Research Tracks

A publication of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Baylor University

May 13, 2016
by Baylor OVPR

Video: Baylor engineering students create a swing to help a local child with special needs

Waco’s KWTX recently reported on a group of Baylor engineering students who used their senior capstone project to improve the life of a local child with special needs. Under the guidance of Dr. Brian Garland, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. Ian Gravagne, associate professor of electrical & computer engineering, the students designed a custom swing for seven-year-old Camille Witt, who was born with a genetic condition that limits her mobility. Camille is the daughter of Dr. Jason Witt, the associate director of the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning.

While the finished product may look simple, its design was more complicated than it might appear because the swing needed to be not only stable and motorized, but also able to Camille’s weight all the way through adulthood.

In isolation, Gravagne says, either of these specifications can be easily met — standard playground swings can support adults and common baby swings are motor-driven — but in combination, they present more of a challenge. Continue Reading →

November 9, 2015
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor researcher receives grant to study movement of contaminants through the Gulf of Mexico

When a major pollution spill occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, disaster response officials have to make quick decisions about the allocation of resources to prevent damage to coastal areas. Numerical modeling techniques can make predictions about the spread and eventual destination of contaminants, but current models aren’t as accurate as they could be, limiting the effectiveness of disaster prevention and recovery efforts.

Dr. Joe Kuehl, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, is part of a research team that was recently awarded a $285,000 grant from the Texas General Land Office for oceanographic research aimed at improving these models to predict how contaminants spread through the Gulf of Mexico during a spill.

An oil slick spreads in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.  Dr. Joe Kuehl is part of a team of researchers working to improve current models for predicting the flow of contaminants from similar events. NASA image.

An oil slick spreads in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Dr. Joe Kuehl is part of a team of researchers working to improve current models for predicting the flow of contaminants from similar events. NASA image.

The topography of the ocean floor creates a barrier between coastal waters and the open ocean at the shelf break – the point near the shore at which the ocean floor changes from low-slope coastal terrain to the higher-slope that marks the beginning of the open ocean.

While the shelf break largely prevents water from the open ocean from mixing with coastal waters, Kuehl says, the barrier is not completely impenetrable. Underwater currents, circulation patterns and weather phenomena can create pathways that allow water to move across the shelf-break barrier. When these pathways exist, water from the open ocean can flow into coastal areas, potentially bringing pollutants with it.

While mathematical models exist to predict how and where these pathways will form, Kuehl says they are limited by the data on which they are based.

“The standard models are most useful only at shallower depths because we don’t have observational data from the bottom boundary layer – the deepest layer along the ocean floor,” he explains. “So when we apply these standard models to pollutants in the bottom boundary layer, we have to make some assumptions.”

To fill in those gaps in knowledge, Kuehl will deploy newly developed current meters to gather data on the way ocean water circulates in the bottom boundary layers over time. That data will become a part of high-resolution simulations created by Kuehl’s collaborator on the project, Dr. William Anderson of the University of Texas at Dallas.

Ultimately, Kuehl and Anderson hope their research will contribute to better understanding of the way contaminants can flow through the Gulf of Mexico, helping government and business leaders carry out risk assessment and economic planning along the Texas coast.

April 17, 2014
by Baylor OVPR

OVPR releases 2014 Research Magazine

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research is proud to announce the release of the 2014 issue of Research magazine!  This year’s magazine brings you stories about some of the great research and scholarly activity undertaken by Baylor faculty and students and their collaborative partners outside the university.

