Not blinded by science

Oct 8, 2010

Getting more than just a taste of real-world research, college level, and even high school-aged students working on Kettering's Agent Fate project have an eye-opening experience working as scientific researchers on a government contract.

Like the droplets on substrate – the Agent Fate research project’s reach has spread beyond Kettering University. From active military personnel, to Kettering students, to local small businesses and even including high school students, the circle of influence the Agent Fate project has is ever-expanding.

For military personnel, the research findings are important to personal and environmental safety. For professional s the Agent Fate research opportunities offer full-time employment which boosts the local economy. For Kettering students serving their cooperative education terms as Agent Fate researchers, it gives them professional work experience in their field of study. But the newest twist on the Agent Fate research project is the inclusion of intern students from other colleges and area high school students.

Agent Fate employs students from area High Schools to give young adults the unique opportunity of real research at the high school level to get them interested in science and to start thinking about college, where they will attend and what types of fields they may study. 

“The objective behind Agent Fate hiring students is to help them out with employment, and also to encourage research and science amongst them, regardless of what University they may attend,” said Dr. Homayun Navaz, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering and principal investigator on the Agent Fate project. 

It seems to be working. Three of the high-school aged students employed this summer are interested in attending Kettering for college, and those looking at other colleges say their work on Agent Fate has given them an advantage over their peers. Almost all expressed an interest in pursuing careers in science or technical fields.

Alison Putnam, Andre Torfeh and Hossein Tabrizi are all high school seniors. After working on Agent Fate, Putnam, Kearsley High School, is interested in the Biomedical program at Kettering, while Torfeh, Carman Ainsworth High school is considering majoring in Chemical and Mechanical Engineering.  “I really enjoyed working on the Agent Fate project because it was a comfortable work environment and I appreciated all the help and support I received,” he said.  Tabrizi, of Grand Blanc High School, wants to attend Kettering to study computer science and mathematics .

Connor Davidson, Grand Blanc High School, will attend the University Of Michigan in the Fall of 2010 to study chemical engineering.   He has worked for the Agent Fate project for two summers.  Davidson feels that after working for Agent Fate he is much more prepared and ahead of the game and has gained invaluable experience in the laboratory that will help him immensely when he gets to college.  

Charlie Oliver, currently a junior at Genesee High School, is interested in working in a science-related field, and said the project has helped him with presentation and communication skills as well as laboratory technique.  He is considering Michigan State University for college.

Michigan State University senior Justin Ward and Kettering graduate student Ram Iyer improved their leadership skills working on Agent Fate and supervising other students. “I learned a lot about managing a lot of people and project deadlines,” said Iyer of his experience.  He is leaving the project to take a full time job with Ford Motor Company. 

Kettering’s Chemical Agent Fate research project, headed by Navaz, uses computer-based mathematical simulations to predict the spread and persistence of chemical elements in the environmental substrates, on the ground and on other surfaces.

The project goals are to establish the length of time chemicals remain active posing a threat following release and create simulation scenarios utilizing mathematical analysis to predict what could happen with chemical releases to assist officials in taking preventative actions.

The project started in 2005 with the help of Tim Herman who is the President of Chamber of Commerce in Genesee County, Joseph Kiple who originally understood the threat and the scientific approach that needs to be taken not only for the protection of our troops, but also the general population by first responders action. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan and Congressman Dale Kildee have been instrumental in securing funding for the project since its inception. The outcome of this research and its benefit has been acknowledged by the Department of Defense (DoD) through letters to President Liberty.

In February of 2010, Navaz and his team of professionals, researchers and cooperative education students conducted a major computer simulation to show the spread of a chemical element over a metric acre of land under certain environmental conditions.   

Because the computer simulations require a great amount of time to produce results, it is necessary to develop a practical platform that can perform these predictions in real time based on local environmental conditions. 

The Agent Fate team created an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) program that incorporates a massive library of off-line results generated by our computer simulations.  The ANN program interfaces with a data acquisition system capable of receiving environmental data through sensors in real time and performs instantaneous predictions of chemical concentrations at any given distance from the source.  After this, an Artificial intelligence program can make recommendations to the field commanders based on these analyses.

Navaz recently received another DoD contract to study the contact hazard that poses a threat to humans or military vehicles. He is currently recruiting and reviewing resumes for new student researches to replace those that are graduating or moving on to careers. “We are also collaborating with California Institute of Technology (Caltech) on this research effort which will provide us with an exceptional opportunity to work with top notch scientists. This project is receiving about $460 K in the first year.” according to Navaz.

 “I think it is really important to give young people this type of opportunity,” Navaz said. “Real, practical knowledge of scientific research can help them identify and develop their interest in the sciences and technical fields,” he added.

Recently, three of our co-op students traveled to Czech Republic to use their facilities for conducting open air testing for two pesticides. They collaborated with their scientists and engineers which is a very valuable experience.

Contact: Dawn Hibbard