Friday, February 25, 2011

Brown School of Engineering Launches New Website

After more than a year of designs and meetings, the Brown School of Engineering is pleased to unveil its new Drupal-based website. A web committee of professors Janet Blume, Christian Franck, Bob Hurt, Domenico Pacifici, David Paine, and Anubhav Tripathi along with staff from Public Affairs and University Relations, Computing and Information Services, and Engineering Communications have all worked together to update content, improve the functionality and design of the site, simplify navigation, and make the look and feel of the site more pleasing.  

The key differences between the new and old sites are apparent right on the front page. Regular visitors to the site will notice that the introductory story has been eliminated and a smaller piece of it was placed into the picture with a link. This allowed the news content to move ‘above the fold’ – a significant goal since this is the content that changes on the front page. The calendar format was changed to be more easily readable and will be utilized more for seminars and events and will be available on every page. In the footer, there are links to all of engineering’s social media pages – these are now much more visible and easy to find, making it easier for users to connect with engineering in a number of different ways.

Overall, the goal was to simplify navigation with no more than three clicks to get to anything. Some information was moved into the main menu or moved up to accomplish this.

 On the old site, there was some outdated information in several places and that was removed or updated.

The new site is stylistically similar to the main site and will conform to how future departments will design their sites. The School of Engineering has been a leader in this regard. Overall, only three fonts were used (Vitesse, Lucida Sans, and Georgia), making the site much cleaner and easier to read than the mix of fonts and styles that appeared on the old site.

The site has been live for about two weeks and has received favorable reviews from internal and external constituencies. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions on the site, please contact   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mentors seek to boost passion for the sciences

Each week, students devote hundreds of hours to teaching and mentoring Providence's disadvantaged youth. But these volunteer tutors are facing a problem that even the most dedicated may be ill-equipped to handle.
National science tests show large disparities in Rhode Island, according to the most recent report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Test scores are much lower among minority students than among white students, among disabled students than among non-disabled students and among impoverished students than among the better-off. Rhode Island tested lowest in the nation in 2009 for Hispanic eighth graders, with 74 percent scoring "below basic," according to the report.
The low scores show that "the need to transform our schools is urgent," Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist said in a Jan. 26 Providence Journal article.
Though the report provided numerical evidence of the score disparity, attempting to close the gap is not a new goal for many Brown tutoring programs.
"There are so many factors involved," said Karen Haberstroh, assistant professor of engineering and director of STEM Outreach, a group that sponsors a number of programs bringing together graduate students, high schoolers and their teachers to boost students' understanding of and passion for science.
In one of these programs, Physical Processes in the Environment, graduate students bring weekly inquiry-based science lessons to students in Providence elementary and high schools. Graduate students work "very intensively" to change students' perception of science and to encourage them to pursue it at the university level, Haberstroh said.
Last summer, the program sponsored a collaboration between Providence teachers and University professors and graduate students. They worked to develop class curricula making science more appealing and interactive. The teachers "have been fantastic and so supportive" of the program, Haberstroh said.
"The students are very behind the grade level," said Daniel Prinz '13, a student mentor for Algebra in Motion, a Brown organization that tutors Hope High School students in math. "That's why we go out everyday."  
Katie Williams '11, a student mentor in Brown Science Prep, said that students struggle the most with basic concepts. For example, she said, they understand physics but struggle with the math behind it, such as unit conversions, fractions and ratios. But "they'll pick it up once they are taught," she added.
Williams called her experience with students "mentoring, with science on the side." The program is a science enrichment program in which Brown students mentor and tutor roughly 40 to 50 underprivileged students from several high schools in Providence. Each mentor is assigned to five high school students, teaching basic science skills and helping with schoolwork or college preparation.
The group also plans "exciting lessons," such as chemistry of food or a Halloween lesson on sugar, Williams said. She added that the program tries to expose high school students to college life and promote the study of science at college. They hope to present students' science projects at the Science Center this semester to "make more people at Brown know more about it and (get) the word out about what we do," Williams said. "It is a fulfilling and wonderful experience to teach students who incredibly deserve" the opportunity, she added.
Mark Sabbagh '12, who participates in the program, called the experience "incredibly rewarding" for the student mentors. "We fall between teacher and friend," he said. It is "less of teaching," he said, but really about "being with them."
Brown Daily Herald/Staff Writer

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brown alumnus Love Sarin, ScM '05, PhD '10, CEO and president of Banyan Environmental, profiled in Providence Business News

Love Sarin, ScM '05, PhD '10, CEO and president of Banyan Environmental, was recently profiled in the Providence Business News.

