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Mechanical Engineering Students Receive Competitive Fellowship Awards

Thousands of dollars of fellowship award funding was recently awarded to four Brigham Young University mechanical engineering students. Josh Cannon, Wesley Holt, Brian Merrit, and Mathew Haskell will be using these grants to further their work on wind energy optimization, satellite temperature control, advanced energy technologies, and robust control methods.

Wesley Holt

Holt has been working on wind optimization in Dr. Andrew Ning’s lab. Wind turbines are very complex systems and Holt wants to improve some of the challenges that come with that.

“There's a lot of tradeoffs when it comes to designing wind farms and wind energy systems,” Holt said. “My proposal is to research different ways that we can use optimization techniques to create more efficient wind farms that produce energy at a lower cost.”

Holt will be graduating with his bachelor's in mechanical engineering this semester. He will be taking the NSF (National Science Foundation) award of $34,000 a year to Purdue University where he will begin his doctorate in the fall. The fellowship also assists with covering tuition for its recipients.

“Renewable energy is definitely a growing field,” Holt said. “It's really important for us to develop renewable energies so we can have sustainable and clean energy and take care of the world we live in.”

Josh Cannon 

Fellow mechanical engineering student Josh Cannon has been selected as an NSTGRO (NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunity) fellow.

His proposal is titled “Passively Actuated, Triangular Fin Array for CubeSat Thermal Control.”

“My project is focused on creating a way for small satellites to regulate their own temperature without needing any sort of electronics to monitor things,” Cannon said.

The inspiration for this project sprang from Cannon’s experience working on a CubeSat that BYU created. As they were developing it he observed problems with temperature regulation.

“I just love space technology. It's always been the thing that I've most enjoyed in engineering,” Cannon said.

Included in the award is a summer internship at NASA where Cannon will have the opportunity to learn from experts in related fields as he works on this project. This is in addition to the $36,000 he will receive for project development as well as the funding for tuition.

Brian Merritt 

The first-ever BYU student to be awarded the NEUP (Nuclear Energy University Partnership) fellowship is Brian Merritt who will be pursuing a Master’s Degree here at BYU in mechanical engineering, working with Dr. Munro in the TEMP Lab.

Merritt is from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and is currently in the Integrated B.S./M.S. program at BYU, working exclusively now on his Master’s degree. He has worked with Dr. Munro for three years with a specific emphasis on nuclear energy research.

Merritt’s research is currently focused on the thermal conductivity of molten salts. “Molten salts can be used as a coolant in some advanced nuclear reactor designs” he adds, “designing safer and more efficient nuclear reactors could be a big step forward in the fight against climate change because nuclear energy is essentially a zero-carbon emitter,” said Merritt.

The NEUP fellowship, which is to help promote educated professionals entering nuclear research, was granted to only 31 graduate students nationwide and Merritt was one of those students.

The NEUP fellowship lasts three years and grants $52,000 each year. The fellowship also gives $5,000 to fund an internship at DOE National Laboratory, which Merritt is thinking of pursuing this next summer.

Mathew Haskell 

Ph.D. student Mathew Haskell was recently awarded the NDSEG fellowship and will use this fellowship in his research at BYU with Dr. Killpack on the control for uncertain unmanned air systems.

Haskell is “researching robust control methods, mainly through the use of model predictive control (MPC). Control algorithms do not model the effect of uncertainty in the system, so I want to figure out how much of a difference it makes when uncertainty is explicitly modeled using an MPC algorithm.”

The NDSEG fellowship lasts for three years while paying for tuition, mandatory fees; along with $38,400 annually for research with $5,000 for professional development travel.

This fellowship gives Haskell the chance to advance in his MPC research because, “the optimization makes it more computationally expensive than other control methods, so performing MPC in real-time on robotic systems is an active area of research since the optimization needs to be solved multiple times (sometimes in the hundreds) per second.”

Special Thanks 

The application for these grants was intense for all four students, and each is a substantial and competitive fellowship.

“It ended up being very stressful because the application was due about a week after my wife gave birth to twins so it was a very crazy time in my life for sure,” Cannon said. “But my professor really encouraged me, so I spent three straight days with no sleep working on this thing and it ended up paying off.”

Holt also expressed that it would have been impossible to do this without the help of his professors and mentors, specifically professor Ning.

With the support of a fellow graduate student, who had previously been granted the NDSEG, and Dr. Killpack, Haskell was able to create an outstanding proposal that resulted in being awarded the fellowship.

“Dr. Munro was the person who originally informed me of this program a few years ago,” Merritt said. “I was awarded the scholarship for 2 consecutive years as an undergraduate, and was recently awarded the fellowship as a graduate student.”

Visit the NSF website, the NSTGRO website, the NEUP website, and the NDSEG website for more information about these fellowships.