All posts by murray

“Geek is Chic”: Women in Science and Engineering Fashion Show

February 29, 2016

fashion show 2


“What’s wrong with being confident?” It was only one of many songs played, but Demi Lovato’s hit seemed to blare louder than the rest at the 2016 Women in Science and Engineering Fashion Show. After all, the chorus carries a theme similar to that of the fashion show itself: be confident, and celebrate who you are! Dubbed with the title “Geek is Chic,” this unique fashion show celebrated the accomplishments and beauty of many women faculty members of Ogden College at Western Kentucky University.

An event like no other, this fashion show took place in the Hardin Planetarium. Floral arrangements were hung, and strings of lights bathed the dark venue in soft light. Spotlights shone onto each model as she made her circle around the planetarium, pausing to twirl and show off her outfit. Models for the fashion show came from the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which promotes women entering the fields of math and science. The program hopes to improve the balance between men and women in STEM fields; currently, 68% in these fields are male. The WISE program partnered with WKU’s Fashion Merchandising department to make the fashion show a reality. The IDFM 432 class of visual merchandising students put on the show—the goal of their class each semester is to plan and hold a fashion show of some sort. This semester yielded a show quite different from any show 3

The models dressed for three different occasions: A Very Busy Day on Campus (the category for casual attire), Testifying to Congress (professional clothing for presenting research), and Gala Wear. Some of the models appeared a bit nervous at first, but by the end of the evening, they were spinning around, whipping off jackets or glasses for a poised look at the crowd, and laughing happily as they paraded around the room. Prior to each model’s appearance, photographs of her family were projected onto the planetarium ceiling, and the audience got the chance to learn a little bit about this diverse group’s interests and accomplishments.

Dressed in a practical yet elegant black and white poncho, Linda Gonzales kicked off the show for the night. The first female faculty member to enter the agriculture department, she has worked there for 28 years and loves her field because it allows her to become closer to achieving her desire to feed the world. Many more impressive women followed her. With a confident spring in her step, fashion show 1Sharon Mutter showed off her pink, knee-length suede skirt. Proud of her scientific journal publications and her research grant, she thinks it is important for women to enter STEM fields because we need intelligent and creative people of both genders to help solve our world’s problems. Similarly, Naomi Rowland thinks that women can be in any field, regardless of stereotypes. Rong Yang, in a black and red dress, was celebrated for her beauty and her PhD in computer science. Julie Ellis, head of the engineering department, loves working with students and is proud of her son, a software engineer for Google. With a navy floral dress and her hands on her hips, Margaret Crowder, professor of geology, said that female voices need to be heard to empower women for society as a whole. Head of the psychological sciences department, Kelly Madole stated that no one is happy until they are in love with their job. It seems that all these women have indeed fallen in love with their jobs and found their place within the male-dominated world of science and engineering.

However, with events like this, the WISE program is working to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields and bring more women into the world of science and engineering. As shown by the fashion show, Ogden College has many impressive women faculty members, who are hoping to inspire other young girls to follow their dreams. If those dreams involve math and science, they don’t want any stereotypes to hold ambitious students back. In addition to inspiring young women, the fashion show also encouraged its models to have their own look and to continue to be confident in show 4 In the end, STEM topics may bring this diverse group together, but it is more than just that. Many similarities ran through the women’s bios throughout the night—their love for serving others, spending time with their families, hearing about the achievements of past students, and simply relaxing at the beach. Though their accomplishments are many, WKU’s women of science and engineering are regular people who share common hobbies and interests with others. And, they are just as beautiful as anyone else. After all, “what is beauty if the brain is empty?”



Works Cited:

Hicks, Sarah. Poster. Digital Image. WKU News. “Geek is Chic” Fashion Show Feb. 29 at Hardin Planetarium, 23 February 2016. Web. 8 March 2016.

Pederson, Miranda. Model. Digital Image. Bowling Green Daily News. Photos: Geek is Chic, 29 February 2016. Web. 8 March 2016.

