around the world. Some team members have had the chance to travel to Tanzania and tour the hospitals. This helped them determine which devices are most essential to create. As Britton McCaskill remarks, “In the long-term, we hope to provide developing countries the capacity to be self-sufficient in the healthcare industry and reduce their dependence on external donations.”

Many students on this team express how rewarding it is to apply their engineering skills in a real world setting to address serious health problems. Kevin Keith’s favorite aspect of this project is how “this Creative Inquiry puts us in a position to impact patients who are often in the most need.” Maglin Halsey also comments, “I quickly learned once I began this Creative Inquiry that there are a lot of things involved with the state of healthcare in the developing world. Obviously, there is no quick-fix to the problems in these areas, but we are hoping to start taking small steps towards improvement. We believe that we have a great foundation to make a difference.” This Creative Inquiry provides Clemson students with knowledge and experience to become skilled professionals in bioengineering through a personally and professionally gratifying program.

It’s a Joint Effort

Medical implant devices (MIDs) have been used widely for more than 40 years, and it is estimated that 8 to 10 percent of Americans (20-25 million people) currently have such a device. Although implant devices produce great benefits, sometimes MIDs must be removed or replaced. They are in a continual state of development to increase their performance and extend their useful lifespan. Long-term data on the behavior of implanted devices and host response are essential inputs to the development process, yet there are few systematic programs for the retrieval and analysis of implants in the USA.

Retrieval and analysis of implants benefits patients, as this method leads to implant design. Implants have a minimum lifespan of three months, penetrate living tissue, have a physiologic interaction and are retrievable. A number of barriers exist to establishing an implant retrieval program. Major impediments are the costs associated with such a program and fear of litigation affecting manufacturers, hospitals, physicians, and investigators. The long-term goal of Professor John DesJardins’ Creative Inquiry project is to discuss, investigate, develop, establish, promote and grow a viable retrieval program.

Rather than throwing these used devices away, members of this team have started a state-wide program, known as Clemson University Retrieval of Explants Program in Orthopedics (CU-REPO) to learn more about why implants fail, how they work, and how we can make them last longer. The aim of such a program is to provide a working repository for retrieved implants, and to develop the tools and techniques for the systematic evaluation of implant designs, materials, surfaces and function.

Every year nearly 1 million patients receive total joint replacements to relieve arthritis pain and restore joint function in the hip or knee. Within 15 years it is predicted that this clinical procedure will increase as much as 675%, as our population ages. These implants are not perfect, and sometimes they are removed, or explanted, because of infection, loosening, damage or wear. This team of undergraduate bioengineers collaborate with hospitals and surgeons from around the state and nation. They collect, clean, catalog and study explanted total joint replacements to make them better for all of us.