Knights’ Love For Bacon And Bots

Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 10, 2017) – With a name like Exploding Bacon, it’s hard to believe that the moniker was the second choice for a local youth robotics team led by alumna Elise Cronin-Hurley ’90 ’94MPA.

Organized Chaos was voted as the winner – conceptualized by a random name generator – but when the mother of the lead mentor doodled a pig riding a rocket as a potential logo, the team knew it needed to reverse its decision.

Now, 12 years since that day, Exploding Bacon is coming off its largest win in team history as a Chairman’s Award finalist at the 2017 Houston FIRST World Championships.

FIRST was founded nearly 30 years ago to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The Chairman’s Award is FIRST’s most prestigious award and is given to the teams that best represent a model for others to emulate.

“We are very proud because it’s definitely not just this year’s Exploding Bacon team who won that award. It’s built on a lot of people’s sweat and tears and a lot of effort and just a passion and a heart for it,” Cronin-Hurley said. “We’re very close knit group. Once you’re bacon, you’re always bacon.”

Cronin-Hurley had never heard of Exploding Bacon when she drove her son, Zachary, to the team’s headquarters for the first time in 2011. Unsure of what her teenager was signing up for, she wanted to learn more about the program, so she stuck around that first practice and has been there ever since.

Zachary, now a mechanical engineering major, is one of three current UCF students who volunteer with the team and said he has incorporated lessons and textbook materials from his coursework at UCF into his role as a mentor for Exploding Bacon.

Over the years, Cronin-Hurley’s role has also changed. She worked her way from serving as a volunteer parent to the lead of the FIRST Robotics Club program.

The political science, organizational communication and public administration alumna owns a freelance graphic and web design business. She said she never envisioned working with students or becoming a teacher. Yet, the relationships she has built over the years has kept her coming back.

“You really care about their individual progression and what they’re able to accomplish, and you want to help them,” she said. “I work all day on a computer for 8-10 hours and then I come here for 2-5 hours a night. This is what feeds me. Working with them feeds me.”

Dominic Canora, who attends Lake Highland Prep, is co-president of the 30-member team this year and will attend UCF in the fall as a freshman, choosing the university over Georgia Tech.

His fellow team members hail from 12 different schools or home school. They span five different counties, and some drive one hour each way to attend a four-hour practice session weekdays during competition season.

In a six-week span, the 30-member team builds and programs an industrial-size robot to play a difficult field game against more than 15,000 students from around the world.

Exploding Bacon’s robot, which was built in a six-week span, at the FIRST World Championships | Courtesy of Exploding Bacon

In addition to its annual competition, Exploding Bacon established the #FIRSTLikeAGirl video campaign to share the stories of the women and girls on the team to inspire and encourage girls everywhere to pursue their interests in STEM.

Alexis Bishop is a UCF student and a mentor on the team who has eagerly helped develop the program.

“I take pride in being a role model for girls on the team,” she said. “It’s been a really great thing to be a part of. It’s really important to me that they know if I can do this, they can definitely do this.”

Exploding Bacon also participates in an average of 30-40 demonstrations and outreach events each year, and in this year alone has totaled 1,130 volunteer hours.

The team holds STEM summer camps and has created an international outreach program that provides Spark science kits with reusable experiments and instructions for students with few resources to help them develop problem solving skills in their own communities.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make the world be a better place,” Cronin-Hurley said. “Everybody needs to pitch in, so if we can help spark those problem solving skills in kids in their own countries, then maybe we can help build everything from the ground up.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Dec. 14, 2015

lip-synch2
Wondering what this pic is all about? Check out No. 5 on our list!

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. For only the second time in its history, all three branches of UCF SGA’s Senate are led by women. The 48th Student Senate’s executive branch is led by Student Body President Cait Zona, the legislative branch is led by Speaker of the Senate Meghan Kircher, and the judicial branch is led by Chief Justice Taylor Scimeca. Congratulations, ladies!
  2. Throughout final exams week, which finally comes to an end tomorrow, the Student Union, Student Academic Resource Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and UCF Police’s Safe Escort Patrol Service have been helping students ease some of the stress that can come with test taking (and the holidays).
  3. UCF chemistry Ph.D. candidate David Nash, ’11, MS14, and his team, which is developing a smartphone-based handheld drug system for law enforcement applications, was selected to further advance their innovation at the national level through the National Science Foundation I-Corps program.
  4. Last week in Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Rick Scott presented the Champion of Service Award to UCF mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate Albert Manero, ’12, MSAE14, for his work with Limbitless Solutions.
  5. A group of student-athletes is spreading Christmas cheer with the help of Mariah Carey, some jolly dance moves, and a video that’s making its way around the Internet.

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Michelle Akers Award

B+G-MichelleAkers-LimbitlessSolutions
UCF President John Hitt presented the UCF Alumni Association’s 2015 Michelle Akers Award to Limbitless Solutions’ executive director, Albert Manero, and the rest of his team.
Limbitless Solutions

The UCF Alumni Association honored Limbitless Solutions with its 2015 Michelle Akers Award at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Limbitless Solutions, which manufactures personalized bionics and solutions for disabilities, is a nonprofit organization founded by UCF students, which is dedicated to building a generation of innovators who use their skills and passion to improve the world around them.

This is the first time the Michelle Akers Award has been presented to students, and to a group. It’s the university’s highest award given to alumni who have brought international, positive attention to UCF through their accomplishments.

Previous winners include:

  • Olympic gold-medalist volleyball player Phil Dalhausser, ’02 (2009)
  • “Curb Your Enthusiasm” actress Cheryl Hines, ’90 (2008)
  • Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap, ’05 (2004)
  • “Blair Witch Project” creators, Robin Cowie, ’93; Gregg Hale, ’95; Mike Monello, ’92; Dan Myrick, ’93; and Ed Sanchez, ’93 (1999)
  • 1991 & 1999 Women’s World Cup champion soccer player Michelle Akers, ’89 (1996)

The alumni association recognized the Limbitless Solutions team for its life-changing, innovative solutions it has provided to children.

With the help of actor Robert Downey Jr., they presented then 6-year-old Alex Pring with an “Iron Man”-themed bionic arm — a video (view in “Other Videos” below) that has more than 53 million views. And, the team’s work has brought about media opportunities in more than 150 countries, totaling more than three billion impressions on social and conventional media for Limbitless Solutions and UCF.

The team plans to bring 75 bionic limbs, and books, to displaced Syrian children this year, but that’s just the beginning of what they hope will be a broad-based, global, humanitarian effort.

Learn more about Limbitless Solutions:

Other Videos:



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.