LEGO Robotics Competition: Episode XVI, Star Wars Edition

February 27, 2016DSC_0729

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…the WKU Engineering LEGO Robotics Competition began! Now an annual event for WKU engineers and the Bowling Green community, Saturday’s occurrence marked the competition’s 16th year of existence. Each year, elementary and middle school-aged students form teams to create their very own robots, using LEGO Mindstorm kits. Their robots are then put to the test, as they go through obstacle courses and complete tasks, all judged by WKU Engineering faculty and students from the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society.

both coursesThis year’s theme brought a new level of excitement to the competition. Students had to take their robots through two Star Wars-themed courses, the first being the Death Star course. In this course, students could choose to either follow a zig-zagged line along a clear path or brave the asteroid belt, where they weren’t restricted to a certain path, but had to dodge obstacles and pop asteroid balloons. Teams had two minutes to try to make it to the center of the course and knock over Darth Vader, thus completing this course’s objective. The second course was the Star Wars (Over the Years) Course, where teams had to send their robots on missions to score points. Again they had two minutes, but in this course, teams tried to complete as many objectives as possible in the allotted time. One team “driver” was responsible for setting the robot in the start zone, sending it out on their mission of choice, and bringing it back to the start zone at the completion of each mission to begin again.

photo 3On February 27, Drake’s Creek Middle School gymnasium opened up for the 2016 competition. Excitement filled the air as students gathered with their teammates to discuss strategy for the day’s competition. Star Wars movies played from a screen in the center of the room, serving as entertainment for the parent-filled bleachers before the event began. Over 150 coaches and parents attended the competition, and 65 students competed on 23 teams. Some teams in official uniforms, others dressed in their best Star Wars attire, all participants were full of energy and enthusiasm. Teams sat on the floor, a few kids choosing to stretch in preparation, others reviewing their programming codes on computers. Soon, the competition began with a quick “May the Force be with you” from WKU’s engineering department head—the Star Wars equivalent of “Play ball!”

Teams gathered around their respective courses, waiting for their turn to pull their robot out of its numbered cardboard box. Most teams chose to travel through the asteroid belt on the first course, popping balloons with pointy objects affixed to the front of their robots. Applause filled the room, as teams experienced both successes and failures. “The Jaguar Awakens” team was eager to share about their experience.

From Natcher Elementary, photo 22 edited“The Jaguar Awakens” team included eight students, a parent volunteer as coach, and one team member’s sibling acting as a mascot. At their school, all students in the Gifted and Talented program are invited to participate in the contest. They worked together to build the robot, starting in January of this year. The team took advantage of the opportunity to practice running the course at WKU prior to the event and had a lot of fun throughout the whole process. They especially enjoyed building and naming the robot, as well as having a team pizza party the night before the competition. Impressive students, these team members are busy at school and in the community—many team members are not only in the GAT program, but they are involved with Beta club, cross country, competitive jump rope, academic team, and more. Like most kids, they love lunch and recess, but they also have high ambitions for the future. The team, like many others, experienced their share of successes and failures throughout the competition.

On their first run, “The Jaguar Awakens” robot managed to pop one asteroid balloon; however, the robot then got off track. Hitting the wall and almost flipping, the team did not make it through to attack photo 26Darth Vader on the Death Star course. After their rocky start, they were able to make a comeback on the second course, touching Anakin for 100 points.

The scoreboard went up halfway through the day (EIT Division winners: Johnson Homeschool team, PE Division winners: Drakes Creek team), but regardless of their places, everyone at the competition had something to learn—and not just the competition participants. WKU engineering students also had an opportunity to learn and give back to the community. By facilitating an event like this, they helped expose younger children to some of their own passions and continued to build a presence for their department in the Bowling Green community. Participating teams learned a great deal about working together and adapting to new situations, as they made adjustments to their robots in between rounds. As one team frantically tried to tweak their robot before their next run, chasing after the robot as it rode right out the door, one team member laughed and said what may accurately explain the positive attitude of the entire competition: “We had the most fun; I don’t care how we placed!” After all, as WKU engineering emphasizes, learning doesn’t come from test scores, but from fun, hands-on experiences.DSC_0723

Co-inventor of Wearable Robot Says WKU Engineering Program Prepared Him Well for Career

July 25, 2013

A co-inventor of the Indego, a lightweight mechanical pic 1wearable robot, credits WKU’s Department of Engineering with providing the hands-on, real world training to develop cutting edge technologies.

