Summer Researchers Focus on Climbing Wheelchair, Clean Water, Vapor Emissions

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

A stair-climbing wheelchair, a distillation system to bring potable water to impoverished regions, and a vapor-return system for gas stations were the topics of research projects completed this summer at WPI by nine outstanding college juniors and seniors from throughout the United States who participated in the University's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics. The students will present their research results on Wednesday, July 25, from 9 a.m. to noon in the Campus Center Odeum. At 11:30 a.m., Lloyd Douglas, program director for the NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences, will discuss careers in the mathematical sciences and funding opportunities at the National Science Foundation.

Established in 1998 with funding from the National Science Foundation, the program is administered by WPI's Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statistics (www.wpi.edu/~cims/). It is the only mathematics REU program in the United States that involves students in real-world projects sponsored by corporate partners. Arthur Heinricher and Bogdan Vernescu, associate professors of mathematical sciences, are the directors of the REU program. Project advisors are Heinricher, Christopher J. Larsen and Suzanne L. Weekes, assistant professors of mathematical sciences, and Ann H. Wiedie, coordinator of the University's Actuarial Mathematics Program. Rebecca Wasyk of Prince George, Va., a master's degree candidate in mathematical sciences at WPI, is this year's REU assistant.

Following is additional information about the students and their projects:

"Modeling the Dynamics of a Motorized Wheelchair"
Researchers: Rachael Hageman of Orchard Park, N.Y., a mathematics major at SUNY at Fredonia (N.Y.), Katherine Kline of Sellersville, Pa., a mathematics major at Bryn Mawr College, and Leonard Wilkins of Atlanta, Ga., a mathematics major at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Sponsor: DEKA Research & Development Corp., of Manchester, N.H. The company, which was founded by Dean Kamen '73, specializes in advanced medical technologies.
Research focus: The iBot, a motorized wheelchair, designed by Kamen, sits on two axles with equal-size wheels. Able to balance on two wheels, it can climb stairs and go over curbs. The students worked on an optimal control model for balancing on two wells.

"Modeling Fluid Flow in a Positive Displacement Pump"
Researchers: Blythe Ashcraft of Elizabethtown, Ky., a mathematics major at Centre College, Erin Renk of Pittsburgh, Pa., a mathematics and economics major at the University of Pittsburgh, and Jennica Sherwood of San Francisco, Calif., a mathematics major at the University of San Francisco.
Sponsor: DEKA Research & Development Corp.
Research focus: A lack of potable water accounts for widespread illness in impoverished regions of the world. One way to address the problem is to implement efficient water distillation systems in these areas. Members of this team modeled fluid flow through a positive displacement pump within a dynamic distillation system. The research emphasis was on describing the thermodynamic properties of the water and steam flowing through the pump, particularly phase-transition during compression and expansion states.

"Detecting Failure in Vapor-Return Systems"
Researchers: Ivan Ramler of Watkins, Minn. a mathematics and statistics major at the University of Minnesota-Morris, Thomas Wakefield of Youngstown, Ohio, a mathematics and economics major at Youngstown State University, and Thomas Wright of North Easton, Mass., a mathematics and economics major at Bowdoin College.
Sponsor: Veeder-Root, the world's leading supplier of automatic tank gauging and fuel management systems.
Research focus: Gasoline vapors escape into the atmosphere each time a vehicle refuels at a gas station. Environmental regulations in several states require stations to capture these emissions and prevent their escape; the EPA has also mandated controls on all new cars and light trucks to capture these gasoline vapors. Team members used several statistical tests to determine whether refueling these new vehicles or the failure of vapor-return equipment is responsible when a system returns no vapors.

Founded in 1865, WPI was a pioneer in technological higher education. Early on, it developed an influential curriculum that balanced theory and practice. Since 1970 that philosophy has been embodied in an innovative, outcomes-oriented undergraduate program. With a network of project centers that spans the globe, the university is also the leader in globalizing technological education.