In this year’s magazine, you can read about:

  • A Baylor environmental scientist and the university’s artist in residence, both of whom draw inspiration from geologic formations to enhance our understanding of the world around us;
  • Two Baylor chemists performing leading cancer research while providing opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to gain real-world laboratory experience;
  • The dean of Baylor’s Honors College, who takes a philosophical approach to popular culture and encourages students to think more deeply about the media they consume;
  • Faculty in Baylor’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing, who improve the practice of patient care through their research and teaching;
  • The Green Scholars Initiative, which provides Baylor faculty and students with unprecedented opportunities to examine ancient texts first-hand;
  • Baylor’s culture of mentorship that helps prepare the way for future scholars, artists and professionals;
  • Partnerships between Baylor and other, nearby research institutions, which open the door for faculty and students to make world-changing biomedical discoveries; and
  • A partnership that allowed Baylor students to team with industry leaders to improve a product that protects our most precious natural resource.

Click here to read the 2014 Research magazine online, or contact the OVPR to request a printed copy.


March 17, 2014
by Baylor OVPR

OVPR announces recipients of FY 2015 URSA Small Grants

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Undergraduate Research & Scholarly Achievement (URSA) Steering Committee have announced the recipients of the FY 2015 URSA Small Grants program.  The grants are intended to provide opportunities for faculty-student interaction through mentored research experiences.  Students who work on URSA-funded projects also develop presentation skills through participation in URSA Scholars Week. Continue Reading →

February 18, 2014
by Baylor OVPR

Graduate student wins award from industry group for her engineering research

A Baylor graduate student recently earned a scholarship award from the Society of Plastics Engineers for her research on nondestructive testing methods for fiber-reinforced, laminate composites.

Sarah Stair discusses her research with Dr. David Jack, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Sarah Stair discusses composite materials research with Dr. David Jack in the mechanical engineering department’s lab at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC).

Sarah Stair, a second-year graduate student in mechanical engineering, was one of three students selected by the organizing committee for the SPE Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) for the group’s annual SPE ACCE Scholarship Awards for the 2013-2014 academic year.  The award was based on her research project, “Non-Destructive Characterization of Ply Orientation and Ply Type of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Laminates.”

Stair says advanced composite parts are composed of many layers or “plys,” which are lined up in a particular way so that the finished part has the strength and rigidity necessary to accomplish its function.  While engineers can make predictions about the final part’s strength based on its design, imperfections in the final manufactured product can create sections with unknown properties.

That’s where Stair’s research comes in.

“When manufacturing composite products, the manufactured parts don’t always meet as-designed specs,” says Stair, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Baylor in 2012. “For example, during molding, a ply might slip and rotate from its designated orientation, which could affect the properties of the manufactured part. My research will determine the ‘as-manufactured’ orientation of each lamina in a fiber-reinforced part and the failure envelope associated with the manufactured part.”

Stair’s long-term plan is to develop a hand-held device that technicians can use to determine the failure envelope of an installed part without having to remove it from the car or airplane where it is in use.  Such a device could be extremely helpful to automotive or aerospace repair technicians, as well as to quality-control personnel working for companies that manufacture composite parts.

The SPE scholarship is the latest in a long line of awards Stair has earned for her research.  She was a top-four finalist in the best paper/presentation category at the American Society for Composites’ Annual Technical Conference.  She also earned a prestigious graduate travel grant from the National Science Foundation to present her work at the American Society for Mechanical Engineering’s International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition.  Stair was one of only 45 students to receive the NSF award from a pool of 750 applicants.

Dr. David Jack, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, is Stair’s research mentor.   He says that because of the high quality of Stair’s research and her advanced presentation skills, awards like these are anything but surprising.

“Sarah is working on her master’s degree, but she routinely wins awards where she’s competing against doctoral students,” says Jack.  “At conferences, people who hear her presentations always ask me if she’s a doctoral student or post-doctoral researcher.  She’s a great ambassador for our graduate program.”

August 14, 2013
by Baylor OVPR

CUR announces new engineering division

The Council on Undergraduate Research has announced the formation of a new division to provide national leadership and discipline-specific expertise in developing undergraduate research in engineering and engineering-related fields.

Through the new engineering division, CUR plans to provide professional support and networking opportunities for engineering faculty engaged in undergraduate research, and to identify and disseminate best practices for embedding undergraduate research in engineering curriculum.

