Needham, MA, United States
Needham, MA, United States

The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a private undergraduate engineering college located in Needham, Massachusetts , adjacent to Babson College. Olin College is noted in the engineering community for its youth, small size, project-based curriculum, and large endowment funded primarily by the F. W. Olin Foundation. The College currently awards the half-tuition Olin Scholarship to each admitted student.The college was accredited by the regional accreditation board NEASC on December 6, 2006. Olin's degree programs in Electrical/Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Engineering received accreditation from the Engineering Accreditation Commission of Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology on August 31, 2007. Wikipedia.

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Bazant M.Z.,Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Storey B.D.,Franklin W. Olin College Of Engineering | Kornyshev A.A.,Imperial College London
Physical Review Letters | Year: 2011

We develop a simple Landau-Ginzburg-type continuum theory of solvent-free ionic liquids and use it to predict the structure of the electrical double layer. The model captures overscreening from short-range correlations, dominant at small voltages, and steric constraints of finite ion sizes, which prevail at large voltages. Increasing the voltage gradually suppresses overscreening in favor of the crowding of counterions in a condensed inner layer near the electrode. This prediction, the ion profiles, and the capacitance-voltage dependence are consistent with recent computer simulations and experiments on room-temperature ionic liquids, using a correlation length of order the ion size. © 2011 American Physical Society.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY | Award Amount: 196.51K | Year: 2017

General Audience Summary

This award supports a study of the daily impact of globalization and deindustrialization in the US, as seen on the shop floor and in the boardroom of a small 160-year-old New England textile mill, one of the oldest in the US. It examines the role of technological change in efforts of the mill to stay in business; in doing so, it expects to show how individuals and communities in the contemporary US transition from an old form of manufacturing centered on manual labor and mass production to a new digitally equipped one. The theoretical aim of the project is to contribute to studies in STS on human-technology interactions in the workplace by developing more complex narratives about human-automata interchangeability. The project will involve both intensive collaborative factory-based ethnographic research and engineering projects involving engineering students and senior personnel in materials science and mechanical engineering/robotics. The PI aims to reach a diverse audience with her research findings. She is an anthropologist who teaches anthropology to engineers, and values bringing anthropological understandings to public audiences and into the engineering classroom. She will share her research findings from this project with engineering students as part of a continual effort to engage with critical questions that impact the choices engineering students make in their engineering work. The project will also be an important resource for consumers and business people; it will point to important lessons to be learned from the sociological life of textiles and their fabrication, including larger lessons for other manufacturing in the US.

Technical Summary

The PI aims to analyze the experiences of people and the contexts of those experiences all along the production process at the textile factory site; she plans to pay equal attention to the goals and stresses of the president and to those of the minimum-wage production worker. She will leverage the expertise of engineering colleagues to analyze how humans and machinery are transformed together in contemporary US manufacturing. More broadly, she will brings anthropological methods to long-studied questions in the history of technology, such as human-machine interaction, automation in the workplace, and the changing meanings of labor. Her analysis will include relationships among materials, machinery, workers, and managers, and how automation impacts the meaning, structure, and experience of work for people at all workforce levels. The project will engage with work in economics and in STS studies on whether robotics and automation will someday render human labor obsolete. Her working hypothesis is that workers and managers enroll a combination of analog and digital technologies in their quest to continue manufacturing domestically in novel, understudied ways. She aims to disrupt the popular narrative that robots will replace humans in the workplace, by hypothesizing that digital technology and processes can keep workers employed and can stimulate novel sensory experiences as opposed to merely eliminating them.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 268.47K | Year: 2012

