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Research Opportunities

Most of these projects are open to Master of Engineering students as well as undergraduates. For contact information not provided here, please consult our Faculty Directory.

Getting involved in research is a great opportunity to learn in a hands-on format, contribute to new knowledge in engineering, get to know faculty and grad students, and find out whether you’d like research to be part of your future career. You can browse current projects below, organized by faculty name, and contact individual faculty to find out more.  The MAE research pages is another way to identify faculty members with whom you may want to work. 

It can take a few tries to find an opportunity that’s right for your background and interests.  Most projects are offered for academic credit, generally in the form of MAE 4900, and some are available for pay. At specific times each year, it is possible to apply for funding for a research project through Engineering Learning Initiatives, but the first step is to find a faculty advisor and project. 

To receive credit for research, complete the MAE 4900 enrollment request form (a link to the form will be posted soon) and submit it to Kae-Lynn Wilson in 125 Upson Hall.  

Research Opportunities by Faculty Member

Click on a faculty member's name to see current research opportunities in their labs.

Professor Avedisian

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A Chemical Reactor that Builds Itself

Modern chemical processing plants are extremely complex and large designs that cost millions of dollars to fabricate and operate. This project concerns developing a new, cheap and simple platform for promoting chemical reaction of organic gases within a vapor film of microscale thickness formed during the so-called “film boiling” process. Film boiling is a mode of heat transfer in which the surface is so hot that bubbles that form on it coalesce and form a vapor blanket. This is a very different process than boiling water in a teapot where a continuous stream of bubbles can be seen at discrete sites on the surface. Within the vapor film of film boiling, temperatures can be very high to drive chemical reaction of the confined gases. The self-assembly of the reactor is implied by development of film boiling as being a natural consequence of transitioning from nucleate boiling (e.g,. boiling water in a teapot) at low heat inputs to film boiling at high heat inputs. One only has to adjust the power input to the surface to create the “reactor” – film boiling – as an entirely passive process. The high temperatures developed in the vapor film as a result of the insulating effect of the gas surrounding the surface creates the potential to convert chemical wastes in a simple manner with this process. Biodiesel production is accompanied by large amounts of glycerine, and film boiling can be used to convert the glycerine formed to a more useful substance - synthesis gas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen). The project will involve designing a new containment for the reactant liquid that resembles a distillation column.

Ability to use MATLAB and Labview programming would be useful for this project.

The project is open to both undergraduate and M.Eng students.

Related publication: W.C. Kuo, K.H. Choi, C.T. Avedisian, W. Tsang “On Using Film Boiling to Thermally Decompose Liquid Organic Chemicals: application to Ethyl Acetate as a Model Compound," Int. J. Heat Mass Transf., 68, 456-465 (2014).

 

Combustion of Algae-derived Biodiesel

This project will examine the combustion dynamics of a range of biofuels, including those derived from algae, from the perspective of droplet combustion to determine the extent to which they may replicate the performance of a real fuel. The research will include using unique facilities aboard the orbiting International Space Station (ISS), and at Cornell, that create conditions whereby droplets can burn without the influence of convection to promote spherical symmetry which is an ideal configuration to model.

The project is primarily experimental and open to undergraduate and M.Eng students.

Related publication: Y.C. Liu, A.J. Savas, C.T. Avedisian, "The Spherically Symmetric Droplet Burning Characteristics of Jet-A and Biofuels Derived from Camelina and Tallow," Fuel, 108, 824-832 (2013).

 

Design of a More Energy Efficient Ink Jet Printer

Some ink jet printers rely on bubble formation on microscale thin metal films to push ink through tiny nozzles aligned with the metal films to form ink droplets. The droplets are directed to paper to form print characters by programmed motion of the print head. Also called “bubble jet” printers, the concept relies on rapidly heating the print head to nucleate an ink bubble. This process takes energy, which can be a critical consideration in portable, battery-operated, printers. The conventional design is for the print heads to be fabricated onto solid substrates. In this project the configuration to be investigated is a structure fabricated across an air gap that provides an insulating effect to heat flow, shown in the schematic below. Significantly less energy is anticipated to be required for nucleating bubbles compared to configurations with a solid in place of the air (the typical configuration). This project will concern using a sophisticated but easy-to-use experimental design to heat the metal films to temperatures well above their normal boiling points. The heaters are immersed in a liquid (e.g., water or an organic liquid) and heated very rapidly (upwards of a billion degrees per second) until a bubble forms. The instant of bubble formation will be captured by making the microscale thin film heater part of a “wheatstone bridge” (a schematic is shown) with suitable electrical filtering to produce a clear response signal that can ultimately be related to average metal film temperature.

