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Posted on Jun 4, 2014

A Makers’ Place

MakerFaire, the nationwide network of do-it-yourself showcases, is a celebration of all things made. And NC State is the university where ideas become reality.

The two come together this weekend at Maker Faire North Carolina, which will bring 10,000 thinkers and doers to the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

Among them will be a group of NC State students and recent graduates who’ve turned plywood, simple circuits and plastic into tools for creation, expression and personal safety.

Two recent grads — Austin Carpenter and Jonathan Gregory — will showcase their 3D scanner at the Maker Faire. The project, spurred by a request from the leaders of the Makerspace at Hunt Library, exposed the pair to a process they’ll likely repeat in their engineering careers. They spent the first semester of the 2013-2014 school year designing the scanner, a trial-and-error effort that saw them abandon designs for being too big or otherwise impractical.

In the spring, they connected with a team of industrial design students who built the scanner based on their specifications. Constructed of tile and plywood, the scanner looks a bit like the teleportation system from the old Star Trek television show. A person stands on a rotating platform as the scanner takes continuous photos. The 90-second scan — about two rotations long — produces a file that a 3D printer can read and turn into an action figure.

What can you do with a 3D scanner? According to Carpenter, one emerging application of the technology is in medicine: 3D scans are being used to print casts that conform precisely to a broken limb and use ultrasound technology to spur bone growth.

But utility wasn’t the primary reason Carpenter and Gregory chose to build the scanner.

“It’s cutting-edge,” Carpenter said. “Ten years ago, this wasn’t really a thing.  So it’s just really exciting to be on the cutting edge of technology.”

Emergency Assistance, at the Push of a Button

Student Bradford Ingersoll (left) and recent grad Tia Simpson (right) show off the Konnect, a one-button emergency notification system they built.

Student Bradford Ingersoll (left) and recent grad Tia Simpson (right) show off the Konnect, a one-button emergency notification system they built.

In an emergency, even a quick phone call or text message may take too long. That’s why recent electrical engineering graduate Tia Simpson and rising electrical and computer engineering senior Bradford Ingersoll have developed a wearable system that enables emergency notification at the push of a button.

At Maker Faire North Carolina, Simpson and Ingersoll will demonstrate the Konnect, a Bluetooth-enabled simple circuit that triggers a text message with a user’s GPS coordinates.

Simpson and Ingersoll worked through several iterations of the Konnect in the Entrepreneurship Initiative Garage on NC State’s Centennial Campus. They considered building a version that used voice-recognition software to identify a user in distress, but they dismissed it as impractical because of power and reliability concerns.

But the wearable concept they came up with has tested well and has drawn positive feedback from judges in campus entrepreneurship contests, Simpson said. The current Konnect prototype houses the circuit inside a plastic bracelet, but the system’s size — a little bigger than a watch battery — would make a wristwatch or other accessory a possibility.

Message in a Bracelet

Kyle McKenzie and Corey Meade's 3D-printed audio bracelet.

Kyle McKenzie and Corey Meade’s 3D-printed audio bracelet.

New grads Corey Meade (computer engineering) and Kyle McKenzie’s (electrical engineering) Maker Faire project came from the unlikely intersection of two trends: the emergence of 3D printing and the popularity of Silly Bandz, the bracelets children compulsively exchange at school.

For their senior engineering design studio, Meade and McKenzie sought to make a tradable 3D-printed bracelet that communicates. Meade developed a Web app that converts audio data — words spoken into a microphone — into a file readable by a 3D printer. The printed bracelet, which looks like a QR code come to life, can then be read, decoding the original spoken message.

Meade and McKenzie envision Web and smartphone apps that would let kids encode messages in plastic, print them and trade them with friends. They’ve experimented with different types of plastic for the bracelet itself and have applied for a provisional patent for their work.

“We hope there’s a future for it,” McKenzie says. “We’re not sure if there’s a market right now because the printers aren’t available everywhere. But there are some professors we’ve shown this to who said, ‘My kids would totally take this to school, and all their friends would be super-excited about it.’”

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Posted on May 30, 2014

A Sustainable Solution

In the developing world, the absence of affordable sanitary pads is more than a health and hygiene issue — it’s an economic and educational problem, too.

The solution to that problem is a cheap, sustainable, locally sourced sanitary pad. Researchers at NC State and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with nonprofit partner Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), developed such a solution for deployment in Rwanda.

But Raleigh and Cambridge are a long way from the Rwandan capital of Kigali. It took a particular set of skills to cover the distance between success in the lab and results in the field, skills that 32-year-old NC State junior Tyson Huffman acquired as a Marine, a construction worker, a farmer, a restaurant manager and a process engineer for a paper mill.

