UCF Professor Lands $1.1 Million Grant,
Pioneers New Technology

subith-vasu-lab-student
Graduate student Owen Pryor shows undergraduate student Justin Urso how to operate
the shock tube in Subith Vasu’s lab.

By Zenaida Kotala
Assistant Director, UCF Communications and Marketing

The University of Central Florida is one of only two universities in the nation to land a federal grant that could revolutionize the technology used to run power plants.

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded UCF mechanical and aerospace engineering assistant professor Subith Vasu $1.1 million to investigate how power plants might be able to abandon the use of water to generate energy from steam and instead use supercritical CO2, a fluid state of carbon dioxide.

Supercritical carbon dioxide is an attractive alternative to government agencies and private companies for several reasons. If the technology can be developed to make the switch, it could mean less use of water — a natural resource in short supply in some parts of the nation. Commercial companies are also interested because supercritical CO2 is more efficient at transporting heat — a key principle, which power plants use to generate energy. Better efficiency equals less cost and potentially a bigger profit margin. In addition, it is possible to reduce the size of power-generating turbines by using sCO2 instead of steam. Using sCO2 as a working fluid enables carbon capture and storage) in certain cycle systems. In those systems, the power plant exhaust CO2 is stored underground instead of released into the atmosphere.

Georgia Tech was the only other university to earn money from the Department of Energy’s University Turbine System Research Program for research in this field.

“There are not many universities conducting research in this area and we already have a head start in the world,” Vasu said. “We’re working diligently on turbine technology and Florida is a major hub for the industry. Our goal is to maximize power-generation efficiency, reduce emissions, and become leaders in this area.”

Siemens, Alstom, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems among others are the key players in the industry, and UCF works with most of them on ongoing research through its Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research. The center in the College of Engineering and Computer Science is headed by professor Jayanta Kapat.

Vasu is using the grant to develop a combustion computer model for the design of combustors, where fuel is burned at power plants. The model will provide insights into the processes that occur during the burning stage. Once a model is verified, he and his team will disseminate this tool to industry so they can design optimum sCO2 combustors.

Vasu’s broad areas of expertise include alternative fuels for propulsion and internal combustion engines, shock wave physics, laser diagnostics and sensor technology. He has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and has published multiple papers in each of his areas of expertise. He is also working with several international researchers on a variety of research aimed at everything from helping improve the efficiency of airplane engines to developing sensitive sensors that can detect toxic chemicals aboard commercial spacecraft.

Vasu’s team includes about a dozen graduate students including Owen Pryor who is working on this project. There are also several undergraduate students, many of whom have interned for engineering and space companies such as Space X, Siemens and others. His former graduate students are employed by major gas turbine companies.

This article originally appeared Sept. 8, 2015, on UCF Today.

Thinking Small Wins UCF Big NASA Project

colwell-NASA

By Zenaida Kotala
Assistant Director, UCF Communications and Marketing

Sometimes thinking small can get you a big win. That’s certainly the case for a team of physicists at the University of Central Florida.

UCF was one of only two universities selected to prepare an experiment for a miniaturized satellite mission as part of NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program. Twenty-two projects were reviewed and only two were selected for flight, including UCF’s Q-PACE project. The project is a milestone for UCF. It is the first time the university has been selected to design, build and operate a satellite from start to finish.

The Q-PACE project aims to gather scientific knowledge about the formation of planets, from the Earth to the growing number of “exoplanets” discovered orbiting other stars.

Physics professor Joshua Colwell and his team of fellow researchers and students have been building space experiments for several years now and have gotten pretty good at it. They have put several experiments aboard Zero G flights and more recently on the International Space Station. The team has three other projects in the pipeline for commercial suborbital rockets.

“Yes, we’ve been busy,” Colwell said from the Center for Microgravity Research at UCF. “Q-PACE will simulate the very early solar system, when the particles that would eventually grow to become planets were no more than a few millimeters in size. The very gentle particle collisions that Q-PACE will study will also help NASA as it prepares to send astronauts to visit an asteroid with negligible gravity, much like the conditions in Q-PACE.”

