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Posted on Sep 3, 2014

Bright Ideas, Brought to Life

At NC State, ideas become solutions. Students, faculty and staff take sparks of ideas and fan them into flames of invention through experiential education.

Students experience hands-on learning and creating in six makerspaces across campus that are designed to give life to ideas and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Hunt Library Makerspace

The library of the future is also home to the technology of the future. Head to the Hunt Library Makerspace for access to 3-D scanning and printing. Located on the fourth floor of the ultramodern building, this makerspace supports students, faculty and staff in learning about emerging technologies and bringing their creations to life.

The Entrepreneurship Initiative Garage

NC State students with a passion for entrepreneurship find a place to pursue it in the Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI) Garage. Located in Innovation Hall at Wolf Ridge Apartments on Centennial Campus, the Garage provides a common space to foster new ideas and work on entrepreneurial endeavors.

“We are eager for students from all over the university to gather here to work, learn and share,” says Tom Miller, EI’s executive director. “We want to support these students in becoming North Carolina’s future job creators.”

Open to students from all disciplines, the Garage includes everything from prototyping studios and lounges to woodworking shops and power tools.

Open Hardware Makerspace

The Open Hardware Makerspace is a catalyst for turning big ideas into real-world results. Designed to empower student creativity, celebrate hands-on experimentation and open the door to cutting-edge technologies, this makerspace is the stepping stone to developing an entrepreneurial endeavor before taking it to the Garage.

Operated by student volunteers, the Open Hardware Makerspace also builds community partnerships and provides programming and outreach for local schools.

The Crafts Center

The NC State Crafts Center has everything students need to enhance their artisanal skills, whether they’re creating their first clay vase in the pottery studio or building an animatronic model in the woodworking studio. There’s something for everyone looking to channel creativity into art. The Crafts Center offers classes for all skill levels.

Several NC State colleges also have their own makerspaces, open to their own students and others:

CIRCUIT Research Studio

The CIRCUIT Research Studio is designed for graduate students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences to work across disciplinary boundaries with team members and faculty from other colleges. This makerspace supports solution-driven projects developed in association with graduate coursework ranging from digital media and humanities to physical computing and mobile media.

Technology, Engineering & Design Education Laboratories

The Technology, Engineering & Design Education Laboratories cultivate appreciation and understanding of new technologies among students in the College of Education. These labs provide an experiential foundation for tomorrow’s teachers.

Advanced Media and Materials Laboratories

In the College of Design, the Advanced Media Lab gives students and faculty access to the latest digital hardware and software. The Materials Lab features wood, metal and welding shops; weaving and sewing studios; fibers and dyes; and a range of printing tools.

The Troxler Design Center

The Troxler Design Center is the hub for senior design projects in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The Troxler center is both a lounge for incubating ideas and a lab for designing and prototyping them.

Digging Deeper

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Posted on Jun 10, 2014

Return of the Native

The future of golf may lie in its past, where rolling fairways have brown edges that fade into varieties of native plants, not the water-sucking monotony of four-inch Bermuda rough.

That’s the look Pinehurst No. 2 sports once again thanks to a restoration launched four years ago by noted golf course redesigners Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw with a little help from NC State researchers. The course is getting international attention over the next two weeks as the United States Golf Association conducts for the first time in history its two premier championships, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open, at the famed course built in 1907 by Donald Ross.

It looks nothing like the course where the men played their championships in 1999 and 2005. It’s more reminiscent of the 1940s and ‘50s, when the course was Ross’ backyard, before others began to replace naturally occurring plants with acres and acres of Bermuda grass to create the orderly, kept appearance of an arboretum.

“A course as historic as Pinehurst No. 2 doesn’t have to be manicured to within an inch of its life. It can be a little wild.” — NC State crop scientist Danesha Seth Carley.

But that well-groomed look takes a lot of maintenance, chemical fertilizer and, most importantly, water. And solving water issues, says USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, is the most important challenge facing the golf industry.