Faculty in any engineering area are invited to join the new division.  To change your divisional affiliation, click here to update your CUR profile.

Baylor maintains an enhanced institutional membership to CUR which allows our faculty members to join as individual members at no cost.  Any Baylor faculty member interested in undergraduate research is invited to visit the CUR website to learn more about the organization and the benefits of becoming involved.

June 20, 2013
by Baylor OVPR

Undergraduate research propels Baylor engineering student to graduate school

Baylor has a long-standing commitment to prepare its students for leadership and service in their chosen fields.  For students who aspire to careers in science and technology, participating in independent research under faculty mentorship can be a key component of that preparation. Morgan Goodwin, who received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Baylor this May, says that participating in undergraduate research helped her take the next step toward achieving her career goals.

Morgan Goodwin presents her research poster at the 2013 URSA Scholars Week.

During her time at Baylor, Goodwin worked with Dr. David Jack, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science.  Under Jack’s mentorship, Goodwin worked to develop and improve theoretical and mathematical models to predict the strength of polymer materials like PVC, a topic area that she says interested her because of the possibilities of developing real solutions to tangible engineering problems.

Goodwin presented a research poster at the 2013 URSA Scholars Week and later successfully defended an honors thesis based on her work.  She will begin graduate school in engineering at Duke University in the fall, and says the experience of participating in research helped her to stand out from the crowd when she applied to graduate programs.

“I was accepted to every graduate school I applied to, and my research background was key,” she says.  “Not many undergraduates have that kind of experience, so it definitely made me more competitive.”

June 11, 2013
by Baylor OVPR

L-3 Platform Integration to become BRIC’s first industrial tenant

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research is proud to welcome L-3 Platform Integration as the first industrial partner to lease space in the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC) discovery park. L-3 Platform Integration has signed a lease to occupy 3,200 square feet of space, which they’ll staff with engineers who are already collaborating with Baylor faculty on advanced research.

L-3 sponsors two research projects in collaboration with Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. The first project, which has been ongoing for more than two years, involves developing processes for testing and analyzing advanced composite materials for use in aerospace applications. The second project is focused on advanced technologies for aircraft communication systems.

Click here to read the Baylor press release announcing the lease agreement, or click here to read an article about the partnership in the June 10 edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald. More information about the BRIC is also available on the new BRIC website.

Previously in Research Tracks: More on the BRIC in the 2012/2013 Research magazine.

May 7, 2013
by Baylor OVPR

OVPR announces FY 2014 Faculty Research Investment Program and Young Investigator Development Program grant recipients

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research is pleased to announce this year’s grant awards for the Faculty Research Investment Program and Young Investigator Development Program.  These funding mechanisms provide grants of up to $25,000 to support faculty research projects in any academic area with the objective of helping investigators compete successfully for external research funding.  The FRIP program is open to any full time Baylor faculty member, while the YIDP program is limited to tenure-track faculty members in the first four years of their appointment.

For the 2014 fiscal year, two projects received funding under the FRIP program and one under the YIDP.  The three projects each represent a different college or school, reflecting the breadth of research activity across the university.

Please join the OVPR in congratulating each of this year’s FRIP and YIDP grant recipients!

FY 2014 Faculty Research Investment Program

Dr. Gary Elkins
Professor, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience
College of Arts & Sciences
Hypnosis for Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors
Abstract (PDF)

Dr. David Jack
Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Dr. William Jordan
Professor & Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering
School of Engineering & Computer Science
Characterization of the Fiber Microstructure within a Short-Fiber Injection Molded Composite
Abstract (PDF) 

FY 2014 Young Investigator Development Program

Dr. Renée Umstattd Meyer
Assistant Professor, Department of Health, Human Performance & Recreation
School of Education
Physical activity of Mexican-origin mothers and children in forgotten border colonias: A community-based participatory approach to understanding the landscape
Abstract (PDF)