As tour group members examined a long black strip of carbon fiber, Fernon Clark, NORDAM manufacturing engineering manager, explained that his company is one of four in the world licensed to use the proprietary material.
“Be careful not to touch the edges. You can get splinters,” he said.
Eleven college students from universities throughout the U.S. recently were guided through one of NORDAM’s facilities where engineers design proprietary aerospace interiors and structures for companies such as Boeing, Gulfstream, United Airlines and many more.
The college students are the inaugural cohort of the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa Research Experience for Undergraduates, a materials science and engineering program designed to provide an understanding of how research moves from an idea in the laboratory to commercialization.
The interdisciplinary summer program is funded by a $405,208 grant from the National Science Foundation and co-funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
“Our program is different from many other summer research programs is that we are trying to show them how a research idea is taken out into the commercial world,” said Dr. Ranji Vaidyanathan, Varnadow professor of materials science and engineering. “We want to give them exposure to local companies and local entrepreneurs so that they can appreciate how an idea can become a reality.”
Vaidyanathan and Dr. Pankaj Sarin, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, are co-coordinators for the program.
Jonathan Thompson, an OSU-Tulsa senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he was attracted to the program because of the interdisciplinary focus of materials science. Researchers in the field study the structure of materials and develop new composites.
“Materials science has a lot of disciplines, such as chemistry, physics and engineering, and I am interested in interdisciplinary work,” he said. “The research projects were also a big draw for me.”
Participants are conducting research projects in aerospace, energy and biomaterials engineering at OSU-Tulsa’s Helmerich Research Center during the nine-week program.
Thompson said the NORDAM tour was enlightening.
“I like how they used ideas and were able to manufacture them. They started with base materials and the end product was different frames and structures,” he said.
OSU-Tulsa mechanical engineering student Alfredo Oviedo said he was excited to have the opportunity to work with highly esteemed professors, such as Vaidyanathan and Raj Singh.
Vaidyanathan holds 16 patents and has developed six different products from concept stage to commercial stage including Aquacore™ and Aquacast™ water-soluble tooling materials commercially currently sold to Airbus, Boeing, Eurocopter and Lockheed.
Raj Singh, Ph.D., Williams Companies Distinguished Chair in Energy Technology, leads the School of Materials Science and Engineering. He holds 25 U.S. patents and helped create a sodium-sulfur battery used in the world’s largest battery storage system at the Hitachi Automotive systems factory in Japan and by American Electric Power. He has also developed advanced ceramic composites being commercialized by GE for aircraft engines.
Other REU program mentors are materials science and engineering faculty Drs. Do Young Kim, Jim Smay and Nirmal Govindaraju and engineering, architecture and technology faculty Drs. Raman Singh, Jay Hanan and Khaled Sallam. Dr. Craig Watters from the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship and the Spears School of Business is also a mentor.
“The tour was absolutely invaluable when it comes to looking at the application of composite materials because composites are the future,” Oviedo said.
Vaidyanathan said the tour at NORDAM was a great experience for the REU fellows.
“This is a company doing cutting-edge development of products, like the Boeing Dreamliner window frame. It started from scratch. Students got to see how NORDAM took that idea, did the research to demonstrate it can work and actually brought it to production,” he said. “Students got to see the whole gamut from development to actual manufacturing.”
In addition to Thompson and Oviedo, fellows are Jakeb Baldridge, Missouri University of Science and Technology; Heyinn Rho, Georgia Institute of Technology; Jonathan Gillen, North Carolina State University; Esther Sun, Case Western Reserve University; Elena Davidson, Kansas State University; Cesar Gomez, Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, California; Aaron Dolan and Greg Dillard, OSU; and Scott Wilson, Cameron University.