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The UMass News Office reports that Professor Wei Fan of our Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department is a member of the team of chemical engineering researchers that has developed a new environmentally friendly chemical process to make p-xylene, an important ingredient of common plastics. The new method has a 97-percent yield and uses sustainable biomass as the feedstock. P-xylene is currently produced from petroleum. The team also includes UMass ChE doctoral students Hong Je Cho and Vivek Vattipalli.

On the weekend of October 30, an intrepid group of offshore-wind-energy experts took a blustery pilgrimage by sailboat to view the first offshore wind farm ever established in the United States. The five wind turbines, just south of Block Island, make up the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, built by Deepwater Wind of Providence. The trip – taken by several faculty and alumni of what is now called the University of Massachusetts Wind Energy Center (WEC) and their colleagues from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory – proved to be a stormy experience that embodied the very power of the term “offshore wind energy.”

In a continuing pattern of outstanding undergraduate research, two of the six students chosen as Rising Researchers at UMass for the fall of 2016 are engineers. The Rising Researcher program celebrates undergraduate students who excel in research, scholarship, or creative activity. This semester’s outstanding engineering undergrads named on the biannual list are mechanical engineering major Victor Champagne and physics and chemical engineering major Robert Johnston. Having multiple engineering representatives among the Rising Researchers has become something of a tradition over the past few years.

An Integrated Field Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) will be the first offering in a new global partnership between UMass Amherst and Shorelight Education of Boston that will enable international students to earn a master’s degree at one of the top public research universities in the United States. The joint initiative, called UMass Amherst Global, will launch in the summer of 2017. Read UMass News Office release.

This semester the College of Engineering’s Assistant Dean for Experiential Learning, Cheryl Brooks, is teaching a new, four-credit course in community engagement that is not only enabling engineering students to apply their education in very practical ways, but is teaching them to make meaningful social contributions to the Town of Amherst, local community agencies, and the people served by these institutions. In the process, Brooks’ course in “Learning Through Community Engagement” is building bridges between the Town of Amherst and the UMass campus, which is too often smeared by bad publicity.

Last year scientists at UMass Amherst, led by biologist Duncan Irschick, created their Beastcam Array, a rapid-capture, field-portable tabletop system for making high-resolution, full-color 3D models of living organisms. Now Irschick’s team plans to use it in an ambitious effort to create 3D models of many living organisms, including those that face threat of extinction. Two undergraduates from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department were instrumental in the creation of Beastcam, which has attracted national media attention since its inception.

Erin Baker, a professor in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and director of the Wind Energy IGERT at UMass Amherst, was featured as one of the 10 national experts in WalletHub’s recent study examining this year’s most and least energy-efficient states. Massachusetts was listed as the seventh most energy efficient state, ranking 14th in home energy efficiency, and fifth in automobile energy efficiency. Among other advice in the column, Baker observed that insulation and weather stripping might be the most cost-effective energy saving products for your home. Find the article and all of Baker’s comments.

Professor Wei Fan of the Chemical Engineering Department is part of a research team that has invented a new environmentally friendly soap molecule, made from renewable sources, that can reduce the number of harmful chemicals needed in soap products. Angela Nelson, writing in Mother Nature Network, said that “This new molecule may change cleaning products forever.” Fan was also a co-author of a journal article, recently published in the American Chemical Society's ACS Central Science, which explained the new discovery. Read the paper, “Tunable Oleo-Furan Surfactants by Acylation of Renewable Furans,” on the ACS Central Science website.

Professor Jenna Marquard of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department is the director of the “Human Factors Core” of a five-year, $1.23-million, collaborative grant received by the UMass Amherst College of Nursing from the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) in the National Institutes of Health. The NINR grant was awarded to create the new UManage Center to Build the Science of Symptom Self-Management (UManage),  where scientists and engineers will develop technologies to help people with chronic illness manage fatigue and impaired sleep. See UMass News Office Story on the NINR Grant.

A study done by the UMass Amherst Traffic Safety Research Program (UMassSafe) and completed in June of 2016 finds that seatbelt use is at an all-time high in Massachusetts, but the state still lags behind others in seatbelt use. The study finds that 78.2 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers use seatbelts, up from 67 percent as recently as 2006. Last year the figure was 74 percent. The national average is 88.5 percent. Robin Riessman, associate director of the UMassSafe Program, says seatbelt use has been increasing during the past 10 years, and especially during the last year studied.

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