Banyan Environmental, a Providence-based startup founded in 2009, was recently awarded a $200,000 grant from the R.I. Science and Technology Advisory Council.

Providence Business News spoke with Love Sarin, CEO and president, who founded the company after completing his Ph.D. studies at Brown University, about the award, its white paper and how new consumer consciousness about the environment will fuel demand for Banyan’s products.

Five Questions With: Love Sarin

PBN: First, tell us about Banyan Environmental.

SARIN: Banyan Environmental is an early stage startup, with a platform technology to capture mercury vapor. We are targeting the energy sector on both ends - the consumption and generation markets. On the energy consumption side, changes in legislation and other factors are resulting in more and more businesses and individuals using energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs. By reducing energy consumption, these bulbs also lower greenhouse gas emissions.
However, every fluorescent light bulb contains mercury, making the cleaning of broken light bulbs and their disposal potentially hazardous to humans and the environment. Essentially, we have a situation in which hundreds of millions of fluorescent lights are sold into the market but there is no easy way to address the potential mercury hazards.

With Banyan’s unique mercury capture technology, we can not only absorb the mercury but can also stabilize it in a safe manner. We are developing novel and low-cost packaging and clean-up products to prevent consumers and workers from mercury exposure when the lights break. These products will provide the much-needed safety and convenience to the consumers of these energy-efficient lights. Second, on the energy generation side, we plan to target the mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, which are the biggest source of mercury pollution in the United States.

Banyan spun out of Brown University in the fall of 2009 and got an exclusive license to develop and commercialize this powerful mercury capture technology which was invented at Brown. The company was founded by two scientists from Brown, with a dream to use a science-based approach in targeting the world’s impending environmental problems. Our first target is mercury, but we envision the company to grow like a Banyan tree with branches that take root in the ground making the tree stronger and more expansive than before. We recently moved into the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship incubator and hope to fuel the engine of the knowledge economy in Rhode Island.

PBN: You received a sizeable grant on Feb. 3 from the R.I. Science and Technology Advisory Council. What can you tell us about that? I understand Banyan is undergoing a bit of a transformation with this new funding.

SARIN: Yes, in collaboration with Brown University, we have been awarded a Research Alliance grant. Our main focus so far has been on the mercury exposure prevention from broken fluorescent lights. This award will support the research and development work needed to take our core technology to the next level and get it closer for implementation in the mercury emission-control market, which has an even bigger mercury problem. For example, it is estimated that environmental mercury pollution puts more than 300,000 newborns at the risk of impaired neurodevelopment each year in the United States. Currently, the biggest contributors of mercury pollution are coal-fired power plants, which emit about 48 metric tons of mercury annually in the U.S. The EPA is expected to roll out new stringent regulations to regulate these emissions by the end of 2011. Our technology has the potential to efficiently address this problem, and the new RIRA award from STAC has given us the impetus to do that.

PBN: Speaking of funding, since its inception in 2009, what investments has Banyan attracted?

SARIN: Before we spun out of Brown, we were awarded an advanced E-Team grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. In 2009 we received $150,000 in a Small Business Technology Transfer Phase I award from the National Science Foundation, which helped us take our technology from the lab bench to real-scale performance demonstration.

The funding so far has helped us define some important parameters for scale-up, and we have demonstrated the efficacy and potential with some real-scale performance testing. In 2011, we are looking for modest private investment to bolster the momentum to hit the lighting market and get the technology ready to pilot-test for the emission control market.

PBN: You also released a white paper on preventing exposure to mercury, why now? Who should read it?

SARIN: The paper is good reading for anyone who does not know the potential hazards found in fluorescent lights. We have found that there is a lack of understanding regarding the mercury content in fluorescent lamps and what happens with mercury when a bulb breaks. Additionally, the awareness about how the current packaging fails to prevent mercury exposure is also missing. We produced the paper, in part, to address this lack of awareness.

