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Researcher of the Month

December 2018

Andrew NwubaAndrew Nwuba

Mechanical Engineering major, Class of 2019

Research Mentors:  Dr. Carlos Colosqui & Dr. Fu-pen Chiang, Mechanical Engineering;  Additional advisor (WAVE Fellow program, summer 2018): Dr. Beverley McKeon, Professor of Aeronautics, California Institute of Technology

Andrew Nwuba is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering who is a member of ASME, CSTEP  and LSAMP. Having benefitted from a variety of undergraduate research experiences, Andrew succinctly states: “Research requires you to be independent which is helpful in essentially everything that you do.”

Andrew began doing research in his sophomore year, and joined two different research groups in the Department of Mechanical Engineering: one specializing in fluid mechanics, one focused on solid mechanics. In Professor Carlos Colosqui's research group, Andrew currently investigates the behavior of fluids, quantifies data-powder wettability, contact angles and surface tension in MATLAB, and seeks to develop new technologies related to hydrophobic materials. In the research group of Professor Fu-pen Chiang (where Andrew worked for ~ 3 semesters until April 2018), Andrew used laser speckle interferometry to measure the strain and roughness of objects. This research involved using MATLAB scripts to generate random speckle patterns. Andrew also works under the direction of Professor Fu-Pen Chiang for his senior design project: "Digital Speckle System for Mapping Surface Flatness, Warpage, and Vibrational Modes."

This past summer, Andrew had the opportunity to participate in CalTech’s WAVE Fellows program in Pasadena, California: there, he conducted research in Prof. Beverley McKeon’s laboratory on Real-Time Particle Image Velocimetry (RTPIV), investigating flow questions related to aerospace vehicle design (reduction of drag, noise, and structural loading); and gaining experience in high performance computing, and writing parallel PIV software for experimental testing.

At SB, Andrew has been active in the University Scholars Program, and was designated as a Freshman Seminar class representative. He also has served on the executive board for the Cardozo College Hall Council, as well as SB's Speech and Debate Society. In spring 2017, Andrew participated in the Google BOLD Immersion Summit; he also gave an oral presentation titled “Current Efforts Toward Separation of Water and Oil in Capillary Diodes” based on his work in the Colosqui group for SURC 2017, an undergraduate research conference held at Suffolk County Community College. In summer 2017, Andrew gained experience as an Electrical Design intern at the Harris Corporation in North Amityville, NY.

Andrew is a graduate of Newfield High School in Selden, NY. His hobbies include weight-lifting and listening to podcasts. Below are excerpts from his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

The Interview:

KarenHow did you first get involved in research at SB?  
Andrew. I’m currently doing research in the Colosqui group. And I’m also doing a senior design project which involves designing a system to measure vibrational modes, a project directed by Prof. Fu-Pen Chiang—whose group I also worked with previously for a few semesters. . . Initially I had planned to get involved in research in my freshman year because I wanted to bolster my resume but I wasn’t able to get a position right away. So I kept on asking professors, and eventually, in my sophomore year, I got a response from two different professors. One was from my general academic advisor, Prof. Carlos Colosqui who offered me a position. And at the same time, Prof. Fu-Pen Chiang also gave me an opportunity. So I decided, because the commitments seemed manageable, to go with both opportunities. 
The main focus of much of the research that I did in Prof. Chiang’s group (where I participated from December 2016 through spring of last year) is based off of the principle of how light interacts with matter – using laser speckle interferometry to measure the strain and and displacement. The research I’ve been working on in Prof. Colosqui’s group (which I am still involved in) involves hydrodynamics – in particular how the capillary diode works to filter different liquids, and learning more about the properties of wetting/dewetting. There are a lot of potential applications--which is something I find appealing about the work. 

Did you also participate in research off-campus?
Yes, this summer. I participated in a fluid mechanics research project at CalTech in the aerospace department through a summer program called WAVE. The professor I was working with, Prof. Beverley McKeon, works on something called particle velocimetry in real time. My goal for the end of the summer was to try to rewrite or implement a preexisting parallel PIV software to run on their computing cluster but we couldn’t find one that was available that worked.  I ended the summer by writing a parallel PIV software for the purpose of testing.

How did you initially find out about CalTech program?
I’m a member of LSAMP & CSTEP. Dr. David Ferguson, and Paul Siegel, at one of our meetings, both mentioned the WAVE program – both recommended that I apply for it. I already had internship offer for the summer after my sophomore year to work at Harris. So I decided to apply to the CalTech this past year, as a junior. And I’m very glad that I did. It was a great experience. ...I met a lot of professors there. I met the head of the aerospace program. And it gave me an opportunity to talk to some professors regarding graduate school. They also had a lot of graduate school preparation related events – workshops about how to select a professor you want to work with, how to start building your resume, how to solicit letters of recommendations, how to write a personal statements, etc.. We also spoke with a lot of different PhD students who volunteered to talk about their experiences. It was a great experience overall – probably the experience where I grew the most in terms of learning about different areas that were new to me.

What are some of the advantages to doing research in a summer?
I think if someone wants to know if they want to continue with research in graduate school, doing research over the summer is probably the best way to tell. Because that’s your full time job where you are assigned to work on something at least 40+ hours per week.  

Do you have any experience in presenting, through your research experiences?
I gave an oral presentation of research I did in Prof. Colosqui’s lab at one of the SUNY research conferences—SURC 17 at Suffolk Community College. And this summer at CalTech, we had to give a technical presentation plus a final presentation.At the end of the program, I ended up giving a 15 minute oral presentation for maybe ~60 people…

I used to be in Speech & Debate , so I’d say that I am somewhat comfortable with giving presentations in the first place. But research has definitely given me a lot of opportunities to practice and hone my presentation skills. In Prof. Chiang’s lab, we frequently had to give presentations to everyone in the group on what we were working on, what progress we were making. And you get better at explaining things with more practice.

What are your future plans?
I plan on working for some time -- and then coming back for graduate school. I’m interested in a lot of different things for graduate study – robotics, aerospace engineering,... I also learned that I’m more interested in computer science, especially after last summer’s experience. So I want to take some time to decide on what will make the most sense in terms of what programs I apply to, and what I want to study in more depth.

What advice would you give about research to other students?
I would say – get involved, and get involved early. Doing research definitely helped me get an internship. There’s maybe not as much of a push for engineers to do research but it definitely helps you to learn new things, and to expand your knowledge. Second, it has also given me a better idea of what graduate school is like. Finally, it’s a good thing to do because research requires you to be independent which is helpful in essentially everything that you do.

I also always recommend other students to get involved with CSTEP. I’ve gone to a few of their events. And it’s a very helpful program to be involved with – because they post a lot of opportunities for you that are related to research or graduate school.

How has research complemented your classroom learning?  
My classes have definitely helped me get a decent foundation in a lot of different areas. But I feel that the depth of your knowledge is much greater when you do research than when you take a class.  Because while you don’t have to understand everything in the field, you have to understand a lot of things that might be tangentially related to your experiment. It becomes necessary to learn a lot of stuff just related to the physics of what you’re doing, for example. Plus I think the problems that come up are a bit more interesting than classwork.