For this project, some familiarity with operating digital oscilloscopes, pulse generators and Labview would be helpful (though not necessary). The project is open to both undergraduate and M.Eng students.

Related publication: E.J. Ching, C.T. Avedisian, M.J. Carrier, R.C. Cavicchi, J.R. Young, B.R. Land, “Bubble Nucleation of Highly Superheated Water on Back-side Etched Thin Film Platinum Membranes using a Low-Noise Bridge Circuit,” Int. J. Heat Mass Transf., 79, 82-93 (2014).

For more information please contact Prof. Tom Avedisian, cta2@cornell.edu.

Professor Bewley

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Experimental Shocklets in Compressible Turbulence

Bewley Applied Turbulence Lab is seeking motivated undergraduate students in mechanical and aerospace engineering to assist in the design, fabrication and data collection of an experiment that will detect the first experimental shocklets.

Shocklets are small shock waves that occur in compressible turbulent subsonic flows, and have recently been attributed to the cause of extreme vibrational, noise and drag effects on aircraft and jet engines. Thus far, shocklets have only been observed in numerical simulations. The objective of this experiment is to measure velocity, acceleration and pressure field characteristic values of shocklets using hot wire probes and camera particle tracking.

Undergraduate researchers may gain experience in hot wire anemometry, Lagrangian particle tracking, mechanical design, and more!

Interested students should email Greg Bewley, gpb1@cornell.edu.

 

Wind over cities and forests

The wind disperses pollen, pollutants, and heat, and it does so in a way that depends on the structure of the surfaces over which it blows. Over built environments like cities, the structure of the surface is rigid and immobile. In contrast vegetation is flexible and deforms under the pressure of the wind. Preliminary data indicate that this flexibility of the surface profoundly affects the transport properties of the wind. In this project you will help us to find out the differences between the wind over forests and cities.

Please contact Prof. Greg Bewley (gpb1) or Prof. Qi Li (ql56) to learn about this fascinating topic.

Professor Bouklas

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Computational modeling of soft/active materials

Fracture of heterogeneous lattice structures, towards resilient structural design

Professor Campbell

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Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL) M.Eng and Undergraduate Project Openings

The Autonomous Systems Lab seeks a small group of students (undergrad and/or MEng) to work with our PhD students on robotics applications and research. The two primary projects are Skynet and Modular Robotics.

Skynet Projects: 3+ students to work on advanced autonomous driving capabilities. Specific jobs include developing mapping software to map urban environments, using a combination of Google Maps/Streetview, survey data, and logged data from Skynet; sensing lane lines and cars from camera data using off the shelf MobilEye sensor; segmentation and processing of lidar data to detect people, cars, cyclists, lane lines, ground and other environmental features while driving.

Modular Robot Projects: 2+ students to work with a set of 10+ modules in a modular robotics project. Our group will focus on reconfiguring the modules to move and sense the environment; 1-2 modules will have an advanced Intel RGB-D sensor. A key project will be to develop an approach to sense/infer the pose of the robot, which would include both its configuration, location, and heading in the environment. Working with the hardware and a companion simulator are also key elements.

Background/interest in programming, computer architecture, and robotics is preferred. Students are expected to sign up for 3-4 credits of (…ECE/MAE/CS Independent study courses or MEng courses) during the semester, and thus commit at least 9-12 hours per week in the ASL.

How to apply: Go to cornell-asl.org and download an Application Form from the front page. Fill out and e-mail your completed application and/or resume/CV with the subject line: “[Spring ASL application] Your Name” and send to Professor Mark Campbell, mc288@cornell.edu.

Professor Desjardins

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Large Scale Numerical Simulation Projects in the Computational Thermofluids Lab

Thermofluids processes are key in many engineering systems as well as in nature. Our group focuses on using large-scale computational resources (104 compute cores on top 10 supercomputers in the world) to explore the complex physics of multiphase turbulent reacting flows in complex geometries. This document describes a variety of projects available to MAE students in our lab. These are typically targeted for two semesters, with a clear objective of complementing our daily research activity by exploring novel ideas that could ultimately become integral part of our research. 

