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Undergraduate Student Spotlights

"When It Rains, It Pours" in Mod Quad

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences
Campus RainWorks Challenge

The group of Notre Dame undergrads who participated in the EPA’s 2014 Campus RainWorks Challenge — students from civil & environmental engineering & earth sciences, architecture, and political science — were not talking about Morton Salt® when they proposed an innovative solution to an important storm water issue on campus.

Mod Quad, a green space on the northeast edge of campus, sits between the Pasquerilla East and Pasquerilla West dormitories. Drainage is poor, and — as one student put it — when a large storm occurs, “a small lake forms.” Since this is the main pathway for students living in these dorms, or for those walking onto campus from a nearby parking lot, the flooding can be a significant inconvenience.

Storm water run-off and flooding are common issues on university campuses and in many urban areas where added impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, roofs, and sidewalks, can overload the storm sewer systems. To solve this problem, the Mod Quad team used a “green design” approach: they proposed adding a rain garden. Actually, their solution encompasses not one but four gardens, new sidewalks with permeable concrete, additional vegetation on the edges of the buildings surrounding the garden sites, and new lighting.

Traditionally, rain gardens are excavated and then “rebuilt” with specific soil and plants to help catch contaminants from run-off, remove the pollutants, relieve stress on storm sewers, and enhance groundwater infiltration. That’s a lot of pressure for a space that also needs to be beautiful, especially when you pair that with the educational benefit of informing the public about the importance of sustainable storm water and water resource management (something the students also want to do). The new Mod Quad Rain Garden, as designed by students, would contain soils and plants native to northern Indiana, provide a habitat for wildlife such as birds and butterflies, increase natural filtration of the storm water in this area, and provide a community green space for students.

Shown, from left to right are Paul Hurley, Robert Nerenberg, Will Connors, Matt Matasci, Claire Sieradzki, and Charles Farrell. Not pictured are Elizabeth Andruszkiewicz, Madison Braman, Julie Cleveland, Alison Collins, William Gorman, Teresa Muldoon, Delma Palma, and Jesus Perez.
Mod Quad Rain Garden team members Elizabeth Andruszkiewicz, Madison Braman, Julie Cleveland, Alison Collins, Will Connors, William Gorman, Paul Hurley, Matthew Matasci, Teresa Muldoon, Delma Palma, Jesus Perez, and Claire Sieradzki took responsibility for all aspects of the project, with guidance from faculty adviser Robert Nerenberg, associate professor of civil & environmental engineering & earth sciences, and facilities advisor Charles Farrell, P.E., senior environmental & safety specialist at Notre Dame. The students are hoping that their design will be approved by University planners and included as part of the construction of two new dormitories in the area.

Fighting iBots

fighting iBotsDepartment of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
Game Day for Engineers

Go Irish! On Friday, April, 23, 2010, 67 senior mechanical engineering design students competed in the second annual Robotic Football Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame. The students designed and built robotic football players as part of their senior capstone course.

The equivalent to an exam, the mechatronic game consisted of two 15-minute halves with normal football rules modified for mechanical play. The “players” were semi-autonomous and controlled by the student designers with remote controllers. According to Associate Professor Jim Schmiedeler, the experience of designing and building the football devices acquaints students with important principles used in intelligent prosthetics and other innovative robot-related research, such as biomedical devices and electromechanical systems, being conducted by Notre Dame researchers.

To see the action and learn more, click the photo above

Yamil ColónYamil Colón

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
2009 Graduate

Yamil Colón, a chemical engineering graduate from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, was awarded a scholarship for graduate study from the Fulbright Program and is currently studying separation processes and phase equilibra at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Fulbright LogoThe group in which Colón is studying is led by Professor Alberto Arce and Associate Professor Ana Soto and is internationally recognized for its work with vapor-liquid equilibria (VLE) and ionic liquid (IL) research.
He is focusing his efforts on VLE phases and measuring the physical properties of ILs for industrial applications, including the removal of metal and other contaminants from water, carbon dioxide capture, and the removal of sulfur compounds from diesel fuel.

ILs have the advantage of being non-volatile, meaning that by replacing VOCs with ILs there would be no pollutant emissions and the impact on global warming would be greatly reduced. ILs also represent a more efficient way to perform separations. By using more efficient technologies, the energy required to run the processes would be reduced.

Created by Congress in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s premier scholarship program, designed to foster mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges.

Sarah KeithleySarah Keithley

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences
2010 Graduate

During her senior year at Notre Dame, Keithley was part of a team studying microbial fuel cells (MFCs) in order to harness the energy in organic wastes. This is important because more than 90 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. These fuels are in limited supply, and their use can negatively impact the environment.

Keithley LabMFCs work like chemical fuel cells, but they use microorganisms or enzymes to catalyze reactions and transfer electrons to an electrode. Because they can generate electricity from essentially any biodegradable organic matter, MFCs can simultaneously produce electrical energy while treating municipal or industrial wastewater. Still in the early stages of research, Nerenberg's team is now focusing on the development of new and more efficient MFC configurations. They are also working to determine the basic mechanisms of MFC operation, including the microbial community structure of the MFCs and the mode of electron transfer from the bacteria to the electrode.