In our analysis, we tested the current packaging for its ability to provide safety from mercury released by broken lamps and compared with our technology. Our results clearly indicate that this accidental mercury exposure can be easily prevented with novel packaging solutions which incorporate our technology. We address both the linear tube-type fluorescent lamps, which are mostly used in commercial buildings, and the compact fluorescent lamps which are used in households and demonstrate that our technology can substantially reduce mercury exposure.

Everyone should read it: household consumers, facility managers in schools, hospitals, commercial buildings and any electrical contractors who handle fluorescent lamps. They should know that there is a solution which can protect them and their workers from accidental mercury exposure.

PBN: What has been the hardest part about getting this venture off the ground, so to speak? What does 2011 hold in store for Banyan?

SARIN: Startups are always challenging, just by the sheer nature of novelty and uncertainty that surrounds them. We are in the clean-tech space, targeting an environmental problem, which makes it even more difficult. There is a preconceived notion that consumers do not want to pay for products that will prevent environmental hazards. We believe that this attitude is changing, however. There is a new consciousness among the consumers. They not only want to hold the big corporations responsible for the environmental impact of their actions, but they are willing to go a step further and consciously make environmental choices. In fact, there is a growing demand for the products that Banyan can provide, in emerging economies too where massive adoption of CFLs is in store. This puts us in an unusually attractive place, where a small startup has the potential to create new jobs in the United States and actually create an export market.

It took us some time to develop the product and [pinpoint] this environmental spirit in the consumers. We expect it to snowball and with some investment hit the shop floor to give them what they need – a choice of safety, to protect them and the planet.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Engineering Staff Recognized For Years of Service at BEAR Day

Five members of the School of Engineering were recognized on Monday, February 7 at Brown Employee Appreciation and Recognition (B.E.A.R.) Day. The event is a community celebration of years of service and performance excellence at Brown University.

Among the engineering staff who were recognized were: Gamze Tunali, a computer programmer with five years of service, Michael Jibitsky, a senior research engineer with ten years of service, and Jim Scheuerman, a computer systems manager with 15 years of service.

Two members of the engineering staff have more than 30 years of service to Brown and were celebrated for their dedication and commitment to the University. Pat Capece, an administrative assistant, and Bill Patterson, a senior research engineer, were both honored for their long-time commitment and service to the School of Engineering and Brown.

Friday, February 4, 2011

STAC Awards Brown Engineers Funding for Collaborative Projects

The Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC) announced the awardees of the 2011 Collaborative Research Grant program. The awards will support eight projects representing the efforts of 23 scientists from 13 educational institutions, hospitals and private companies throughout Rhode Island. The Brown School of Engineering had scientists on two of the eight projects. Those projects will receive nearly $400,000 of the $1,435,822 that was awarded.  
Since the program's inception in 2007, STAC has awarded approximately $6.5 million to 38 teams of 97 researchers from 35 organizations -- and the program is returning dividends on this state investment. To date, STAC grant recipients have reported nearly $10 million in follow-on funding from federal and private sources. This outside investment has supported additional research efforts, new patents, new equipment and products and the formation of new companies.

Professors Christian Franck, Janet Blume, and Trey Crisco are working on concussion and traumatic brain injury and collaborating with Cheryl Liu, and Subham Sett from Simulia. They hope to work with companies in designing safer and improved protective gear and to aid the medical community in producing improved quantitative traumatic brain injury (TBI) diagnosis and assessment tools. They were awarded $194,809. 
Professor Bob Hurt and Love Sarin ScM'05 PhD'10 of Banyan Environmental will work to develop new technologies for reducing human health risks associated with anthropogenic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and cement kilns. They were awarded $200,000.
The 2011 award recipients include academic and industry scientists pursuing research in disease prevention, mercury emission control, neurology and engineering and demonstrate the vitality and promise of the state's health, science, marine and technology sectors. Priority was given to high-impact projects that are collaborative across Rhode Island institutions, well positioned to receive follow-on funding, and aligned with the Rhode Island Science and Technology Plan.