“He’s a prototypical example of ‘think and do.’” — Med Byrd, NC State paper scientist, on Tyson Huffman.

For most of the last year, Huffman has been in Kigali, leading the effort to build a facility that can manufacture 1,000 sanitary pads a day.
“This guy went over there and did what I don’t think any faculty member or any student could have done,” said Med Byrd, associate professor of paper science and engineering at NC State. “In the space of about three months, with no tools, he took them from two machines in the middle of a parking lot to a dedicated crew making fluff pulp.”

That pulp is the heart of the project. In 2009, SHE founder Elizabeth Sharpf and a group of MIT students set out to find a sustainable, inexpensive way to make sanitary pads from agricultural byproducts local to Rwanda. They developed a two-step process for turning banana fibers and water into a fluffy pulp and making pads from that pulp. The chemical-free material is more absorbent than anything commercially available, Byrd said.

SHE turned to NC State to take the project from the research lab to the real world. Textile and biomedical engineering professor/director of Global Health Initiatives in the Office of International Affairs Marian McCord, Byrd and others refined the process and then sought someone who could go to Rwanda in 2013 and scale the project up. Several recent chemical engineering graduates applied, but none of them had Huffman’s unique skills.

“He’s a prototypical example of ‘think and do,’” Byrd said.

Huffman has served as a “MacGyver-in-residence,” said Connie Lewin, director of marketing and strategic partnerships for SHE. When the disappearance of Huffman’s luggage on the way to Rwanda deprived the project of needed washers, he replaced them with bottle caps. He designed a process that sped fluff-drying time by 400 percent and worked with his team to build a system for recycling wastewater.

“He’s creating new tools and spending time with our staff there so when he leaves they’re fully equipped and empowered to run the production facility on their own,” Lewin said.

NC State junior Tyson Huffman (right) and a team member repair equipment at a facility producing sanitary pads in Rwanda.

NC State junior Tyson Huffman (right) and a team member repair equipment at a facility producing sanitary pads in Rwanda. (Photo by Huffman)

Eventually, SHE plans to manufacture 250,000 pads a year and distribute them cheaply to local schools, Lewin said. That could be a game-changer for Rwandan girls and women. On average, a Rwandan woman loses $215 in annual income due to work days missed during menstruation, according to SHE estimates. The average Rwandan earns $578 a year, according to the United Nations.

Success would also create economic prosperity in Kigali. Huffman manages a team of 12 Rwanda employees, and they’ll continue producing pads after he leaves. The potential for a lasting, sustainable impact drew Huffman to the SHE project.

“The word ‘sustainable’ has become a buzzword and is thrown around too loosely,” he said. “I don’t really believe in charity. Throwing money at a problem is certainly not sustainable. However, creating a business employing local people, using agricultural waste and breaking even is the definition of sustainable.”

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Posted on May 9, 2014

Career-Ready

In May, more than 5,200 new graduates received degrees from NC State. Their post-graduate work will create prosperity for North Carolina and the world, and the experience-based education they received here will prepare them well for the years ahead.

More than three-quarters of NC State grads go directly into graduate school or full-time careers. And those careers pay big dividends for the time, talent and energy they’ve spent here: In recent rankings, NC State has emerged as a leader in return on student investment and average graduate salary.

Meet five spring 2014 graduates who are moving on to exciting careers with major employers:

A Bike, A Chair, A Job at Coca-Cola

Industrial design graduate Ami Sueki’s how-I-got-my-first-job story starts with a position she didn’t land, ends with an unexpected offer, and prominently features a bike that’s also a chair.

Industrial design grad Ami Sueki

Industrial design grad Ami Sueki

In early 2013, Sueki shared her portfolio with a Coca-Cola design manager. Several months later, solely on the strength of her work in the College of Design, Sueki got a full-time offer to start working in Coke’s marketing department before her last semester at NC State.

What sort of work gets an undergrad a job with Coke, with no interview and no application? For Sueki, it was a project that had consumed her for more than a year: the quest to design and build a bicycle that folds into a chair. The idea struck Sueki after seeing people outdoors, either riding their bikes with folding chairs strapped to their backs or sitting uncomfortably on their bike wheels at parks.

The bike began as a five-week project her junior year, but it became an 18-month (and counting) quest. After rounds and rounds of sketching, she realized she needed a hinge that didn’t exist. So she made it on a 3D printer. Sueki hasn’t made a bike prototype, but she’s still working toward realizing her vision.

“I don’t like to settle for a mediocre idea,” she said. “I would rather spend more time developing the idea than settle for something just because I have to turn it in.”

Value for Value

Best Return on Investment

According to Payscale.com, NC State offers the best return on student investment among public North Carolina universities.