Faculty Sponsor:
Olivier Desjardins (olivier.desjardins@cornell.edu)
Office: 250 Upson

Needed Skills:
Background in fluid mechanics, strong programming skills (Fortran, Matlab), familiarity with Unix/Linux environment, prior CFD experience desirable. 

Time Frame:
Typically two semesters, typically 6‐8 hours/week (3-4 credits/semester) 

Application: Please contact Prof. Desjardins by email with a CV, a short paragraph describing which project is of interest to you and why, and how many credits you are looking for.

1- Computational Investigation of Particle-Laden Flows Project

Project 1a –Simulation of cluster formation in turbulent risers

Circulating fluidized bed reactors were developed to improve the performance of traditional fluidized beds by using higher airflows to move the bed material resulting in a significant increase in the contact efficiency between phases. This increased kinetic energy causes the flow to become unsteady with large particle concentration fluctuations. Regions of densely packed particles called clusters form which greatly affect the overall flow behavior and mixing properties. In this project, the simulation code NGA (developed in Dr. Desjardins’ research group) will be employed to investigate cluster formation and dynamic. The student will focus first on learning to use large-scale computational resources and the NGA code. Then, numerical simulation of the experimental setup of He et al. (2008) will be performed. Simulation results will be compared with experimental data, and appropriate methodology for studying cluster formation and dynamics will be devised. 

Project 1b –Electrostatic effects in dense fluidized bed reactors

Bubbling dynamics in dense fluidized bed reactors are controlled by particle-particle interactions, typically in the form of collisions. However, it is common for particles to interact through other forces, such as electrostatic forces. This project aims at implementing electrostatic interactions between particles, and assessing their impact on bubbling dynamics of a simple fluidized bed

Project 1c –Computational modeling of slurries

Slurries are commonly found in chemical engineering, and correspond to a thick suspension of solid particles in a liquid. They exhibit interesting properties, but tend to be difficult to model. By combining the particle tracking capabilities of NGA with its capability to handle liquid gas flows, a model slurry composed of glass beads in oil will be modeled computationally. This model will be validated on various experiments such as flows on inclined planes. We will make use of what we learn in these simple flows to understand what is would take to model slurry injection, which is commonly used in coal gasification processes.

2- Computational Investigation of Liquid-Gas Flows

A significant fraction of our research activity is focused on turbulent gas-liquid flows, which play a critical role in many systems. For example, any liquid fueled air breathing propulsion device relies on liquid atomization to generate a fuel spray suitable for faster evaporation and combustion. 

Project 2a –Making a computational splash (a milk crown simulation)

When a droplet falls in a shallow pool, it forms a milk crown. While fairly well understood, this classical feature of liquid-gas flows remains extremely challenging to simulate. Following prior computational studies of this phenomenon, a series of increasingly realistic and refined simulations will be conducted. In particular, the impact of turbulence in the liquid and in the gas on the milk crown topology will be investigated.  Focus of this project will be on very large scale simulation of this phenomenon, scaling of numerical methods on very large number of processors, and high quality visualization (including stereoscopic 3D-rendering and physically accurate ray tracing).  

Project 2b –Droplet break-­up in a turbulent shear layer

High Weber number droplets tend to break catastrophically into much smaller droplets. While this has been studied in laminar flows as well as in homogeneous isotropic turbulence, droplet break-up in turbulent shear layers remains to be investigated. A canonical turbulent mixing layer will first be simulated, then a droplet will be super imposed on this flow and allowed to break up. Different conditions will be investigated, and the simulation outcome will be classified. In particular, size distribution of the children drops will be extracted.

3- Computational Combustion 

Project 3a –Differential diffusion effect in the presence of a strong recirculation region It was recently postulated by combustion experimentalists that differential diffusion effects (the fact that “smaller” molecules diffuse faster than “large” ones) could significantly modify the local equivalence ratio in a flame provided it is anchored by a strong recirculation zone, as can be expected in bluff body stabilized flames. This could have a noticeable impact in both simulations and experiments, and therefore should be further investigated. This project will aim at investigating this effect in a 2D bluff body stabilized hydrogen flame through direct numerical simulation. 