In this project, the PI will study the group behavior of photosynthetic bacteria that are growing in biofilms and in dense populations. The photosynthetic bacteria that are the subjects of this study, the anoxygenic phototroph Rhodopseudomonas palustris and the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803, collectively carry out all major modes of metabolism that exist in the bacterial world. The PI will study the effects of different growth pressures on the pattern formation of these bacteria. The PI will grow and analyze the architecture of biofilms that are formed by photosynthetic bacteria which are growing in different metabolic modes. Mathematical models will be developed and compared to experiment to understand the physical principles that underlie the observed growth patterns. Experiments will also be performed to analyze in detail the collective motion of photosynthetic bacteria that are growing at high cell population densities, with system modifications inspired by photosynthetic biofilms. The research will explore a new range of parameter space for biologic pattern formation and collective bacterial motion, providing experimental evidence with which theoretical and simulational models may be compared. This research will be undertaken in an undergraduate-only institution and involves interdisciplinary faculty and student collaborations in applied physics and microbiology. Undergraduate students will be trained in techniques at the interface of these fields, will be co-authors on publications, and students will be expected to present results of this research at local and national meetings. The techniques and finding from this research will be used in the classroom in teaching of biology and physics, and the techniques developed and data obtained from this research will stimulate the development of future interdisciplinary courses.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Systems and Synthetic Biology | Award Amount: 242.49K | Year: 2013

Intellectual Merit
Nutrient cycling in the environment is carried out by complex microbial communities. Unraveling the network of organismal interactions that drive carbon and nitrogen cycling in nature is a challenging task given the taxonomic, functional, and biochemical diversity of most natural systems. This project will study a series of environmentally derived freshwater and marine photosynthetic microbial communities that grow using cellulose and dinitrogen as sole sources of carbon and nitrogen, respectively. These communities contain distinct populations that can degrade nitrogen-poor cellulose, fix atmospheric N2, and harvest light energy through photosynthesis at different light wavelengths under anaerobic conditions. The goal of this research is to generate new insights into the links between community structure, productivity, and organismal interactions that produce stable nutrient-cycling microbial systems by using biochemical, molecular, and model-based analyses. These environmentally derived consortia can provide insight into how renewable resources such as cellulose, N2, and light can be efficiently converted into cell biomass and other usable products under marine and freshwater conditions.

Broader Impacts
This research will be conducted at the primarily undergraduate institution, Olin College and the non-profit research institution, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). The interaction between these institutions will provide rich opportunities for undergraduate training. Undergraduates will be strongly involved in all cultivation, biochemical, and physiological characterization of consortia at Olin College. They will be exposed to cutting edge techniques in high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics at the MBL. This will provide valuable experience, encouragement and preparation for graduate programs and for a range of careers in science. The data generated by this research will be brought into the classroom and integrated into curricula to enhance student learning of bioinformatics using authentic data. Undergraduates will be involved in all aspects of this research, will present results at scientific meetings, and will co-author manuscripts.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: IUSE | Award Amount: 63.56K | Year: 2015

Computation in all its definitions (Computer Science, Computing, Computational Thinking, etc.) is becoming increasingly significant in STEM and non-STEM disciplines. Historically, Mathematics has been the discipline seen as required by all other disciplines. Computer Science faculty are wrestling with determining whether there is a single approach to infusing computation in other disciplines or whether there are many approaches. Coupled with the increased computational ability of students in other disciplines, it is known that interdisciplinary courses are more appealing to underrepresented groups. Ideally, the Computer Science community would be provided with a set of validated approaches to interdisciplinary education. In order to reach this goal, the community must investigate the educational value of various approaches. This workshop seeks to begin cataloging experiences to attain that goal.

In this collaborative proposal a number of PIs from different college level institutions (research university, technology focused university, four-year engineering college, and four-year liberal arts college) will cooperate on holding a workshop where a number of different approaches to cross-disciplinary education will be investigated. This workshop will gather a number of faculty who have attempted such courses. The outcome will be a report that outlines approaches to computational interdisciplinary courses. This report will be made widely available.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: RES IN NETWORKING TECH & SYS | Award Amount: 98.33K | Year: 2016