Turning Ideas Into Solutions

Brian Coffin, a biomedical and textile engineering major, got a head start on research as an undergrad. After graduating, he took his research experience and his degrees to work for Secant Medical, a medical device manufacturer in Perkasie, Pa.

While research is more often an endeavor for graduate students, Coffin took advantage of NC State’s emphasis on undergraduate research. He worked with faculty on developing carbon nanotubes as a junior and on plant-based automotive parts during a summer internship in Germany.

Textile and biomedical engineering grad Brian Coffin

Textile and biomedical engineering grad Brian Coffin

As a senior, Coffin worked with faculty at the National Science Foundation ASSIST Center to create a portable gait monitor. The device would allow people recovering from a stroke or other trauma to remotely monitor their progress in regaining the ability to walk and transmit data to their medical team.

With that diverse portfolio of research experience, Coffin is working as a business development engineer at Secant. He’ll help turn technologies from inventors, small businesses and universities into products ready for the marketplace. That work — making solutions from good ideas — flows naturally from his efforts as an undergraduate.

“There has definitely been that drive at NC State: not just stopping with the idea, but making something of it,” Coffin said.

Turning Tassels

Spring 2014 Commencement

The class of 2014 graduates Saturday, May 10. Offer your advice to the newest Wolfpack alums on our Facebook page.

From a Passion to a Profession

For graduate Bethany Vohlers, statistics is more than an academic pursuit. It’s “an artistic form of math.”

“It’s my passion,” she said. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, as cheesy as that sounds.”

Statistics and computer science grad Bethany Vohlers

Statistics and computer science grad Bethany Vohlers

Since June, she’s been getting up in the morning and putting her statistics and computer science degrees to work at the SAS Institute in Cary. SAS, consistently rated one of the best companies to work for, was a second home for Vohlers during her NC State career. She held three internships there. Her late one was a position she conceived and proposed: she took massive datasets and optimized them for use in SAS’s visual analytics software.

NC State offered Vohlers opportunities to study across disciplines while still working in the broad field of analytics. That flexibility had a direct effect on her connecting with SAS. Vohlers said her double-major in statistics and computer science was the reason she got considered for the SAS position.

“It’s not so much about theory in statistics at NC State,” she said. “There’s a lot of application.”

Job-Ready Graduates

Top NC State Employers

In a Wall Street Journal survey, recruiters rated NC State grads among the most desirable job candidates.

A Deeper Approach to Design

Ryan Foose came to NC State two years ago to become a more complete designer.

“My undergrad was all about how we can make something look really, really good,” says Foose, who is graduating with a master’s in graphic design. “NC State’s worried about how you can make the experience great for the user. So it doesn’t just look pretty, it’s super-functional.”

Master's of graphic design grad Ryan Foose

Master’s of graphic design grad Ryan Foose

With his master’s degree in hand, Foose is now working to make great user experiences for IBM. After interning with the company for a year, he joined its developerWorks program full-time. IBM is one of the largest employers of NC State graduates.

In his new role with IBM, Foose does some traditional graphic design — creating graphics and cleaning images that teach users about IBM products — and some user experience work, actually improving software and other products. The role marries two of Foose’s passions: education and design.

As a graduate student in the College of Design, Foose has worked on developing an iPad platform that would help rural students find possible career paths and choose the right colleges and universities to follow those routes. The design mirrors the look of Twitter, MTV and other entertainment channels popular with high school students. The content is based on his own research, which encompassed everything from analyzing data on rural disparities to visits to Greene Central High School in Snow Hill, N.C.

“It’s just a way of looking at the problem of how to have a student get an interest in something and follow through on it,” he said.

From Raleigh to Hogwarts

What college graduate wouldn’t want to celebrate with a post-commencement trip to a Florida theme park?

For Michelle Phillips, a mechanical engineering graduate, heading to Orlando after graduation entailed more than blowing off a little after-exams steam. She began a full-time job with Universal Creative in July to fulfill every kid’s dream: building amusement rides and animatronic features.

Mechanical engineering grad Michelle Phillips

Mechanical engineering grad Michelle Phillips

Phillips got an internship there last summer after attending a meeting of the American Society for Testing and Material F24 subcommittee, which oversees safety standards for all amusement rides and devices. As an intern, she worked on the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Expansion, the $400 million addition to the park that will open this summer.

In her final year at NC State, Phillips worked with another University Honors Program student, Kevin Young of Apex, N.C., to build a wooden animatronic wolf for the Hunt Library. The 4-foot-tall, 120-pound creature was unveiled in late April on the second-level lobby.

Now, mechanical engineering degree in hand, she’s off to pursue her longtime dream.

“Becoming a ride engineer [is] about the coolest thing in the whole world,” she says.

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