Cal Poly and University of California, Santa Barbara will soon share more than just a rivalry.
The recently-launched center for Collaborative Engineering Research and Education combines the Cal Poly undergraduate engineering program with graduate research at UCSB.
UCSB director and mechanical engineering and materials professor Anthony Evans said the center is a forum for people on both campuses to learn about different projects by taking advantage of the complimentary skills of the students.
Evans said the quality of research will likely increase because of Cal Poly’s strength in building designs, fabrications and testing devices, complimented by UCSB’s strengths in theory, simulation and process science.
“In the end, those two skill sets are needed to have successful research outcomes; that’s why it’s such a good idea,” Evans said. “I think this will allow us to develop a larger research initiative for a greater international impact.”
Cal Poly mechanical engineering professor and co-director of the center Thomas Mackin hoped to better integrate research and innovation into the curriculum since he came to Cal Poly.
“I’ve always wanted to engage undergraduates in research because I think they are really creative and can do really high-level research,” Mackin said.
Currently, students from Cal Poly travel with Mackin once a week to spend a day doing research with UCSB graduate students. Last week, Mackin took his current team of three undergraduate students, David Lavelle, Dan Fisher and JJ Siefert to conduct research on improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Mechanical engineering junior Lavelle said his project aims to design advanced armor plating to protect U.S. troops. To do this, the team is simulating a landmine explosion and testing the force that the exploding sands exerts on the bottom of military vehicles.
“If we can get a proper model, we can go to an organization and run the real tests,” Lavelle said.
He added that being able to do research earlier in college is very valuable and an incredible opportunity to grow as a student and an engineer.
“It’s an honor to be involved and a great experience,” Lavelle said. “The great thing about research is that everything you do contributes to a greater sum of knowledge.”
He said that he hopes to see other students get involved with future projects.
The research — including experimentations and simulations — is funded by government agencies and research project agencies, Mackin said. The center is also writing proposals to the federal government for monetary support and in the future, Evans said, they hope to receive corporate sponsorship.
“We imagine that once we have a formalized framework we will write joint proposals to the National Science Foundation to try to establish other activities associated with the center and try to get funding to support the activities,” Mackin said.
Although its name, Collaborative Engineering Research and Education, sounds restricted to the particular discipline, Mackin said that could change. He wants to be the first to show that collaboration can be successful, which would be the start of broader relationships, Mackin said.
“My guess is that in the next few years other people in the College of Engineering will jump on board,” he said. “As people get to know about it in both institutions, they are absolutely welcome to engage because these type of activities can benefit everyone.”
Working with this center, Mackin said, would allow for a seamless way to continue on to get their master’s degree at Cal Poly and doctorate at UCSB.
The specific objectives will teach students a basic set of skills of how to do research, which can then be transferred to all sorts of projects.
“I hope that this collaboration leads to greater recognition for Cal Poly and greater opportunities for students to want to go to our institution,” Mackin said.
“We want to put people into leadership positions where they’re setting the agenda for the nation.”