4-­ Turbulent Flows and Other Topics... 

Project 4a –Accounting for realistic terrain in large-­eddy simulations of wind farms This project aims at using a conservative immersed boundary algorithm to represent realistic terrain in a turbulent neutral atmospheric boundary layer simulation. An algorithm will be devised to transfer topographical data to the NGA code, and then various wall models will be implemented in the context of the immersed boundary technique. Wind turbines will be modeled using a simple actuator disk approach. Such an approach has the potential to allow for large eddy simulation of complete wind farms on realistic terrain, which could in turn enable the utilization of optimization algorithm for determining optimal wind turbine placement.
 

Professor Erickson

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Prof. Erickson has numerous projects available for undergraduates and M.Eng. students related to Mobile and Global Health technologies. Please see Prof. Erickson's website (http://www.ericksonlab.org) for an overview of research and contact him through email (de54@cornell.edu) for additional details.

 

A Device for Diagnosing Kaposi's Sarcoma

The Erickson Lab is engaged in the development of biomedical devices for solving healthcare problems in global settings. One of our key projects is the development of a device for diagnosing Kaposi's Sarcoma in Uganda. As part of this project we require an undergraduate or M.Eng student with experience to develop a small unit that can heat up a sample to just over 50°C and maintain the temperature for a couple of hours.

Experience with electronics and software programming is required and this represents an excellent opportunity for a student to learn about biomedical engineering.

Interested students should send an email along with a CV to David Erickson, de54@cornell.edu.

Professor Fisher

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Reconstruction of Thurston's Tests

Robert H. Thurston was the first president of ASME and presided over the Sibley School during a period of curriculum development and tremendous growth. Thurston’s collection of scientific equipment has recently been designated an ASME Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection. We are developing a display of this collection and are seeking a team of students to reconstruct Thurston’s tests and create a movie of the testing equipment in action. This project will be jointly supervised by Professors Moon and Fisher, and can be used of MAE 4900 or possibly MAE 4290 credit. The equipment relates to strength testing of materials and testing of lubricants. 

Contact: EMF4@cornell.edu, 315 Upson

Professor George

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A Systems Approach to Developing Attractive Sustainable Communities - Revitalizing a Rust Belt City Neighborhood 

A diverse group of about 10 Cornell faculty and students has been working on modeling various alternative ways of revitalizing parts of Rust Belt cities such as Utica, New York. We are taking a systems view to look at how one would develop an optimum strategy resulting in various kinds and amounts of renewable energy, retrofitting housing for energy efficiency, district heating, improvements to the urban landscape including parks and transportation access, etc. to make a run-down urban area attractive for investment and quality of life. In addition to the engineering and economic issues, this project involves gaining understanding of how people and societies think about the choices that will have to be made and how they decide on the relative overall attractiveness of the possible futures. 

We have a possible opening for another person to join the group who has the following characteristics: 
•    Interests in energy and sustainability 
•    Some knowledge of Python programming language or a willingness to learn Python quickly 
•    An interest in systems thinking 

Because this is an ongoing team project, a new person on the project will be able to learn a lot and come up to speed rapidly. 

This could be an MEng project or possibly an undergraduate project. It would probably be for one term but might be expanded into a two-term project. 

For further information, please contact Professor Al George, arg2@cornell.edu including a copy of an up to date resume.
 

Residential Energy Efficiency Project

Primary Faculty Advisor – Professor Al George (Mechanical Engineering and Systems Engineering)
Secondary Faculty Advisor – Professor Howard Chong (Resource Economics, School of Hotel
Management)

This project is suitable for someone with an interest in energy efficiency and sustainability, energy modeling, and use of real experimental data. Some background in heat transfer is required.

Current residential energy modeling is primarily based on simulated data; essentially estimating how much heat is lost from a house in the wintertime. The weakness is that energy loss has been very rarely actually measured in the past. In this project, we are continuing to develop a method that uses one (or a two or three) simple and inexpensive data loggers over a time period of about two weeks along with Weather Bureau data to estimate the actual thermal losses of houses in situ, including the effects of wind, house construction and how well sealed the house is.

