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Researcher of the Month
Mechanical Engineering major, Class of 2014
URECA Summer 2013 Participant
Research Mentor: Dr. Maen Alkhader, Mechanical Engineering
Plinio Guzmán, a Mechanical Engineering major enrolled in the 5-year B.E./M.S. program, has just
begun his senior year, joining his classmates in MEC 440 on a collaborative senior
design project under the direction of Dr. Anurag Purwar. Since fall of 2012, Plinio
has also been hard at work in the laboratory of Dr. Maen Alkhader of Mechanical Engineering
while engaged in independent research on the fabrication and testing of materials,
and experimental apparatus design (e.g. Split Hopkinson pressure bar for dynamic testing
Plinio was one of ~35 undergraduates selected last spring from a competitive applicant pool for the 2013URECA Summer award: the URECA funding helped to support his work on the “Dynamic Response of Auxetic Foams," in particular optimizing auxetic solid foam materials with enhanced impact energy absorption capacity. Plinio will be presenting this ongoing project at URECA’s annual campus wide poster symposium next April. Together with his mentor, Prof. Alkhader, Plinio also plans to submit an abstract and present his work in the 1st International Conference on Mechanics of Composites (MECHCOMP2014), an international mechanical engineering conference which will be held in Stony Brook in summer 2014.
Born and raised in Mexico, and a graduate of Tecnológico de Monterrey high school, Plinio currently serves as treasurer of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers(ASHRAE), and an executive e-board member for the campus Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Plinio has also been involved on campus as a member of Stony Brook Motorsports (Fall 2010) and as an Undergraduate College Fellow (Fall 2011-GLS); and has worked as a lab assistant in the Department of Physics (2012-2013) setting up experiments for instructional use and repairing lab equipment. His hobbies include cycling, skateboarding, reading and travel. Plinio's long-term goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Below are excerpts of his conversation with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen. Tell me about your research. What was your URECA project this past summer all about?
Plinio: About a year ago, I joined the lab of Prof. Maen Alkader. Our project investigates the dynamic response of auxetic foams—which means materials characterized by a negative Poisson’s ratio. Auxetic materials have mechanical properties such as improved resilience and energy absorption, and greater resistance to shear and fracture. The uses of auxetic foam include packing material, high shock absorbing material and protective gear (including bicycle helmets, body armor material). They can also be used to create composites and sandwich structures. We’re analyzing the manufacturing processes for the foam, altering various parameters during the fabrication process so that we can optimize its properties. I’m also aiding with the setup of a new composites instructional lab which will be up and running next semester that will be used for a graduate class and an undergraduate technical elective, dealing with the fabrication and characterization of fiber composites.
Are you also doing senior design this year?
Yes, I’m in MEC440-the senior design class. I’m on a 4-person team with some of my classmates working on a project under the supervision of Dr. Anurag Purwar.
Do you like doing research?
Definitely, I’ve been learning a lot. I like that it allows me to connect my studies from previously completed courses and apply what I’ve learned in a scientific environment. The research gives me access to topics beyond the undergraduate curriculum, areas that I wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to.
I’ve been interested in doing research for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents are biologists, and do genetics research. Now I finally get to have hands on experience, developing a research project from the start. In classes when you are dealing with the textbook, it’s just numbers. But working in the lab, you develop a feel for how the numbers translate to the physical world—and get a sense for how the accuracy and precision comes into play in an experimental process.
How did you initially get started in research?
Prof. Maen Alkader was my professor for Mechanics of Solids (MEC 363) in my sophomore year. Through going to office hours and talking to him, I got to know him, and he got to know me. I was interested in the research that he was doing. I asked him about it—and now I’m here. I started out helping out with small tasks such as creating CAD drawings for a pressure gun.
What’s your mentor like?
He allows me to work on my own—to develop independence. At the same time, I can go to him whenever I need guidance on what to do next. I’m also taking a class with Prof. Maen Alkhader on mechanics of composites. So the class really applies to the work I’m doing in the lab. It’s been great.
Was it helpful to have support (the URECA funding) for a summer?
That was what allowed me to live here over the summer and focus on the research solely without the workload I had during the semester. I also plan to pursue a PhD in mechanical engineering. So this research is giving me the background & experience of what I will need to apply to graduate programs.
What made you decide upon Stony Brook for your undergraduate college?
Stony Brook had a really good research reputation—and it was the most affordable.
What advice would you give to other students about research?
Talk to your professors. I started talking to professors about doing research in my sophomore year. Most recommended waiting until junior year –when I would have a better background for the advanced work I wanted to do.
What qualities do you need to be successful in research?
Hard work— just doing the work when you need to get it done. You need to stay focused and also come up with ideas on your own and think creatively about alternate ways in which things can be accomplished.
Is it difficult to balance classes and research?
It’s difficult, but you just have to put in the hard work to get done what you need to get done. Sometimes I’ll run into lab for 20 minutes in between classes to try to get something done. It’s definitely worth it though. I love what I’m doing. I’m happy to be in the lab.