More about the 2011 Collaborative Research Grant Awardees:

Project 1: Development of multi-scale brain injury models for concussion and traumatic brain injury

This team is working to aid companies in designing safer and improved protective gear and to aid the medical community in producing improved quantitative traumatic brain injury (TBI) diagnosis and assessment tools.
Christian Franck, Ph.D., Brown University
Janet Blume, Ph.D., Rhode Island Hospital
Joseph J. Crisco, Ph.D., Warren Alpert Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital
Cheryl Liu, Ph.D., Simulia
Subham Sett, Simulia

Project 2: Marine biofouling on high-performance molded materials

Researchers will use microscopic and molecular techniques to characterize the development of marine biofilms. By collaborating with a research university, Ametek SCP will be able to evaluate novel coatings and to expand its markets.
Lucie Maranda, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island
Keunhan Park, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island
William Mildon, Ametek SCP

Project 3: A novel efficient technology for mercury emission control application

This team will work to develop new technologies for reducing human health risks associated with anthropogenic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and cement kilns.
Robert Hurt, Ph.D.,Brown University
Love Saran, Ph.D., Banyan Environmental Inc.

Project 4: A wound healing product for diabetic ulcers containing choroid plexus growth factors

Researchers will collaborate on development of a topical regenerative product for wound healing and will work to expand and strengthen preclinical research studies on the topic.
Kim Boekelheide, MD/Ph.D.,Brown University
Moses Goddard, MD, CytoSolve
Chris Thanos, Ph.D., CytoSolve

Project 5: Antigenic targets of Candida albicans specific antibody fragments

The grant will support work to identify the molecular structure on the surface of the fungus Candida albican that are recognized by previously discovered antibodies to stop infection. This collaboration will support infrastructure at Bryant University, preliminary research for future federal grant dollars, and collaboration between universities.
Joseph Bliss, MD/Ph.D., Women & Infants Hospital
Christopher Reid, Ph.D, Bryant University

Project 6: The inner-space classroom - Innovation for research and education in the ocean state

This group will develop software to provide access to marine science data and information through the University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center. The grant will provide for increased marine science educational opportunities and enabling of research and education projects for federal funding.
Dwight Coleman, Ph.D.,University of Rhode Island
Sara Hickox, University of Rhode Island
James Ferguson, RITE-Solutions

Project 7: Tick bite patch: Proof of concept for a first generation immunoinformatics derived anti-tick vaccine with transdermal delivery

This group will work to establish proof-of-principal for a catalytic approach to accelerate bench-to-clinic translation of a novel anti-tick vaccine for humans.
Thomas Mather, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island
Keykavous Parang, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island
Anne DeGroot, MD, EpiVax, Inc.
William Martin, EpiVax, Inc.
Michael Jordan, Isis Biopolymers, Inc.
Leonard Moise, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island

Project 8: Tracing business-critical web applications

Researchers will develop techniques for comprehensive measurement of the performance of rich web applications by applying causal tracing techniques to both the server and client. This effort will combine the strengths of a university research setting with real client data.
Rodrigo Fonesca, Ph.D., Brown University
Chris Erway, Ph.D., Tracelytics Inc.

Brown partner ranks No. 8 on FT’s global MBA ranking

PROVIDENCE – IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, which has partnered with Brown University to launch the Executive MBA program, ranked No. 8 on the Financial Times’ 2011 Global MBA rankings.

IE dropped 2 places from its No. 6 spot which it held for 2010 and 2009.

London Business School and the University of Pennsylvania: Wharton tied for first place among the 100 business schools ranked by FT. Harvard Business School came in at No. 3, and Insead and Stanford University GSB split the honor for fourth place.

The FT ranking is based on 21 categories looking at both the institution and its alumni, including data on alumni salaries, the international outreach of each school, and the percentage of women faculty and students.

At IE, the weighted average alumni salary, with adjustments for industry variations, was $149,584. The top alumni earners, based on weighted average, graduated from Stanford, $183,260, and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, $174,440.

Among the many categories ranked by the Financial Times, IE’s statistics included: 91 percent of the most-recent class were employed three months after graduation, women account for 33 percent of the faculty, international faculty are 54 percent and faculty with doctorates are 93 percent.

The IE Brown Executive MBA, a program geared to professionals with more than 10 years of experience, is set to start in March 2011 and will combine online sessions with five residential periods in Madrid and in Providence.

- Story by Kimberley Donoghue/Providence Business News

For the full details on the FT ranking of IE Business School, click here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brown to Host Desktop Delta-V Emerging Space Technology Workshop

Desktop ∆V is a one-day workshop focused on the topic of safe propulsion systems that can be assembled and tested in a university or similar engineering laboratory setting.