On the most basic level, we log indoor temperature as a function of time and use Weather Bureau outdoor temperature readings to estimate a buildings basic thermal characteristic (e.g., the exponential decay time constant, see http://tinyurl.com/ChongLBL ). In the past, we have done this for several hundred houses in Ithaca showing the wide variation between houses. However varying wind, solar exposure, local outside temperature, wind, and occupant behavior complicate the results. Our present, fully tested method also measures a combination of the “thermal losses” of the houses envelope and the “thermal mass” of the structure and contents of the house.

In the project this year, we want to do analyses and experiments is on a method for separating out the thermal mass of the house. Once the basic level of analysis and its experimental verification is completed, we will carry out some more complete analyses. We would like to use these only slightly more complicated but still simple and very inexpensive measurements to explore other factors of interest. As one example, some houses can use multiple sensors in different rooms, permitting analysis of temperature coupling/interior thermal flows and the energy savings from closing the doors and not heating rooms, which are not in use. As another example, it should be possible to infer the impacts of solar gain or wind effects on infiltration from the temperature data. Lastly, the data could be used to do fault analysis for homes. Depending on your interests, there is scope to do interesting things and verify them experimentally. 

In terms of vision, this project is large. “Big Data” analytics with cheap sensors can solve some persistent problems in how energy efficiency works. The potential scope is $18Billion per year in energy savings. It has large implications for science and energy policy.

To apply, please set up a time to see me by sending your resume and a very brief “cover email” with your interest via email to Al George (arg2@cornell.edu).

Professor Hernandez

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Title: Microscopic Crack Formation in Cancellous Bone 

Project Duration: 1 semester team 
Individual or Team 

Introduction 
The Hernandez Research Group is studying the developing of microscopic cracks in human bone tissue during cyclic loading. 

Description 
Interested students will learn to cut bone specimens after loading and determine the location of microscopic cracks and other tissue damage and how it relates to the loading history. The project is ideal for students interested in being authors of scientific publications, studying biomaterials or considering a career in biomedical professions. 
hernandezresearch.com 

Contact information: cjh275@cornell.edu 
 

Title: Imaging Mechanical Failure Processes in Bone 

Multiple Projects, 1 student/project 
Project Duration: 1 semester 

Introduction 
The Hernandez Research Group is studying mechanical stress and strain distributions in spongy bone. 

Description 
The student will write software to make measurements of microscopic cracks and other tissue damage in three-dimensional images of cancellous bone. Students will learn to use advanced image processing techniques and visualization (Amira) and have the potential to use advanced nano-scale computed tomography. The ideal student will be proficient with computer programming (Matlab or C/C++).  Good grades on MAE 2120 projects is perfect (although more experience is useful as well). 

hernandezresearch.com 

Contact information: cjh275@cornell.edu

Professor Kirby

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The Kirby Research Group is seeking applications from undergraduate sophomores and juniors interested in research at the interface of cancer medicine and technology.

Current research in the group focuses on analysis of circulating tumor cells and tumor microvesicles using microfluidic devices for prognostic and diagnostic applications in prostate and pancreatic cancer.

Undergraduate researchers may gain research credit and research experience in cell culture, immunofluorescence staining, flow cytometry, PCR, microscopy, and microfluidic device design and operation.

If you are interested, please contact Professor Brian Kirby at bk88@cornell.edu with the subject line "UG research" and include a resume/CV.

For more information see: http://kirbyresearch.com/ctc

Professor Kress-Gazit

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Design and Implementation of Simple Controllers for Ollies and Sparks

Swarm robotics is the study of robotic systems consisting of large numbers of relatively simple agents whose local interactions with each other and with their environment lead to a collectively intelligent behavior. In this project, we are interested in navigation behaviors of the swarm and we would like to build an interface that allows a user to control navigation of robots in a swarm in an abstract manner and by providing a sequence of points each robot must reach during its execution.

The goal of this project is to design and implement controllers for Ollies and Sparks that allow the users to specify a sequence of destination points for the robots to follow and the control inputs that drive the robots from one point to the next one are automatically generated. This involves: 1) an interface that allows a user to specify the number of robots and a sequence of points for each robot, 2) controllers that derive each robot from one point to the next one in their corresponding sequence, 3) simulation of the scenario and validating correct execution of the controllers.

