Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Shooting for the Moon

From the classroom to the laboratory to professional conferences, students are exploring solutions to the complex problems of today and tomorrow, and everybody plays a role. Creative Inquiry project teams are comprised of undergraduates, graduate student mentors and faculty.

"It's not a typical undergraduate experience," says Dr. Christopher Kitchens, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Along with fellow chemical engineer Scott Husson, he co-manages a Creative Inquiry project team investigating chemical separation methods using advanced membranes. "There's no answer in the back of the book," adds Kitchens. His group of seven undergraduate students (freshmen through seniors) and three graduate student mentors is studying the design of novel membranes for efficient and effective capture of carbon dioxide from power plant flue gas. This ground breaking work has received funding from the American Chemical Society - Green Chemistry Institute.

Student-powered innovation is a growing tradition at Clemson. For example, if NASA's ATHLETE (All- Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) robotic vehicle ever moves across the surface of the moon, it may be thanks to Clemson undergraduate student research. Michelin, a Clemson University partner, is testing its new non-pneumatic lunar wheel on the next generation of moon rovers in Hawaii as part of a NASA Lunar Analogs testing and evaluation event. Some of the elements of that Michelin tire/wheel combination come directly from research conducted by Clemson students.

"It's exciting to know that Clemson student research on treads and wheels could be an integral part of a possible manned mission to the moon," says Clemson mechanical engineer and researcher Dr. Joshua Summers. "It's incredible what students can do if they're given the opportunity."

Clemson researchers and Milliken and Co. were challenged by Michelin to measure wear and traction of textile tread leading to the ability to improve tread materials that may someday be used on NASA moon rovers. The Michelin Lunar Wheel is based on the technology of the award-winning Michelin Tweel®, which also includes design features developed by Clemson undergraduate students in fall 2006. Four faculty, two postdoctoral students, eight graduate students, 12 undergraduate students and five high school students are working or have worked on the projects. Currently, a Creative Inquiry team of 10 freshmen and sophomores is focusing on the next phase of research. Half of the team is designing and building test equipment, while others develop computational models to design tire-sand traction systems that could eventually lead to improved tread material.

Students are lining up to participate in Creative Inquiry projects. According to Husson, that's due to the hands-on nature of the research. Undergraduates are doing team-based research, while developing their lab skills in state-of-the-art facilities. At the same time, graduate students are strengthening their mentoring skills as they guide these dynamic teams.

By: Anne Jenkins (Decipher Issue 1, Fall 2012)