Aerospace Seniors Achieve Perfect 4.0

Join us in honoring David Dowdell and Thomas Nilles, two Aerospace Engineering students who are graduating with an overall 4.0 grade-point average. These outstanding students have never received less than an “A” in any of their courses. On May 4th, they were honored by President Harroz at a ceremony for their accomplishments.

David Dowdell’s favorite part of AME at OU is the small class sizes; being able to get to know his classmates. Dowdell majored in Aerospace engineering because he wanted to study engineering and believed aerospace to be the most exciting option.

“As far as strategies for success go,” Dowdell said, “I think what helped me the most was trying to get every assignment done early if possible. Even it wasn’t possible, the extra time I’d spend thinking about it usually helped me understand it.”

His plans after graduation are to start working for Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, CA in August.

The first piece of advice he’d give to any student is, “to avoid procrastinating.” Dowdell says, “The second is to be willing to learn more than just what the classes teach. Engineering requires it.”

Thomas Nilles says, “the engineering projects are [his] favorite part of AME here at OU. Almost every engineering course [he’s] taken has had a project associated with it. They are stressful, but they are also fun and rewarding.”

As a kid, Nilles loved to play with Legos. He thinks that is what fostered his development as both a creative person and a builder. Flight was always mysterious and magical to Nilles. His desire to understand what makes aircraft fly really cemented his desire to be an aerospace engineer.

Nilles said, his, “calculator and 5-hour energy helped [him].” Far more important than those things, he says, are the people who helped him. He has had, “so many great professors here at OU that have been as invested in [his] success as [he’s] been.” Nilles appreciates that they go above and beyond for their students. He says his “dad has also been a huge part of [his] success.” He is not only his dad but also his friend and mentor. He has been there for Nilles in the toughest times. Nilles says he, “could not have succeeded here at OU without him.” Finally, he says he owes a great deal to his daughter who has been a constant source of joy in his life. She keeps him grounded and he loves her so much.

Nilles says for him, “it’s time to start building.” He’s had a lot of fun here at OU, but he looks forward to getting back to work. He said he’s, “keeping [his] fingers crossed for the right job to come along soon.”

“[His] advice for other students is to get into the right mindset. You are not here to get A’s. You are not here to get a degree. You are not here to get paid the big bucks someday. You are here to get an education. Education is a team sport so be a team player. Work with your professors, not against them. Help your classmates when you can. Get involved in the competition teams and take some friends with you to the meetings.”

Parisa Marashizadeh Receives Nancy Mergler and Bullard Dissertation Completion Fellowship

AME is proud to share that Parisa Marashizadeh, a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering, has received the Nancy Mergler and Bullard Dissertation Completion Fellowship! This fellowship is awarded to doctoral candidates who are in the final phases of dissertation writing.

Marashizadeh is originally from Iran, where she received her master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Polytechnic University in Tehran in 2015. She started her Ph.D. program here at OU in 2017 where she began work with Dr. Yingtao Liu in multi-scale modeling of hybrid fiber composites.

Her work as a graduate teaching assistant at AME, “helped [her] to gain teaching skills essential to [her] academic career.” Marashizadeh also enjoys, “working with the kind and supportive staff, faculty members, and students.”

During her research, she has evaluated the interfacial properties of ZnO nanowires hybrid fiber-reinforced composite structures numerically at multiple length scales. The applications of fiber-reinforced composites have increased significantly in different engineering fields due to their outstanding properties, such as lightweight and high strength. For example, 50% of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is made of fiber composites. The strength and toughness of composites greatly depend on the fiber-matrix adhesion (interface) properties through multiple length scales.

“With the [Nancy Mergler and Bullard Dissertation Completion Fellowship],” Marashizadeh says, “she has time in the last semester to, dedicate to completing [her] dissertation.” She says, “every Ph.D. student struggles with the last semester, it’s difficult to complete your dissertation, prepare your defense plan, and look for a PostDoc position.” She’s very grateful for the award and would like to thank Dr. Liu for supporting her. Marashizadeh plans to receive her Ph.D. in the Spring of 2022,  and afterward, she hopes to find a PostDoc position.