“The biggest threat, long-term, to the game is water,” Davis says. “Whether it’s right now in certain parts of the country, or a hundred years from now, water is going to be the thing that ultimately is going to affect the game the most.”

That’s no small issue for North Carolina’s 556 golf courses, 52 stand-alone driving ranges and 44 miniature courses, which infuse $2.6 billion a year into the state’s economy and provide some 53,000 jobs. According to a 2011 study, golf’s direct revenues are comparable to agricultural crops ($2.6 billion); science, research and development services ($2.9 billion) and semiconductor components manufacturing ($2.9 billion).

So making the industry economically and environmentally sustainable is critically important to the state’s economy. And that’s the focus of NC State assistant professor of crop science Danesha Seth Carley’s research for Pinehurst over the last four years, as Coore and Crenshaw used aerial photos from the 1940s to recreate the original look.

With funding and corporate research support from Triangle-based Bayer CropScience, Carley and her students have helped Pinehurst identify the plants that have returned to the course since nearly 40 acres of manicured turf and some 700 irrigation sprinkler heads were removed. Other than 10,000 sprigs of wiregrass, native to the Sandhills, the course was a blank slate for returning native vegetation.

Carley created guidebooks for the Pinehurst maintenance staff to quickly identify the plants that were desirable to keep, like Eastern prickly pear, pine weed and toad flax. And she showed the staff which non-native, weedy and invasive species to eliminate before the plants took permanent root.

The native plants are generally less flashy, but easier to maintain in their natural habitat, Carley says. So spectators may not see the blooming azaleas or a sea of green of The Masters in Augusta, Ga., but they could be seeing the next generation of golf course maintenance and design.

“One of the things I hope people will walk away with after the two Opens is that the traditional idea of a Southern country club golf course will be changed,” says Carley, who received her undergraduate degree in biology from Earlham College in Indiana, her master’s degree in entomology and plant pathology from Tennessee and her doctorate from NC State. “A course as historic as Pinehurst No. 2 doesn’t have to be wall-to-wall Bermuda grass, manicured to within an inch of its life. It can be a little wild.

“Most courses don’t have the resources to do a whole scale renovation the way Pinehurst No. 2 did, but anybody can start with a little area and do some of what Pinehurst did, if they are interested. This is an inspiration to reform their thinking about what golf courses need to look like.”

The new roughs at Pinehurst No. 2 feature native plants such as Eastern prickly pear, pineweed and pigweed.

The new roughs at Pinehurst No. 2 feature native plants such as Eastern prickly pear, pineweed and pigweed.

Pinehurst officials are quick to point out that the restoration of No. 2 – one of the oldest and most important public courses in the country – was done simply to take the course back to its original state. But they couldn’t be more pleased that by taking out the turf, removing much of the artificial irrigation and returning the rough to a more natural state, the course has reduced its water usage from 50 million gallons a year before the redesign to a little over nine million gallons last year.

“Pinehurst wasn’t doing it for the economics of it,” says Carley, who did her postdoctoral work under NC State professor of environmental plant biology Tom Rufty. “They were taking it back to the original look of the course for that historical perspective. But from an economic standpoint, it is a great example of what could be done by courses across the country.”

The Pinehurst story will be told many times over the next two weeks, as the men begin their 72-hole championship on Thursday and the women begin play next Thursday. It’s the first time in history that the USGA will hold its two premier championships on the same course in successive weeks.

So the golf course, with two major championships and six days of practice rounds, will be under scrutiny as the USGA will push course superintendent Kevin Robinson, a graduate of NC State’s turfgrass management program, to create fast and firm fairways and greens.

It’s a look that has been four years in the making, with research that could help change the way golf courses look for many years to come.

“This may look like golf in the past, in terms of the presentation of the course, but in so many ways, this is golf of the future,” Coore says. “In today’s world, with water issues, environmental impact issues, the costs associated… the majority of courses are going to have to go more in this direction.”

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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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