The experiment builds on the knowledge gained from earlier research and can’t be duplicated on Earth with much success because of the need for little to no gravity to get accurate results. While one part of NASA and the commercial sector work on new big rockets to get man back into space, projects like those aboard the tiny satellites are becoming important in the quest to be ready to continue exploring the solar system.

“CubeSats are part of a growing technology that’s transforming space exploration,” said David Pierce, senior program executive for suborbital research at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “CubeSats are small platforms that enable the next generation of scientists and engineers to complete all phases of a complete space mission during their school career. While CubeSats have historically been used as teaching tools and technology demonstrations, today’s CubeSats have the potential to conduct important space science investigations as well.”

CubeSats are built to standard specifications of 1 unit (U), which is equal to 10x10x10 centimeters (about 4x4x4 inches). CubeSats can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size, weighing about 3 pounds per U. They often are launched into orbit as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets, significantly reducing costs.

Other participants on the UCF grant are: Postdoctoral Research Associate Julie Brisset, Assistant Professor Adrienne Dove and Electrical Engineer Doug Maukonen, all from UCF, as well as graduate and undergraduate students at UCF. Associate Professor of Engineering Larry Roe from the University of Arkansas is also a co-investigator, and Professor Jürgen Blum from the University of Braunschweig in Germany is a collaborator. TheFlorida Space Institute is supporting the project as well.

The grant is worth $415,000 and Colwell expects to have the experiment ready to go in about 18 months with a potential launch in 2017.

This article originally appeared Sept. 8, 2015, on UCF Today.

GRAMMY-nominated Artist Ed Sheeran Visits UCF for Exclusive Behind-the-Mic Music Session

Ed Sheeran presented a check for $10,000 from Chegg to UCF Department of Music faculty (left to right) Jeff Moore, director; and Dave Schreier, assistant director of bands. The money will be used to fund music student scholarships. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Huie)
Ed Sheeran presented a $10,000 check from Chegg to (left to right) Jeff Moore, director of the UCF Department of Music;
Tina Fleming, marketing assistant for the UCF School of Performing Arts; and Dave Schreier, assistant director of bands for the
UCF Department of Music. The money will be used to fund music student scholarships.
(Photo courtesy of Nicole Huie)

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Hundreds of students lined up outside the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center on Monday, May 4, for an intimate performance by GRAMMY-nominated artist Ed Sheeran. This special event was made possible thanks to Chegg’s #EdOnCampus social media contest, which UCF won in March, giving 300 lucky students an exclusive music class with the superstar, as well as a $10,000 grant for the UCF Department of Music.

The contest launched in late January and was open to all college and high school campuses across the nation. In just one month, more than 225,000 votes were cast by students representing more than 8,000 schools, generating 65 million social media impressions.

During his Music 101 class, “Professor” Sheeran performed acoustic versions of his hits “Don’t,” “I See Fire” and “Thinking Out Loud” in between answering students’ questions — everything from his favorite song he’s ever written (“the newest because it’s the most fresh”), to his dream collaboration (“Beyoncé,” with whom he got to perform at a Stevie Wonder tribute in February), to his advice on getting over stage fright (“just do it”). One student even asked him for a date, to which he immediately replied, “Where do you want to go?”

It was an unforgettable afternoon for all of the students who got to attend, and a great day for the UCF music program.

(Photo courtesy of Bianca Sabrkhani, '08)
Ed Sheeran played three songs on acoustic guitar during an exclusive performance and Q&A session for 300 UCF students.
(Photo courtesy of Bianca Sabrkhani, ’08)

More Info

See the social media response, with more photos and videos of Ed Sheeran’s visit to UCF: Twitter | Instagram

Ed Sheeran is a six-time-GRAMMY-nominated, multi-platinum singer/songwriter. At 24 years old, the British-born artist has seen his latest album, “x” (pronounced multiply), go to No. 1 in 14 countries, including the U.S. and his native, U.K., where it was both the biggest- and fastest-selling album of 2014. “x,” which features back-to-back platinum hits “Sing” and “Don’t,” as well as the current single, “Thinking Out Loud,” was nominated for Album of the Year at the 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards and won Best British Album at the 2015 BRIT Awards. This summer, he’ll perform for three sold-out nights at London’s Wembley Stadium.