The workshop will be hosted in Providence, RI at the Brown University School of Engineering with sponsorship from the NASA Space Grant Consortia of Rhode Island. 

In parallel we will collaborate in real time with a mirror workshop at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland taking place the same day.

A 'Meet and Greet' is scheduled for 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. February 16th (Wednesday evening before the workshop).

As with previous workshops, we anticipate spirited interchanges among those developing hardware technology and those developing mission applications.

For more information, please go to:

Who May Register?
Workshop registration is open to anyone able to bring relevant insight and expertise to an active discussion on the topic of Desktop ∆V propulsion and related space mission applications.

By invitation university students may attend with registration fees waived and lodging support to US citizen students traveling from a distance funded by the NASA Space Grant Consortia of Rhode Island.

See the Student Invitations for details.

US citizenship is not required to participate in the workshop. However, due to long-established restrictions written into NASA grants, student funding provided by the Rhode Island Space Grant Consortia is limited to US citizens.

Whether or not a US citizen, please refer to the last section below regarding ITAR considerations.

For any reason anticipated or otherwise, at all junctures we remain the final arbiters for who may or may not attend.

Through February 6, 2011, online registration will be $195. Beginning February 7th, online registration will be $250.
Registration the day of the meeting will also be $250.

The registration fee covers all workshop sessions, continental breakfast prior to the workshop and lunch in the Chancellor's Dining Room. Lunch will be buffet style and also includes vegetarian selections.

Registration fees are non-refundable.

For questions or concerns about any aspect of workshop registration please contact us.

Parallel Workshop with the University of Strathclyde
To challenge our thinking, offer added points of view and more easily include those from the EU into the discussion,  this year we have instituted overlapping meetings, one taking place at Brown University and a second at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, with dialog between the two during the day.

Workshop ArchitectureA critical mass of participation is lost in events involving a large number of attendees.. As with our previous workshops, we have set a limit of 50 paid participants plus ten sponsored university students from around the country.
(Please see below for student invitation details).
Desktop ∆V continues our highly effective conference
format, specifically:

  • 1-day intensity.
  • Affordable registration.
  • Key innovators from around the world.
  • Size limited for maximum interaction.
  • Informal, learning-focused, participative workshop environment.
The Problem

To build satellite projects quickly, inexpensively and creatively students, hobbyists, companies and government agencies often assemble small satellites without special precautions atop ordinary desks and workbenches. Whether chemical, electrical or mechanical -- 'propellant' stored aboard these satellites would represent a major safety hazard. Mainly for safety concerns, propulsion systems are removed from consideration. In the process, a host of mission possibilities are never seriously imagined. 
What about including propulsion to significantly alter an orbit? or to sustain a high drag environment? or to perform rendezvous and docking, or station-keeping, or formation flying, or perhaps to later bring itself and maybe a larger satellite safely down from orbit?
What about escaping from orbit altogether, or autonomous satellite operations in orbit around other planets? 
The desktop environment is far too risky for those sorts of propulsion engineering goals, and if truly a desired mission objective, desktop facilities must be abandoned, sending the satellite's cost into orbit while the project often stays on the ground.

Instead, those conceiving missions applications simply avoid parameters requiring high ∆V, and in the process banish whole categories of next-generation missions.

Without sufficient ∆V smaller spacecraft developers cannot hope to offer debris mitigation services, or multiple on-orbit inspection and repair missions, or even remotely consider interplanetary exploration and sample return flights.

In the absence of sufficient low-risk desktop-safe ∆V most microsatellites will remain relegated to modest missions flying close to home.

Our Response
Our workshop this year focuses on propulsion systems built, integrated, fueled and tested safely without contemplating airtight hazmat suits or concrete bunkers. 
Rather then revolving around more traditional trade-space anchors such as ISP, Desktop ∆V will address key question such as:
  • What desktop-safe processes exist?
  • Of these, which technologies exist on scales we might apply to micro-spacecraft?
  • If required, could systems scale to a smaller size?
  • How might high ∆V propulsion systems integrate into form factors we would like to build?
  • Where are the roadblocks to development and application?
As educators, we see the value in propulsion designs more easily explored by students pursuing the field. As engineers we further see this leading to a host practical applications ranging from higher ∆V nanosatellites to low environmental impact planetary space vehicles.