Marashizadeh’s advice to students is to, “fall in love with what you are doing and try your best because each of us can do a lot we just need to be focused and try.”

Below is a full summary of Marashizadeh’s research importance and accomplishments. Congratulations Parisa!

The applications of fiber-reinforced composites have increased significantly in different engineering fields due to their outstanding properties, such as lightweight and high strength. For example, 50% of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is made of fiber composites. The strength and toughness of composites greatly depend on the fiber-matrix adhesion (interface) properties through multiple length scales. One novel approach to enhance the fiber/polymer adhesion properties is growing Zinc Oxide (ZnO) nanowires on the fiber surface. It is very critical for industrial companies to evaluate the impact of hybrid composites on the performance of the structures before considering them for production. However, due to the complexity of the theoretical and experimental analysis of such a hybrid structure, especially the nanomaterials, numerical analysis is required to understand this system’s efficiency on the performance of the composite.

In this research work, a numerical approach is developed to evaluate the enhanced properties of the hybrid composite structures by breaking the complicated system into multiple levels and investigate the properties of each level separately. There are four different length scales in the hybrid composites, which can be summarized as (a) ZnO nanowires with various diameters and lengths at the nano-scale, (b) the intermediate composition in which ZnO nanowires are grown on the fiber and embedded in the matrix (micro-scale), (c) the adhesion bonding between the fiber and the matrix (meso-scale), (d) the overall properties of the hybrid composite, the related failure analysis and performance of the structure at different loading conditions (macro-scale). Each of the mentioned length scales has its specific theories and properties that should be explored to evaluate the hybrid structure’s performance. Multi-scale modeling is developed in my research to make a bridge between the analysis at different scales to estimate the general behavior of structures containing materials at different length scales. The overall goal of multi-scale modeling techniques for hybrid composites is to combine the mechanical theories at different length scales and understand their static and dynamic behaviors under various loads and environmental conditions.

The dissertation elements and the completion plan is based on the steps in the multi-scale approach. According to the research plan, the dissertation is categorized into two main parts. The first part, which covers around 60% of the total dissertation, consists of the micro-scale, meso-scale, and macro-scale analysis. These three parts are completed, and the results are published in three journal articles and two conference papers.

The second part weighing around 40% of the dissertation, is based on the atomistic modeling and analysis of the hybrid composite materials. According to Marashizadeh’s research plan, the nano-scale analysis itself is divided into two sections. In the first part, the atomic structure of a single ZnO nanowire, polymer matrix chain, and Carbon fiber is simulated. The materials are assembled, and Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulation is employed to evaluate the adhesion strength between graphene and the matrix. This analysis part is completed, and a journal article has been prepared based on the obtained results. The article has been submitted and is under review. In the second part of the nano-scale section, the effect of multiple ZnO nanowires’ diameters and lengths on improving the interfacial adhesion between fiber and enhancement layer are being explored. She plans to complete this section by July 2021 and prepare another journal paper based on the outcome. Then, Marashizadeh will combine all the numerical analyses performed at different levels and develop a multi-scale framework to report the impact of grown ZnO nanowires on the properties of the hybrid composites.


Highlighting Dr. Miller and Dr. Fagg’s Research Project: Progressive Locomotor Learning in Infants at Risk for Cerebral Palsy

Dr. David Miller and Dr. Andrew Fagg are working with researchers and children all over the country to develop a device called the Self-Initiated Prone Progression Crawler (SIPPC) that they hope will be a new treatment for cerebral palsy. The project is called, “Progressive Locomotor Learning in Infants at Risk for Cerebral Palsy.”

Pictured is a child on the SIPPC 3 developed during a NSF NRI grant in 2015. The PIs were: Andy Fagg, David Miller, Lei Ding, and Thubi Kolobe. The grad students from AME that worked on this were Michael Nash and Mustafa Ghazi, both of whom have since graduated (Ph.D. in 2018). Currently, Mustafa Ghazi, as a PostDoc is working on the current version of the SIPPC for the most recent grant. Photo by Hugh Scott.