Keithley, a 2010 graduate, is continuing her studies in environmental engineering as an graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin.

James NotwellJames Notwell

Department of Computer Science and Engineering

Notwell ResearchJames Notwell, a senior in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, spent the summer between his junior and senior years as an intern for the Microsoft Corporation. He worked as a program manager for the summer within Bing™, which collaborates with Microsoft’s® research arm, and was part of the Index Serve team, the group responsible for maintaining the index of documents returned to users. His job? To analyze customer behavior and identify markets in which Bing was struggling as well as succeeding to develop metrics for user engagement and make recommendations for specific markets.

NSF- National Science Foundation LogoMore recently, Notwell was selected to receive a 2010 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Distributed annually, the award recognizes and supports outstanding students as they pursue research based master's or doctoral degrees in NSF-supported engineering, science, technology, and mathematics disciplines. Notwell, who received his bachelor's from the University in May, will continue his studies in computer science at Stanford University this fall and will focus on applying machine learning techniques to biology – extracting novel insights from genomic data and using probabilistic models to better understand biological phenomenon.

Team LED Zeppelin

Team LED Zeppelin

Department of Electrical Engineering
Senior Project Team

For their senior capstone project, electrical engineering seniors Matt Prelee, Arthur Kinsey, Rob Jones and Jon Altenburger (Team LED Zeppelin) developed a “teach yourself to play” system for the guitar.

For more information about Team LED Zeppelin click here.
Each of the team members is a guitarist and understands the challenges novice guitarists face as they try to memorize chord shapes and scales. To address these challenges, the team modified an electric guitar by installing LEDs in the neck of the guitar. The LEDs light up in a pattern that shows the player where to place his or her fingers. This makes learning to play easier … not only during practice but because the system is mounted to the guitar, there is no need to carry books and charts along.

LED guitar neckApproximately 30 color-coded LEDs are integrated into the fret board, with six near the top of the neck and the others located on the first four frets (six per fret) to illuminate most basic chord shapes and scales in both a “chord” and “scale” mode for correct finger placement.

For more information about this and other electrical engineering senior design projects, visit

Herbert Harms

Herbert Harms

Department of Electrical Engineering

A 2008 graduate, Herbert Harms chose to pursue graduate school because he wanted to continue conducting research similar to the work he performed as an undergraduate researcher in cognitive radio using a software-defined platform. Not only did he work with Associate Professor J. Nicholas Laneman in Notre Dame labs during the academic year, but he also landed summer internships in industrial research labs.

Image of radarThese summer experiences solidified his desire to pursue an advanced degree. As a doctoral student at Princeton University, Harms concentrates his efforts on radar applications and cognitive radio, as well as signal processing methods to improve the effectiveness of radar systems. His current work has military applications, such as developing more jam-resistant radar systems. It also has social applications, such as using software-defined radio for more efficient use of the wireless spectrum and improved data connectivity to the Internet. His best advice? “Participate in undergraduate research and take as many advanced courses as you can.”

Engineering Peer Mentors

Peer mentors are among the best resources available to engineering students. Representing different departments in the College of Engineering, this group of dedicated juniors and seniors offers a valuable perspective: They have been where the first- and second-year students are. Many of them are peer mentors today because of their own experiences with peer mentors as a first-year student.

In addition to sharing important information, including study and exam tips, peer mentors are key in helping incoming high school students transition into the engineering program and second-year students adjust to the core program. They are vital in developing communities within engineering.

Peer mentors plan and coordinate social activities (ice skating, whiffle ball, and game nights); study sessions; career events (like “Résumé and Research,” “Engineering & Business,” and “Majors” nights); and service opportunities like blanket-making for local cancer patients, the Center for the Homeless toiletry drive, the Christmas giving tree, and Habitat for Humanity efforts.

The 2010-11 peer mentors are Engineering Peer Mentorsseniors Tim Florencki  (electrical engineering), Maureen Mathias (civil & environmental engineering & earth sciences), and  Zach Nussman, Angela Puente, and Michelle Roemer (aerospace and mechanical engineering) and juniors Eileen Bingle and Michelle Fuhrman (from chemical and biomolecular engineering) and Kevin Klima (aerospace and mechanical engineering).

For more information about peer mentors, visit

Service Abroad: ND SEED

In February 2008, six students in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences seeking to make a difference in the world combined their academic interests with their desire to serve their fellow man. They formed Notre Dame Students Empowering through Engineering Development (ND SEED), a registered and approved 501(c)3 corporation.

The students solicited sponsors and teamed with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a not-for-profit organization that fuels positive change by helping impoverished rural communities around the world construct reliable footbridges, which provide access to schools, clinics, jobs, and markets. After identifying a Honduran community that needed help (the village of Pena Blanca), the team began additional fund raising and explored design options.