The Audience is the Investigator
Our goal focuses on bringing those developing technologies together with those investigating applications.
There is no audience per se. We are all co-collaborators. 
As we facilitate the workshop, organizers will seek to stimulate a wide variety of presentations and panel discussions on topics relevant to the central subject of Desktop ∆V propulsion while avoiding excessive overlap. 
To cast our net widely, the following are examples of topical areas under discussion (by no means comprehensive):
  • Where is work on Desktop ∆V happening? Who are the players?
  • Description of missions that can most benefit from Desktop ∆V
  • Project costs and benefits versus larger-scale propulsion systems
  • Special design and fabrication requirements (if any)
  • In-flight spacecraft performance capabilities and limitations
  • Unique maneuvering and stabilization methodologies
  • How 'safe' is 'safe'?
  • Missions made possible -only- with safer thrusters
  • "Killer app” missions that might launch a Desktop ∆V industry
  • Science opportunities - near earth - planetary - deep space
  • When will we see new Desktop ∆V flight hardware in space?
Workshop Structure
Morning sessions will cover emerging technologies with key examples. Afternoon panel discussions will further explore notions of desktop safe propulsion systems and the realities of hardware engineering versus mission objectives.
Morning Presentations...
In the morning sessions, prominent contributors to the field will present 20 minute executive summaries of their work with Q&A follow up. Topics will focus on Desktop ∆V propulsion in areas such as technical enablers, architectural concepts, operational logistics, development costs, and potential missions.
Lunchtime Poster Session...
Sharpe Refectory Chancellors Dining Room (map)
Participating students will present a lunchtime poster session immediately adjacent to the dining room.
Afternoon Panel Discussions...
The afternoon sessions will feature moderated panel discussions among a mix of system architects, technology experts, prospective sponsors (commercial and government) and mission designers, with a strong emphasis on audience participation.

The first session will discuss the nature of desktop safe propulsions as actually practiced with the goal of identifying those with the most promise of high ∆V propulsion.

The second afternoon session will brainstorm spacecraft concepts and missions addressing the best balance of desktop ∆V propulsion applications and the sorts of vehicles that might best benefit from this technology.

"Swag" Table
A table will be provided for those offering giveaway items representing your organization or any program related to Desktop ∆V propulsion.

Please let us know what you have in mind and we'll make sure to leave space for you.
PowerPoint Slide Presentation and Archive
Presenters are asked to bring PPT slides on a flash drive stick (please save as PPT or PPS - not PPTX or PPSX). All presentation slide files will be loaded into our presentation computer prior to the start of the workshop.

Presentation slides will be available for download from this website before the close of the workshop. A permanent copy of slides will be hosted here for future reference.

If presenters have concerns about slide publication - please contact us prior to the workshop.

Workshop speakers and attendees are reminded that some topics discussed in the workshop could be controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

US Nationals, which are US Citizens and Green Card Holders, are responsible for ensuring that technical data they disclose to non-US Nationals in attendance is not export restricted by the ITAR.

Non-US Nationals are likewise responsible for ensuring that they do not disclose ITAR export restricted information to other non-US Nationals in attendance.

Website Updates
We will endeavor to maintain this site as accurately as possible. Other than actual paid registration, nothing written on this site or elsewhere (accurately or otherwise) constitutes a contractual agreement or offer.
Workshop Series
Desktop ∆V continues our series of workshops focused on emerging space technologies.
2008 - NLV -- Nanosatellite launch vehiclesPhotos
2010 - ChipSat -- Satellite on a chipPhotos 

New Faculty Profile: Petia Vlahovska

Petia Vlahovska is likely one of the few scientists who can say that she earned a nickname simply by trying to explain what she does. While at Dartmouth, she had distilled her explanation of studying complex fluids to saying she researched chocolate.

“Ever since, when I was on campus, some would say there is the Chocolate Lady,” she said.

While the description remains accurate, the nickname hardly does justice to the research horizons that Vlahovska, assistant professor of engineering, brought to Brown this fall.

Vlahovska is interested in complex fluids, a range of common items from paint to shampoo — and chocolate. She’s also interested in living substances such as blood or the membranes that surround cells and cellular organelles. She wants to determine how all these materials respond to flow or electrical fields.

