Cal Poly Engineering Student Wins Second Place Award at Statewide Research Competition

May 15, 2017

Keeping her cool despite technical difficulties, mechanical engineering student Julia Roche earned a $250 second place award at the at the 31st annual California State University (CSU) Student Research Competition.

The event brought nearly 250 students from 22 universities across the state to campus April 28-29. Five Cal Poly students received awards, including a biology sciences undergraduate whose rattlesnake study earned first-place.

The competition promoted excellence in scholarly research and creative activity by recognizing outstanding student accomplishments throughout the CSU — the nation’s largest four-year public university system, with nearly 480,000 students. Thirty-nine individuals received either a first- or second-place award in 21 categories. They shared $15,000 in prizes; $500 for first-place awards and $250 for seconds.

Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton led the competition with five awards per school.

John Stepanek, 22, of Livermore, Calif., an undergraduate student in biological sciences, was Cal Poly’s top prizewinner, earning first place in the undergraduate Biological and Agricultural Sciences category for his work, “Stress-Induced Color Change in Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes.” (Faculty advisor: Emily Taylor, Biological Sciences.) This first-of-its-kind study looked at the effects of elevated corticosterone (stress hormone) on color in the rattlesnakes.

Four Cal Poly students received second-place honors, including Roche, 23, from Chula Vista, Calif. Roche won in the Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science category for her work, “Reverse Sprinkler: Solved!” Her faculty advisor was mechanical engineering professor Russ Westphal. The research addressed a long-lived debate about how a sprinkler-like device would turn.

“The problem is relevant to the question of whether a ducted or an unducted ram-air turbine is better,” Westphal explained. “The fact that Julia used 3-D printing to build several models to test her hypotheses was the key to her success at the competition. She hoped to operate the models using a battery-powered vacuum/blower air source, but remained remarkably unflustered when the battery failed.”

“The analysis used on this project is the type that I liked to use on my rotors models, low order math models that captured the essence of the physics,” said Jim Meagher, interim dean of the College of Engineering.

Other second place winners included David Bilger, 27, an undergraduate chemistry student from Chico, Calif., in the undergraduate Physical and Mathematical Sciences category for his work, “Multi-Scale Assembly of Polythiophene-Surfactant Supramolecular Complexes for Charge Transport Anisotropy.” (Faculty advisor: Shanju Zhang, Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Laura Fleischman, 28, an undergraduate student in physics from Chico, Calif., in the undergraduate Physical and Mathematical Sciences category for her work, “Black Holes Stuck on Black Strings: Saving Cosmic Censorship.” (Faculty advisor: Scott Fraser, Physics)

Trevor Lowe, 22, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in consumer packaging and minors in packaging and industrial technology, took second place in the Undergraduate and Graduate Interdisciplinary category for his project, “Using Eye-Tracking and Task Analyses to Understand Human-Package Interactions.” Lowe is from Encinitas,Calif. (Faculty advisor: Javier de la Fuente, Industrial Technology and Packaging)

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Photo: Julia Roche receives her second-place award from Ganesh Raman, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor for research.

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