The research project was given its first grant in 2013, and the researchers (including undergraduate, graduate, and Postdoc students) were ready to create the SIPPC. According to Dr. Miller, “people are at risk for cerebral palsy, but there isn’t a diagnosis that’s done in the age group [they’re] dealing with.” There are, “children at risk for cerebral palsy because they’ve had some sort of trauma either during the birth process or while in the womb.” It’s usually that they’re not moving normally. So, to test the children’s mobility, they evaluate two different groups on the SIPPC. One group has a set of infants that are developing typically, and the other group has infants at risk for cerebral palsy.

Researchers are working on different aspects of this project from coast to coast. In Philadelphia, they bring in and work with all participating patients. In California, they are developing a set of sensors that are protocol for random leg movements in the first few months of child development. Here at OU, they’re developing and testing the SIPPC, “and the plan is to send that off to Philadelphia.”

Pictured is a child on the SIPPC 3 developed during a NSF NRI grant in 2015. The PIs were: Andy Fagg, David Miller, Lei Ding, and Thubi Kolobe. The grad students from AME that worked on this were Michael Nash and Mustafa Ghazi, both of whom have since graduated (Ph.D. in 2018). Currently, Mustafa Ghazi, as a PostDoc is working on the current version of the SIPPC for the most recent grant. Photo by Hugh Scott.

The SIPPC has gone through several revisions. Currently, the group is on its fourth version of the motorized skateboard called SIPPC-4. It’s a motorized skateboard the kids can lie down on, but it measures all the forces of the infants. It has a force-torque sensor, wheel encoders, a few computers, and some cameras onboard. The information automatically goes to a person’s phone or iPad. It also gives an interface to a therapist, so they can control it by getting it out of corners or stopping it if the kid is crying.

“The standard mode is where the kid actually touches the ground and tries to crawl as the device amplifies and quantizes the child’s movements.” So even if they’re a little weak, they get the idea of exploring and having self-determination. There is also an automated learning component.  “Even if the child does not touch the ground, but they make the motions as if they are crawling,” the device will work with them. The kids wear a suit that contains several position sensors so the robot can measure the arm and leg positions and movements on the SIPPC.” This way the automated system can coordinate the robot’s movements with the child’s actions.

Dr. Miller said he’s, “hopeful that this research will, probably in the long term, provide some benefit to these subjects or others with a similar condition.”

AME Hosts Annual Graduate Program Meet and Greet

Saturday, February 20th, we hosted our annual AME Graduate Program Meet and Greet. The slides and Zoom video can be found below if you were unable to make it to the event.

Link to the Powerpoint presentation: Workshop for undergraduate recruitment – 1-14-2021

Link to the complete Zoom meeting:

Highlighting Dr. Cai’s Research

This week, we are highlighting Dr. Jie Cai’s research in the Smart Buildings Laboratory.  His research topics include Design and Control of Phase Change Material-Based Energy Storage, Control and Dynamic Modeling of Vapor-Compression System, Building Thermal Equipment for Power Frequency Regulation, Building Thermal Loads for Power Voltage Control, and Controls to Enable Sustainable Communities.

Dr. Cai directs the Smart Buildings Laboratory which houses a fully instrumented psychrometric chamber that can accommodate testing of thermal systems under accurately controlled environmental conditions. The facility is being actively utilized in support of several research projects related to ultra-high efficiency desalination technologies enabled by low-temperature refrigerant cycles, advanced controls of variable-speed heat pump equipment, and grid-interactive efficient buildings. The research efforts are currently supported by DOE, APRA-E, and leading HVAC manufacturers.

Senior Pre-Capstone Teams Build Autonomous Robots


This year’s winning robot.

This year’s senior Pre-Capstone teams were tasked with going through an extensive design process to design, build, and test an autonomous robot that could navigate around a predetermined track. This process was designed to mimic a companies design process following the required paperwork, design decisions, CAD, FEA, and ultimately working prototype.