She is keen on a project to punch nanopores in human cells using electrical pulses. The pursuit is no cheap engineering thrill: The holes, which can be as small as one-billionth of a meter across, can have major implications for medicine, such as delivering drugs directly to cancerous cells without affecting healthy ones.

“The key point is the pores have to form reversibly. You zap the cell, the pore opens, and then it has to close itself,” she said. “It’s a very well-known biological tool, initially developed for gene transfer,” Vlahovska said, “but it’s poorly understood how to control it.”

Vlahovska plans to collaborate with engineering professors Kenny Breuer, Thomas Powers and Anubhav Tripathi, as well as with Derek Stein in physics, on various problems that fuse biology, physics, chemistry and engineering.

“I’m technically an engineer but I consider myself all over the place,” Vlahovska said.

Vlahovska, 38, grew up in northern Bulgaria in a family of engineers, including her mother, father, brother and uncle. She attended college in the country’s capital, Sofia, and earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Yale University. Last year, she received a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program award from the National Science Foundation.

From 2003 to 2005, Vlahovska was a visiting faculty member in engineering at Brown. Seeking a tenure-track position, she moved to Dartmouth. She is returning to Brown now with tenure eligibillity solidly intact.

“Let’s say I always wanted to come back, my [Brown] colleagues wanted me to come back, and so it’s good,” she said.

- By Richard C. Lewis

New Faculty Profile: Shreyas Mandre

Shreyas Mandre
Assistant Professor of Engineering

Shreyas Mandre

Assistant Professor of Engineering
Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University
By Richard C. Lewis 

It seems as if Shreyas Mandre has a fascination with the familiar. Take, for instance, the splash made by a falling droplet of water, or consider the basso notes that come from blowing across the rim of an empty bottle.
Not only does Mandre, assistant professor of engineering, take note of such ordinary happenings, he has sought to explain them.
“I don’t know at what point we lose that [ability to be] surprised,” he said.
It’s a good thing, because what appears to be a simple act in nature is not so elementary after all. Such is the case with the splash generated by a liquid striking a surface. Mandre, in a paper published last year, explained through a model that a thin layer of air is compressed by the falling droplet a few microseconds before it hits the surface. This creates an air cushion that causes the raindrop to flatten and spread out, Mandre discovered.
Mandre’s study of the noise that comes from blowing on an empty bottle has more personal roots. Growing up in Mumbai, Mandre recalls his childhood frustration with playing the flute.
“I could make a sound from it now and then, but I never learned it properly,” he said, “so it was natural for me” to figure out what caused the sound to be created.
He substituted a bottle for the flute and found that the sound production revolves around acoustic and elastic vibrations interacting with fluid flows. The fluid flow in this case is the blown air, while the vibrations come from the sound bouncing off the narrow cylindrical walls of the bottle. The mathematical models he presented as part of his doctoral thesis show precisely how that all occurs.
Our voices operate on the same principle: The fluid (air) is traveling through an elastic body (our vocal folds). The applications are many, from helping geologists to understand the flow of molten material below the Earth’s surface and thus perhaps predict volcanic eruptions to building airplane wings that are less prone to vibration.
“All of these things have in common a body that is capable of oscillating or resonating and a flow, which is responsible for exciting the oscillations,” Mandre said.
Mandre, 31, comes to Brown from Harvard University, where he taught applied mathematics. He received his undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology, his master’s in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, and his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
He and his wife, Radhika, are living in Providence.

Engineering Alumna Julie Sygiel '09 Launches New Company

Brown chemical engineering alumna Julie Sygiel '09 is the co-founder of an intimate apparel startup company called Sexy Period. The patent-pending underwear made from leak resistant fabric are designed as a backup to prevent period spill disasters.  

Started in 2008 when Julie was a junior at Brown, Sexy Period has transformed from an entrepreneurship class brainchild into a full-fledged startup based in Providence. Founders spent two years designing their revolutionary line of glamorous, functional panties, and the Blossoming Beauty style features a watercolor floral print painted by a recent RISD graduate.

With over 200 prototype pairs mailed to female volunteer testers, the company has done extensive testing. Initial sales have been brisk with more than half of the first 500 pairs already sold during the preview sale. For more information on the company, please go to: