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MIE Student Accepted into Highly Competitive SURF Program

Andrew Dodd

Andrew Dodd, a junior mechanical engineering major in the Commonwealth Honors College, has been accepted into the ultra-competitive Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, for students majoring in science, mathematics, and engineering. Dodd’s extensive background includes three summers of experience in the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and his research interests are in robotics, photonics, computer-aided design, and coding. Dodd will do his SURF research in the NIST Engineering Laboratory, designed to provide hands-on research experience in building and fire research technologies.

In recommending Dodd for the SURF program, Professor Ian Grosse of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department observed that “Andrew is well equipped to grow from the challenges that he is presented with. His intelligence, team skills, and determination to perform to the best of his ability will prepare him well for the SURF program.”

Founded in 1901 and now part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST is one of the nation's oldest physical science laboratories. Today, NIST measurements support the smallest of technologies—nanoscale devices so tiny that tens of thousands can fit on the end of a single human hair—to the largest and most complex of human-made creations, from earthquake-resistant skyscrapers to wide-body jetliners to global communication networks.

Dodd’s credentials include his three summers of internship experience as a Phillips Scholar in the AFRL. As he wrote, this experience “helped make me into a significantly better engineer.” Much of the work he did with the AFRL is still protected by security protocols. But, as Dodd noted, while at Kirtland Air Force Base during his third summer, he worked in the Directed Energy Directorate on building and automating a diode-pumped alkali laser.

At UMass Amherst, he has recently completed three team-based design projects. For Dodd’s Design of Mechanical Components class, his team of four actually completed two projects, one for the course itself and the other as honors work.

In the first project the team designed, analyzed, built, and tested a small aluminum bracket. “For the main course project, we were tasked to build a bracket to hold three sensors in place as a force was applied to them,” said Dodd. “Every team was vying for the lightest and strongest bracket, and grades would be based upon these results. In addition, we were to accurately predict the failure load and deflection that would be incurred upon the bracket.”

Professor Grosse wrote that the projects Dodd did for his class “involved substantial CAD modeling and finite element analysis to design minimum-weight load-carrying members. In addition, for the course project students were responsible for fabricating their designed member and testing it to failure in the laboratory.”

For the second project, done for the honors program, Dodd’s team chose to work on redesigning a belay device known as a GriGri.

“We first bought the component and ground it apart in a machine shop,” Dodd explained. “Then we went on to CAD every single component of the device using Inventor. We performed stress analysis testing on the original design, then changed the locking system substantially and retested it. This project gave me a much better comprehension of Inventor, ANSYS, the design process, and team dynamics.”

Dodd’s favorite project was in his Introduction to Electrical Engineering class. “We were tasked to build a robotic car that could steer itself using a rudimentary collision avoidance AI system within an Arduino microcontroller and some wiring,” he explained. “The car used an ultrasonic sensor, LEDs to indicate its operational mode, and several H-bridges to control the forward and reverse options. I loved that this project was completely ground up, hands-on, and involved components of computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.”

Now Dodd has the grand opportunity to take what he has learned from the ground up at UMass Amherst and apply it in a hands-on way to one of the most prestigious summer research programs in the United States. (May 2014)