Teams came up with one-off solutions such as 3D printed parts, wireless controlled robots, mechanical steering mechanisms, and an array of custom electrical components. This exercise helped the mechanical engineers broaden their skills and ideas while teaching students how to work through a complicated design process. The winning team as pictured above used a custom cardboard chassis to save on weight and 3D printed guide rails to keep the robot from hanging up on the wall. The team used high torque servo motors as a drive mechanism to maximize the weight they could carry while still remaining relatively fast. The video below shows the second-place team’s mechanical approach that used Legos and motors to quickly move around the track while rubbing against the wall. This team focused on using a simple solution to accomplish the same goal and minimizing design time.

All of the teams did well implementing several different design philosophies to highlight the importance of diverse ideas in engineering.

Below are the robots from other teams.



Boomer Rocket Team and Sooner Off-Road Begin Their Thousands Strong Campaigns!

This month, Boomer Rocket Team and Sooner Off-Road kicked off their Thousands Strong Campaigns! These student teams want your support to help them get to competition.

Sooner Off-Road is a student team that designs, manufactures, and races an off-road vehicle for the Baja SAE competition. They are hoping to raise $7,000 before their Thousands Strong campaign ends on December 5, 2020, at 11:55 p.m. The money donated to them will go towards the construction of the vehicle, software used for design, and travel expenses. As of today, they have reached 53% of their goal, and they could use your help! Donate to Sooner Off-Road by visiting their Thousands Strong website:

Boomer Rocket Team is a group of multidisciplinary engineering students dedicated to the design, construction, and launch of high powered rockets. BRT hopes to raise $3,000 before their Thousands Strong campaign ends on December 11, 2020, at 11:55 p.m. The money they receive will be used to purchase materials and send students to the Argonia Cup in Kansas. So far, they have reached 54% of their goal, and they need your help! Visit BRT’s Thousands Strong website to donate:

Thank you for your support!

Research in Flexible Sensors

In Spring 2020, AME granted several Undergraduate Research Opportunity Awards (UROA) to faculty and undergraduate students. Dr. Yingtao Liu and his student, Vincent Webster, received one of these awards, which Phillips 66 sponsored.  Vincent is a senior in aerospace engineering.  About his research, Vincent writes:

My research consisted of developing flexible sensors used in several applications including human motion detection, sensor arrays, soft robotics, biomechanics, structural health monitoring, and prosthetic devices. These sensors measure the force applied to them using a technique called piezoresistivity. Piezoresistivity is characterized as the change in electrical resistance of the material due to an applied deformation. Highly flexible piezoresistive sensors typically decrease their electrical resistance during an applied load. The decrease in resistance occurs due to the variation of microstructures and properties of the materials under loads. To fabricate these sensors, flexible PDMS polymer, was used as the bulk material of the sensor. Carbon nanotubes were uniformly dispersed within the polymer to form the electrical conductive network microstructures. Sugar particles were then added during the fabrication process to create a mixture of carbon nanotube, PDMS, and sugar combination. The sample is then submerged in water to ideally release all the sugar from the sample. The traditional sugar removal method using water can take days to completely remove all the sugar particles. To reduce this extraction time, we would submerge the samples in water and microwave them. This would rapidly increase the temperature of the samples within a minute and the samples would expand and allow water to saturate the sample, leading to the rapid removal of all sugar particles and forming desired open-cell microstructures.

This research built a solid foundation for the rapid manufacturing of piezoresistive polymer foams for broad sensing applications. Our preliminary results have demonstrated that the developed method is able to effectively control materials’ microstructures, enhance carbon nanotube dispersions, and optimize their sensing function. Collaborating with Dr. Liu’s graduate student, Blake Herren, has motivated me to pursue graduate study at OU. Many thanks to the generous support of AME and Phillips 66.

Great job, Vincent!

Research in Ultra-High Thermal Conductivity

Dr. Jivtesh Garg and his graduate students are exploring a new class of ultra-hard boron-carbide materials such as BC2N and BC5 for ultra-high thermal conductivity values. Their goal is to achieve thermal conductivity values higher than diamond and graphene (> 5000 W/mK).

They are using quantum-mechanical calculations based on density-functional theory to predict thermal transport properties. Simultaneously the group is using laser-based frequency-domain thermoreflectance measurements (FDTR) to experimentally measure these high thermal conductivity values. Ph.D. students Rajmohan Muthaiah, Avinash Nayal, and Roshan Annam are conducting this research.