ND SEED group photographPena Blanca was chosen because the existing bridge was very old and, as the students put it, very scary. The supporting cable, which was tied to a tree on one bank, was barbed wire. One bank was also much steeper than the other. This meant that the team needed to build more massive piers than originally thought to ensure structural integrity and safety. The 2008-09 team — juniors Rafael Deheza and Patrick McHugh and seniors Anna Lacey, Sean McNichols, Katie Sushinsky, and Jessica Winschel — designed and constructed the bridge alongside Pena Blanca residents.

The 2009-10 ND SEED TEAM (seniors Katie Boris, Maria Cowan, Angela Medlock, Andrew Seelaus, and Christopher Vetter; junior Stephen Santay; and sophomore Enrique Descamps) focused on building a suspended footbridge in Palquí, Guatemala. Because of the topography of the area, the streams and tributaries flowing through the area can flood quickly and without warning. Another factor was that the village is divided into two parts, most of the children have to cross the river to get to school. The existing bridge was a rickety plank at the bottom of a steep gully. When the river is impassable, students have to walk an hour out of the way to attend school. Typically, attendance drops by half during the rainy season.

Working again with B2P, the Notre Dame students conducted a site survey and designed the bridge. They are building the bridge (the anchors, cable placement, approaches, and decking) during summer 2010.

For more information about ND SEED, visit

Introduction to Engineering Summer Program (IEP)

IEP- Introduction to Engineering ProgramSince its inception, the interactive Introduction to Engineering summer program has been a hit with high school students across the country. For three weeks every summer rising juniors get a taste of college life.

They learn what it means to be an engineer, tour state-of-the-art facilities on campus and at nearby industries and manufacturing facilities, meet professional engineers, and are introduced to the different engineering disciplines offered at Notre Dame. There are “classes,” but a majority of the work is hands-on, requiring students to design and test their projects.

For information about IEP, click here.

Sink or "Swim"...

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences
Concrete Canoe Competition

Concrete CanoeSponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, this annual competition challenges civil engineering students’ knowledge and creativity, not to mention their stamina as they design and build a concrete canoe. Winners of 18 regional competitions proceed to national finals, where students put to practical application what they have learned in the classroom.

During the 2009 regional competition, hosted by Notre Dame, the College of Engineering team placed fifth in the competition.The theme of the 2010 regional competition, held at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, in April 2010 was Proud Mary. Sixteen Notre Dame students prepared a canoe for the event, which requires the team to give an oral presentation, write a design paper, create a final product (following the competition’s aesthetics, durability, and design constraints), and participate in racing events such as men’s sprint, women’s sprint, women’s endurance, men’s endurance, and overall.

Concrete CanoeThis year’s team members were Jon Barry, Olga Beltsar, Michael Chieffo, Mike Hartman, Jenny Hellyer, Karly Kingery, McKena Kovar, Ben Mall, Maureen Mathias, Bethany Noble, Brian O’Connor, Shelley Ostrowski, Ellen Quigley, Ted Reinhold, Steve Santay, and Jenna Stagliano. Their adviser was Elizabeth Kerr, director of undergraduate studies.

Strong Bodies Fight ...

The 2010 Bengal BoutsBengel Bouts

Service projects at Notre Dame take many forms. Since 1931 the Bengal Bouts, the University’s annual charity boxing tournament, has donated funds made during the Bouts to Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. The College of Engineering has long supported this sport-service event, in the spirit of the former director and coach of the Bouts Dominic “Nappy” Napolitano, who described the purpose of the Bouts as “Strong bodies fight, that weak bodies may be nourished.”

This year’s Bouts were held February 13-27, 2010. College of Engineering students who participated were: Ryan Alberdi, Christopher Bennett, Matthew Bernstein, Patrick Burns, Joseph Caparros, Kevin Dacey, Kevin Eller, Tom Enzweiler, Rich Estes, John Flores, Dominic Golab, Christopher Gorham, Patrick Handy, Brian Heath, Eric Herbert, Matt Hopke, Brian Kachmark, Robert Lahr, Enrique Lazaro-Aranguren, Matthew Lemanski, Kuijun Liang, Alex Macomber, Mick Madden, Andrew Moore, Andy Nester, Chris Newman, Jeff O’Neill, William Paape, Sean Pennino, Brian Pimentel, Bobby Powers, Nicholas Raic, Robert Ray, Brian Robillard, Nicholas Rowek, Brian Salat, Matt Tansey, Alex Toombs, Charles Torbert, Brad Towne, Brian Van Metre, John Walsh, George Warner, Nolan Welsh, Drew Wroblewski, Kary Yergler, and Andy Ziccarelli.

The 2010 Bengal Bouts donated $100,000 to the Holy Cross Missions, where the money funds a variety of educational and outreach initiatives. This is almost twice as much as the 2009 Bouts netted.