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Curtis Wilson ’04 (Northampton, Pa.) is getting hands-on mechanical engineering experience this year as he designs a supersonic wind tunnel for a yearlong honors research project.

Wilson, a mechanical engineering major and starting center for the football team last fall, is conducting independent research guided by Richard Merz, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

“I found interest in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics and asked the professors if there were any projects that they wanted to research,” explains Wilson, a member of the Academic All-District team. “Dr. Merz suggested the wind tunnel, and I thought it would be perfect for me.”

Lafayette’s thermodynamics and fluids lab has some of the necessary parts, and Wilson is designing the rest necessary to make the wind tunnel function. He is creating a cost analysis of the project to make it more affordable.

Wilson is also taking Merz’s class on heat transfer and compressible flow.

“Dr. Merz has a strong interest in the field of fluid mechanics and compressible flow,” he says. “He has educational experience as well as real-world experience in this field.”

Wilson also completed EXCEL Scholars research to help children with asthma this past summer. In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend. Lafayette is a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate in EXCEL each year go on to publish papers in scholarly journals and/or present their research at conferences.

Wilson worked to improve the design of inhalers. Ira Katz, director of mechanical engineering labs and chemical hygiene coordinator, works with the Environmental Protection Agency to create models of the human lung. These are used to predict the amount and location of particle deposition, he says. Alongside Katz, Wilson looked at breathing patterns in children with asthma and used Katz’s model to create a similar model of a child’s lung. He then studied the effect of aerosol deposition in asthmatic children.

Wilson says that because of Katz’s involvement with the EPA, most of the theoretical work had already been done. His part in the project was to interpret the research and apply it to asthmatic children.

“This required an extensive number of computer runs, followed by data analysis,” Katz explains. “The key opportunity [of this project] was to learn about the research process. This includes extensive preparation through researching and reading the literature and ends with publishing results.”

“The EXCEL program is the best I have seen anywhere in fostering undergraduate research,” Katz says. “The environment here is superb.”

The student/professor pair did more than just study the model of the lung.

“[Dr. Katz] is more than just mechanical engineering,” Wilson explains. “Over the course of the summer, I found out he is a person I can talk to about other things.”

He adds that Lafayette has a good learning environment and allows students to pursue many academic opportunities.

He is a graduate of Northampton High School.

Honors thesis projects are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students have been accepted to present their work at the conference this month.

Categorized in: Academic News