Dr. Ryan Farris, a 2007 mechanical engineering graduate, is Engineering Manager for the Human Motion and Control unit at Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin Corp. Farris earned his Ph.D at Vanderbilt University where he worked with another graduate student and a faculty member to develop the powered exoskeleton now called the Indego.

Farris noted it was his undergraduate work at WKU that prepared him for graduate school and for a career.

“My experience at WKU was a great one all around,” said Farris, who grew up near Cynthiana. “From the freshman year on, we were doing real projects and learning real project management skills.”

Farris said Dr. Chris Byrne and other WKU engineering faculty members brought their professional experience into the classrooms and laboratories and “taught us to be professional engineers.”

“What I observed in Ryan Farris was an ability to seize opportunities to produce results,” said Dr. Byrne, professor of mechanical engineering. “He had many such opportunities and he never failed to impress those he worked with or for. The research opportunities in the mechanical engineering laboratories provided him some visibility to the joys of generating new ideas, information and new devices.”

“At WKU, engineering professors taught you what you were capable of,” mechanical pic 2Farris said.

For Farris, that meant looking for ways to apply mechanical engineering skills for designing products that would improve the lives of others. “I wanted to think about the future, and the engineering program at WKU was structured to help me do just that,” he said.

“Ryan’s experience at WKU gave him insight and experience in the many facets of research and product development,” Dr. Byrne said. “He added to this education during summer internships where he designed, built and installed manufacturing assembly lines. This furthered his experience and abilities to create new devices and systems. By the time Ryan completed his mechanical engineering degree, he had gained as much experience in engineering as one might expect from several years of full-time work experience.”

During internships at area industries, Farris worked on several projects including the design of industrial automation equipment. “I was an engineer doing real work,” he said. “Those experiences really defined where I was going.”

His first stop after graduating from WKU was as an engineering research assistant at Vanderbilt University. As part of his master’s degree program, Farris worked on a project to develop a clutch/brake mechanism for medical devices. His doctoral research with Dr. Michael Goldfarb and others in Vanderbilt’s Center for Intelligent Mechatronics resulted in the Indego.

mechanical pic 3The Indego allows individuals with severe spinal cord injury to walk and enhances rehabilitation for people who have suffered a stroke. Parker Hannifin has licensed the technology and is working to further develop and test the system before a commercial launch of the product.

Farris expects to spend the next few years working to bring the Indego to market and hopes that thousands of individuals with walking impairments will soon be aided by this technology and others that are being developed by Parker’s Human Motion and Control unit.

“Ryan’s time at WKU was one of productivity and growth,” Dr. Byrne said. “While he may not have fully realized it at the time, his trajectory was one that was destined for advanced study leading to a position where he could contribute at the highest levels. He is now an international leader in robotic systems for augmenting human movement. His passion for creating new ideas and devices was fostered while at WKU and has led him to a rewarding career.”

Read more about the Indego technology at

The Pressure’s On! Engineering Lab Explores “DeflateGate”

February 11, 2016 photo

            Following the Broncos victory in Super Bowl 50, WKU’s Professor Jason Wilson decided to bring the football enthusiasm into his classroom. For civil engineering students, this meant that they would have the opportunity to explore the NFL scandal “DeflateGate” from a scientific perspective.

Professor Wilson has described his Strength of Materials Lab as the “gateway to the rest of the engineering labs” here at Western Kentucky University. However, it is not the usual, mundane prerequisite. Mostly sophomores and juniors take the course, where they complete different and interesting experiments each week. Calculators and pencils abound, but the room can be quickly changed from a typical classroom into a laboratory, where theory is put to the test as applications to the real world are made. For example, students regularly complete an experiment to determine the best value for fishing line by testing the strength of different lines and looking at the price per yard. However, the “DeflateGate” lab was a new one for all this year.