The group has also developed advanced functionalization schemes to more efficiently couple graphene with polymers for thermal transport applications. Graphene is a wonder material with extraordinary thermal, mechanical, and electrical properties. By efficiently coupling graphene with polymer, a large enhancement in properties can be achieved. Initial experimental results suggest dramatic improvement in the thermal conductivity of polymers such as polyetherimide. Developed functionalization schemes are being applied to a wide range of polymers. Ph.D. students Fatema Tarannum and Swapneel Danayat are involved in this research.

They are further exploring non-equilibrium phonon effects for the design of high-efficiency hot carrier solar cells and thermoelectric materials. Electrons in solar cells thermalize through interactions with lattice vibrations (phonons). By engineering non-equilibrium phonon effects to generate hot phonons, the thermalization of electrons can be inhibited, thereby enhancing solar cell efficiency. Non-equilibrium phonon effects also enhance the efficiency of thermoelectrics by mitigating heat loss through lattice vibrations.  Fundamental first-principles techniques coupled with Monte-Carlo simulations are being used to study non-equilibrium phonon effects.

Through advanced simulations and state-of-the-art experimental measurements, the group aims to develop the next generation of advanced composite materials for thermal management and energy conversion applications and is a world leader in thermal management technologies.


Using EEG to Understand Engineering Creativity

Tess Hartog, Md Tanvir Ahad, and Amin Alhashim are working together to explore the uses of electroencephalogram (EEG) to understand neuro-responses as they pertain to creativity in engineering. They are working under Dr. Zahed Siddique; Tess Hartog is an ME MS student with a background in math and psychology, Tanvir is an ME Ph.D. student with a background in EE, and Amin is an ISE Ph.D. student. Megan Marshall was a former fellow who graduated with her MS in AE in the summer of 2020.

The main objective of the research is to study creativity in engineering by gaining a deep understanding of how creative thoughts form and how the brain responds to different levels of creative products.  The students are currently utilizing EEG to capture the neurological behaviors and responses when conducting research.

Graduate Students

Amin’s work focuses on three areas: creativity definitions, creativity models, and the effect of cues on creativity.  Through text analysis techniques, Amin is analyzing a corpus of creativity definitions extracted from literature to understand how creativity is being perceived by engineers and non-engineers.  There are many models for creativity and Amin is working on a classification scheme based on their similarity.  Such classification is important for the advancement of creativity research as evident in the history of sciences. Amin’s last area of focus is on the effect of cues on creative behavior and its relationship with how the brain behaves through the use of EEG.


Tess’s work focuses on a subset of EEG recording called event-related potentials (ERPs), which are time-locked neural responses to stimuli. Specifically, she investigates the ERPs (the N400response) of engineers to creative stimuli. Tess is also working on analyzing the EEG recordings of engineers during engineering design-related problems and examining whether exposure to creative stimuli will improve designs. Below are some of her preliminary ERP findings. As indicated in the pictures, she looks for differences in negative wave amplitudes for three types of stimuli around 400 milliseconds post-stimulus presentation (i.e. the N400).


Defining creativity is hard but the measurement of creativity is even harder. To capture the multifaceted nature of creativity; more than a hundred measurement techniques have been developed and applied including neurocognitive approaches. The brain’s neural dynamics related to creativity should be accounted to quantify the relationship between the brain regions. During divergent thinking, EEG studies aid temporal dynamics of the neuronal activations underlying cognitive insight. In order to solve real-world problems, creativity is a must for engineers. Engineers’ involvement with creative tasks; activate brain regions corresponding to the task’s demand. Identifying the significant brain temporal regions engaged with the creative tasks for engineers is a crucial question. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) which are based on event-related potentials (ERPs) have the potential ability to estimate a user’s task involvement. Therefore, the question comes: Is the creativity (neural activity) of engineers detected by ERP-Based Brain-Computer Interfaces task-specific? Tanvir’s research work focuses on addressing these questions in the Neurocognitive creativity research domain.