Professor: Hadas Kress-Gazit, hadaskg@cornell.edu.
Course number: CS4999/CS5999/MAE4900/MAE6900
Credits: 3-4
Contact: Salar Moarref (sm945@cornell.edu)

 

Robot Manufacturing Task Design

You will design and build all necessary hardware to model an assembly task that a robot would be required to perform in a low-production flexible manufacturing environment. The robot will be placed in front of a conveyor belt and have access to bins containing parts. New parts may come on the conveyor belt or be delivered into the bins by assistants. The robot will use these parts to assemble a product in a separate work surface, and deliver it via the conveyor belt when it is ready.

The focus of this project is designing the task, parts, conveyor belt, and all necessary electronics to operate it. This includes actuating the conveyor belt and implementing sensors in the environment, for example to signal to assistants that a bin is empty and needs more parts. Programming a Kuka Youbot to perform the task is available for larger teams that have significant experience in object manipulation.

Professor: Hadas Kress-Gazit, hadaskg@cornell.edu
Course number: CS4999/CS5999/MAE4900/MAE6900
Credits: 3-4
Contact: Adrian Boteanu (ab2633@cornell.edu)

 

Build a Localization Module for the Orbitix Spheros

In this project, you will design a localization module that can always stay on top of a Sphero for localization purpose when using the robot with the Vicon motion capture system. To use the motion capture system with a Sphero, first you need to build a distinct rigid model for the robot by placing some reflective Vicon markers on the robot. Yet, the Spheros rotate like spheres and thus we cannot place the markers permanently onto the robots. You will need to design an outer shell that can hold some Vicon markers and remain upright when the robot is rotating below it.

Professor: Hadas Kress-Gazit, hadaskg@cornell.edu
Course number: MAE4900/MAE6900
Credits: 2-3
Contact: Catherine Wong (kw358@cornell.edu)

 

Write a Program to Control a Youbot with a Joystick

KUKA Youbot is a holonomic mobile robot that is able to move on a flat surface. The diagram below shows a simplified map of our lab. The orange region represents the area where the Youbot will be stored. The red regions are potential obstacles on the floor. The green region is where we do experiment with the Youbot. The student will need to write a program (preferably a Robot Operating System package) that allows any user to remotely drive the Youbot with a provided joystick to navigate around our lab. In addition, the program will also serve as a safety guarantee to allow the user to fully stop the Youbot at any time by pressing a button on the joystick.

Professor: Hadas Kress-Gazit, hadaskg@cornell.edu
Course number: CS4999/CS5999/ MAE4900/MAE6900
Credits: 2-3
Contact: Jim Jing  (gj56@cornell.edu)

 

Design and Construction of a Gripper

Due to its evolution and development of opposable thumb, human hands can grasp and manipulate a variety of objects with strength and control. Gripping is such a trivial task that we do not even think much. However, this function is not as easy for a robot to perform because of some objects’ complex geometry, the torque need it to manipulate it and the fixed design of the gripper. Thus, a gripper is usually designed to manipulate a determined shape and size of an object and that is why there is a variety of gripper designs nowadays. This project will involve (a) designing an adaptive gripper to manipulate small objects with a variety of shapes (b) choosing the best manufacturing process, actuators, and sensors and (c) finally, assembly of the gripper and testing it with common objects.

Some directions with which you could start this project:
Design a compliant mechanism for the gripper
Use 3D printer to manufacture it

Requirements: CAD software knowledge
Professor: Hadas Kress-Gazit, hadaskg@cornell.edu
Course number: CS4999/CS5999/ MAE4900/MAE6900
Credits: 3-4
Contact: Thais Campos (tcd58@cornell.edu)

Professor Louge

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Prof. Louge is seeking undergraduate or MEng students to help with an experiment to be deployed on the International Space Station. The experiment brings a spherical drop of water to touch a porous medium, thus simulating the absorption of dew on desert sand surfaces. See previous involvement of Cornell students and our desert blog. The experiment will be prototyped in the Upson droptower of Prof. Avedisian.

Professor Peck

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Professor Peck is not currently offering undergraduate research.

Professor Pepiot

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Interested in working on the modeling of energy systems? Click here for a non-exhaustive list of projects and openings. Contact Prof. Pepiot [pp427@cornell.edu] if you'd like to get involved.