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William Spratt,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: University of Maine
Track II: GK-12 Sensors!
URL: http://www.eece.maine.edu/research/gk12/

Thesis Title: Density Sensors in Gases

College/University: University of Maine

Research Advisor: John Vetelino

Degree Sought
M.S. in Mechanical Engineering

University Department and/or Lab
Mechanical Engineering

Research Focus
My research focus is on using torsional waveguides to create a steam quality sensor.

Description of Research
The speed of a torsional wave in a wave guide is proportional to the density of the encompassed fluid. While much research (and patents) has been focused on developing a density sensor using this theory for fluids, the current project will investigate the applicability of this theory to gases and explore the use of a waveguide for imaging the internal structure of a solid by inserting the waveguide into the solid and dispersing a wave. The wave’s behavior may provide information for mapping interior structure. A sensing unit is sought consisting of both sensor and waveguide on a single mount capable of transmitting torsional waves. The objective for this solid imaging research is to promote development of a gas sensor for finding the most efficient ways of cutting up an object for maximum quality material yield.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
Since the concept behind my research is density, I have designed several seventh-grade explorations relating to density, providing students a better idea of what density is and how it acts in the real world. One exploration involves designing a boat out of a sheet of aluminum foil. Students compare designs and determine which boat can hold the most weight. Most students discovered that different materials had different densities but that, by manipulating shape, a material encompassing more air changes the overall density of the object. It was interesting to see the many different designs that worked (and failed) in this experiment.

Another key aspect of my research is to design an efficient torsional sensing unit more attractive to industry than any currently available. To help students understand elements of such engineering design processes, I gave them a list of materials they would have for building a small car and a list of actions that it had to perform, such as going down a ramp and supporting a marble at least one inch from the car (in all directions) without adhering to the marble. Students had to determine and optimize such factors as seeing how far—without going over the top of another ramp—the car could go and how many dangling ribbons one foot off the ground the car could make contact with. I related the students’ experience to my research and some of the issues I work with to solve problems and showed how, whether small toy cars or expensive industrial sensors, the problem-solving mentality is much the same.

I see great variety and creativity among the students. Watching them develop and apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to invent solutions is highly rewarding.

Profile date: July 2007
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