The explosion in demand for wireless communications has resulted in the crowding of the electromagnetic spectrum. To service the exponentially increasing demand forecast for the near future, new technologies and frequency bands need to be considered. One such technology is Visible-Light-Communications (VLC), where light-emitting diode (LED) based lighting systems can be used to transmit data while also providing illumination. The visible-light spectrum provides a very large bandwidth of electromagnetic spectrum that has the potential to help alleviate the spectral crunch. This proposed effort addresses the challenge of tightly integrating VLC communications with Radio-Frequency (RF) communications, where the RF channel is used only when a VLC link cannot be established, and for upstream data transmissions between users and access points since the upstream link poses a number of challenges for VLC including significant glare that would result from high-powered lights on mobile devices, and high power consumption. The PI proposes to develop practical, efficient protocols and algorithms for hybrid VLC-RF communications systems. The PI works in an undergraduate-only institution and will work with undergraduate students in this project. Additionally, the PI plans to work with a youth teacher program to educate middle- and high-school aged children on the fundamentals of digital communications, using VLC as an example technology. Successful completion of this project will be a major step towards making VLC-RF systems practical which will help service the increased demand for wireless data communications in the future, and help train the next generation of engineers.

The PI proposes to design, develop, and implement in hardware, hybrid RF-VLC systems with integrated Medium-Access Control (MAC), which also provide illumination. The proposed program will involve 1) designing, simulating and implementing a VLC-RF MAC protocol; 2) developing and integrating into the system, physical layer algorithms that exploit channel information that can realistically be obtained through MAC protocol interactions; and 3) optimizing the MAC protocol for Room-Division Multiplexing (RDM). The fact that the proposed systems will have integrated MACs, enables practical VLC-RF systems for which physical layer implementation is decoupled from higher layers, which is an important principle of modular communications system designs. Optimizing the system for RDM can potentially increase data rates significantly due to the higher spectral re-use on the VLC enabled downlink of the hybrid system. Successful completion of this project will help make VLC a practical and modular communications system, which can lead to improved internet access, particularly in dense urban environments.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: TUES-Type 2 Project | Award Amount: 479.95K | Year: 2013

Building on prior work in motivation, this project is collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data to improve the capability to characterize and explain key characteristics of student motivation in diverse undergraduate courses required for engineering education. This project is engaging instructors in the process of interpreting student motivation data, coupling these research data to motivation theory and course design, and developing course revisions aimed at enhancing STEM students intrinsic drive.

Intellectual Merit
This research rests on prior research that shows that instructors can directly influence student motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation, through their course design decisions. To capitalize on the potential of this relationship, instructors need both a more nuanced understanding of the types of student motivations for learning and access to clearer methods for translating theory and empirical data to course-level insights. This project is measuring individual student responses to diverse STEM environments, pedagogies, and assignments. The temporal evolution of these responses is a focal point in the development of transferable research and generalizable theories for STEM student motivational drive.

The analysis of motivation data in more nuanced ways examines general trends in motivation by course activity, year of study, and gender. Motivation is dynamic and susceptible to frequent and sometimes rapid change. The analysis uses group-based clustering techniques to discover the strength, persistence, and distribution of different types of motivational responses. It employs qualitative analyses to explain the relationships between motivation and the learning environment and elucidate gendered differences in motivation. Using both variable- and cluster-based analyses in multiple course analyses has promise in developing better understanding of the impact of instructional design on effective practice.

The National Academy of Engineering exhorts us to prepare STEM graduates with the tools needed for the world as it will be, not as it is today. Among these tools are creativity, critical thinking, resiliency, flexibility, and self-regulation. Educational research suggests that improved understanding of learner motivation is important to facilitate a systemic shift toward these high-level outcomes. However, a large gap remains between the research-based understanding of student motivation, and the application of those research insights to day-to-day classroom practice.

