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What does the Lafayette remote-controlled robot that reached the quarterfinals in a national Battlebot competition last year in California have in common with the Leopard radio-controlled plane that made it to the third round of a national competition in Florida this year? Both senior mechanical engineering projects were advised by Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Ulucakli enjoys working with students on the yearlong design projects. “We offer several capstone design group projects for students to chose among, and qualified students are invited to do an honors thesis,” he says, adding each option requires significant faculty involvement with students. “As a department, we feel it is important for students to have the experience of working together as a team to design and build actual devices and then enter their projects in national competitions. It’s a costly endeavor, but worth it. In the past students competed with each other for grades. Now we want engineers to cooperate and work as a team.”

With its seven-foot wingspan, the radio-controlled plane is larger than toy planes. “Take-off and landing are critical times for planes,” says Ulucakli. “The plane has to have a light enough surface for lift, enough power to fly, and also be able to withstand takeoffs and landings while carrying increasing amounts of weight in the competition. Next year I hope to have two planes like the rest of the schools so if one is damaged we can continue with the backup plane.”

Ulucakli teaches courses in heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and thermodynamics to engineers, VAST courses on global climate change, and energy, society and the environment to other students, and a First Year Seminar, Engineers of Dreams, on creativity and invention. “This is one way our senior faculty serves the liberal arts students, by giving them a deeper understanding of technology,” he says. He will lead his second trip to Turkey for students this January interim.

Ulucakli is looking forward to the new classrooms and labs that will be available in the renovated Acopian Engineering Center. He continually works to enhance his courses, developing a new course on biomedical engineering for next year, and increasing the hours for an existing course from three to four hours a week. “It gives me more time with students,” he says. “I have more time to discuss concepts, conduct experiments in class, and do more problem solving.”

Ulucakli has worked with seven students on EXCEL Scholar projects related to his own research, and has advised several senior honors theses.

“Dr. Ulucakli possesses a genuine desire to teach and foster the learning of his students both in the classroom and through research,” says John Reap ’00, who did an honors thesis with Ulucakli concerning the mathematical modeling of temperature fields during radio frequency ablation. Reap is now working towards his Ph.D. at Georgia Institute of Technology. “Working on an honors thesis, I came to understand better the research process and my academic and professional interests. I might not have reached these insights without the opportunities, guidance and patience offered by Dr. Ulucakli. He is a dedicated and caring educator and has had a positive and important impact on my educational experience.”


Publications: “A Theoretical and Experimental Study of Hyperbolic and Degenerate Mixing Regions in a Chaotic Stokes Flow,” with W.W. Hackborn and T. Yuster, Journal of Fluid Mechanics, vol. 345, 1997, pp. 23-45; “Heat Transfer in a Subcooled Falling Liquid Film,” Convective Flow Boiling, J.D. Chen, ed., 1996, pp. 329-334.

Achievements: Nine EXCEL Scholar grants to work with students; summer research fellowships, faculty research grants, publication grants.

Contact: (610) 330-5444,

Categorized in: Academic News