“DeflateGate” was a controversy that occurred when the Patriots played the Colts in a 2015 AFC Championship game. The Patriots were accused of under-inflating their balls—at halftime, the balls were found to be below the regulation pressure range of 12.5-13.5 psi. The Colts were outraged, feeling that the low-pressure balls would be easier to catch and give the Patriots an advantage over them. After much uproar and media attention, reputable scientists eventually determined that the football controversy could simply be the result of a natural occurrence. Due to the fact that the game occurred on a rainy day with temperatures around 48 degrees, the balls could have lost pressure because of the Ideal Gas Law (which relates the variables of pressure, volume, and temperature for gases). Perhaps less exciting than the thought of a football scandal, this rationale seemed to very logically explain the situation. Last week, WKU students worked to test this hypothesis.PV=nRT


In order to recreate the circumstances of the AFC game, the footballs were filled with air at 9:32 Thursday morning, inspected at 10:47, and stored in water from 1:37 until the students performed the lab. By keeping them immersed in water, the footballs endured weather and temperature conditions similar to those at the 2015 game. While waiting until the proper time to remove the balls, students passed around two different footballs—one was at regulation pressure, and one at the low pressure of the Patriots ball. They held the footballs to see if they could feel the difference between the two balls. After two attempts, over half of the class still made incorrect guesses as to which was the lighter football. With such a small difference in pressure between the balls, very few students could even detect it at all.

Next, the chilled footballs were retrieved from the materials lab. To ensure accuracy, the class worked quickly—measuring the temperature and calculating the pressure of the foothermal cameratballs. Of course, there was enough spare time to point the thermal energy camera at one student, much to the amusement of the rest of the class as they saw the colors of a heat map spread across their friend’s face in the screen. Re-taking measurements regularly, the class observed how the footballs’ pressures changed over time.

Their conclusion? The Patriots were innocent! After comparing their football pressures to those of the game-day balls, the class concluded that the Patriots did nothing wrong. The Ideal Gas Law proved to be a reasonable explanation for the low pressure in the footballs. The students were also mostly unable to feel the difference between the low-pressure footballs and the regulation balls—this made them question whether deflating the footballs would even give the Patriots an advantage, anyway. After reviewing their data and discussing these findings with the group, the class came to an end.

From this lab specifically, students learned about the application of the Ideal Gas Law to football. However, other lessons were not missed. The class teaches students to think critically about questions before simply taking widely-accepted beliefs for the truth. They learn how to work with a group to solve problems and find answers. They learn about important academic concepts by footballapplying them to real-world events that are interesting and understandable. Through this, students learn the importance of understanding theory and applying that theory to the real world.




Works Cited:

Duffy, Jocelyn. Football. Digital image. Carnegie Mellon University News. Carnegie Mellon University, 28 January 2015. Web. 24 February 2016.

Lowe Steve. Thermal Camera. Digital Image. A Primer on Infra-Red Thermography. Thermalcities, 2008. Web. 24 February 2016.

Wilson, Jason. Personal Interview. 11 February 2016.

Surveying Students in Action

Surveying Students in Action!



Students using trigonometric measurements to determine the change in elevation




Measuring the slope distance of this vertical triangle





First semester surveying students using an electronic transit to determine the building height





Boundary surveying students measuring existing property corner locations on 69-acre farm parcel





Boundary surveying class student using a total station to measure the location of a property corner pin in the tree line





Route surveying student measuring the location and the time of Polaris star during a night shot





Four members of the Boundary Surveying class performing a public land sectional survey in Hammond Township, Spencer County, Indiana or more accurately described as the southeastern corner of section 2, Hammond Township, Spencer County, Indiana, Second Principle Meridian


Another group of Boundary Surveying students at the northeasterly corner of section 2, Hammond Township, Spencer County, Indiana





First semester surveying students learning how to measure compass bearing and azimuths





First semester surveying student learning the basics horizontal angle measurement





Surveying students performing a traverse closure






Collecting topographic data using Trimble R6 GPS disk and Trimble TS2 controller





First semester surveying students using GPS equipment for the first time







Students learning the difficulty of obtaining good position parameters adjacent to a large tree





More practice using GPS gear in this boundary line project






WKU newly acquired Trimble brand GPS equipment






Boundary line determination project In Warren County KY





Route surveying class starting a horizontal curve staking –layout project at the WKU farm facility