by Acadia Otlowski
A student stands ankle-deep in snow outside of the engineering building, a propane torch in her hand. In her other gloved hand, she holds a metal cylinder, heating it to remove residue from the last set of tests.
This cylinder is a just a piece of the mold that the team of four engineering students are using to create solid fuel for their research in biofuel testing.
Inside, team leader Huy Nguyen breaks off pieces of beeswax and places them on a scale, then measures out a smaller amount of aluminum powder to mix in. The fuel that the students were creating was 10 percent aluminum and 90 percent beeswax, following the specifications laid out by the professor leading the research.
The students then place the ingredients in a giant melting pot, after which it is a waiting game. The ingredients take about an hour to fully melt. The molten mix is then poured into molds, where it will harden into the cylinder shape that is used for testing.
The students are part of a larger research endeavor headed by engineering professor, Viatcheslav Naoumov.
Naoumov taught aerospace engineering for 15 years in Russia before moving to the United States to teach at the University of Tennessee. He was there for seven years before coming to Central Connecticut.
In 2009, Naoumov said that he was approached by a couple of students who asked him to help with their research. It took the original team about a half a semester to even complete the drawings of the tester engine, said Naoumov, because they needed to be incredibly specific with the dimensions.
Then it took some time for the team to gather all the parts they needed. Some were fabricated by the university, while others had to be made elsewhere. Many of the parts were built with the help of sponsors or donations from local companies.
The team also had to come up with a method of recording the results, which took some time. It wasn’t until mid-2010 that the team actually started to get results.
It took the most money for the initial setup, according to Naoumov, but the project still isn’t cheap to run, costing about $3,000 to $4,000 every year.
The research costs so much because not only do the students need money for the fuel materials, but also because the thermal couplers need replacing every couple of tests, which adds up fairly quickly over time.
The current team is working with mostly beeswax, while the previous team last semester focused mainly on paraffin. The team has found that the flame is a lot bigger with beeswax, but there are some issues that they are trying to resolve.
Not only has the team had issues with the fuel cracking, they also had issues with “sputtering,” which essentially means that the beeswax is melting before it combusts, impacting the accuracy of the results. Since the melted beeswax isn’t actually combusting, it affects the calculations of other variables, including thrust.
Additionally, the thermal couplers were too low. The team will have to redo the tests because of these issues.
Adam Mocarski hopes to present the teams’s research at the annual SciTech conference hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, in Kissimmee, FL . Over the years, research has resulted in the publishing of seven papers. The first paper was published in 2011, said Naoumov, who also added that the team had to wait to get consistent results before attempting to publish a paper.
But the benefits of this research go beyond the research itself. Naoumov said that the program attracts the best and brightest students, which not only helps the research, but helps the students, as evidenced by the two female students on the team, Elvira del Carre Patallo and Beatriz Alcalde Santiago. These same students are often the ones that are going back to school for their master’s degrees and Ph.D’s.
One of the exchange students, del Carre Patallo, is looking to go to graduate school in the United States, but wants to go for her master’s in a program like business. According to Naoumov, most of those on the team end up at other universities, as CCSU doesn’t offer graduate degrees in engineering.
There are five photos of the previous teams hanging on the walls of Naoumov’s office, representing the five different teams that have worked on the research over the last five semesters.
“I like it because I can look at their faces and, of course, remember their names,” said Naoumov about the photos, which contain the signatures of each of the students who worked on the project.
Naoumov said he feels that the experience the students get is just as important as the research itself. He hopes that these students will help lead the way in the future.
“We need more researchers and more scientists,” said Naoumov. “And that’s exactly what I try to do.”