The output from this project will have an immediate impact on over 20 STEM instructors at the 8 participating institutions, by highlighting activities that prompt different motivational responses and motivational shifts, explaining motivation-environment interactions, and by enabling instructors to use research data to make informed and strategic choices to better encourage self-determined behaviors. The project expands the pool of STEM faculty who can make informed, data-driven decisions by engaging early-career faculty and those with limited prior involvement in STEM educational reform.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: TUES-Type 1 Project | Award Amount: 423.56K | Year: 2012

This Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site is providing engineering undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in research in engineering education. Olin College is committed to understanding and improving undergraduate engineering education, and many of the faculty have active research programs in this area. Ten undergraduate students and two high school teachers each summer are working closely with Olin faculty on a wide range of research projects. For example, some teams are researching how engineering content is taught in colleges and universities, which is resulting in new educational materials and practices. Others are focusing on how to better develop professional and interpersonal skills, such as communication and teamwork, that complement technical engineering training. Still others are examining how being in an engineering program affects students self-confidence, identity, and interest in engineering careers. The outcomes of the research are improving the recruitment, retention, and preparation of engineering students. The REU students are learning about educational research through their participation, which is also increasing their likelihood of continuing in engineering. All program participants, including teachers and professors, are reflecting on their own experiences in engineering and are becoming stronger advocates for improving engineering education at their institutions.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 99.04K | Year: 2013

This engineering education research project seeks to support and increase student motivation by understanding situational motivation in the engineering classroom, and providing rapid feedback to instructors in order to allow them to impact student motivation. The proposed study will explore situational motivation and seek to develop new ways to analyze data obtained in the classroom to track and understand motivation.

The broader significance and importance of this project is that by understanding student motivation and collecting data rapidly, it may be possible to develop feedback tools for engineering instructors to make students more motivated. The differential impact of various motivational strategies for groups under-represented in engineering may impact retention and persistence. This project overlaps with NSFs strategic goals of transforming the frontiers through preparation of an engineering workforce with new capabilities and expertise. Additionally NSFs goal of innovating for society is enabled by creating results and research that are useful for society by informing educational policy and practices.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Science of Learning | Award Amount: 49.87K | Year: 2016

Research on effective engineering pedagogy has shown that active learning approaches can be more effective than traditional lecture based approaches for a broad diversity of students not only in the classroom but also throughout an engineering graduates career. A greater understanding of approaches to engineering pedagogy across the spectrum of engineering programs is thus necessary in order impact retention and graduation of all engineering students. How to take best advantage of evidence based research and approaches to engineering education is institution, faculty, and course dependent. Addressing these issues is particularly timely as large institutions look to restructure their curricula to respond to increasingly tight economic constraints and demands for greater student accessibility, and small institutions consider the long-term viability of higher-cost, residential learning and changing models of credentialing with industrial and societal expectations. This knowledge would be beneficial not only for institutions of higher education, but federal and state entities that support higher education as well as employers of engineers.

The proposed workshop will bring together a group of thought leaders from various institutions to develop a research agenda for creating productive collaborations between small, predominantly undergraduate institutions and large institutions with broad educational and research missions. The goal of this workshop is to develop a viable research plan that can frame how these diverse institutions can effectively impact engineering education. Questions being considered are: How to scale, adapt and transfer best practices? What are the roles of differing types of institutions in engineering education research and innovation? How can engineering education research at all institutions be enhanced? The workshop will build a functional network of networks through institutions that participate in the workshop. Each of the institutions invited to the workshop have their own stakeholder communities that support their efforts in engineering education, and this workshop should facilitate productive communication and collaboration among them, including with industry. Ultimately, the workshop has the potential to be a catalyst in identifying and shaping a new global agenda for engineering curricula.

Change and innovation efforts, at both small and large institutions, have merit within individual educational missions. What is lacking are opportunities for leaders from various institutions to share directly what works best (as well as what does not work so well) and to consider the bi-directional scalability and adaptability between institutions in the face of differing constraints. The workshop will provide the framework for the development of a more impactful engineering education research agenda that acknowledges the diversity of types and sizes of institutions of higher education. This research agenda should inform NSF and the broader stakeholder communities about how they can catalyze more rapid change in engineering education. Through it the NSF will be able to identify an actionable research agenda for creating productive collaborations to support strategies that have higher potential for sustainable change and engage a broader spectrum of institutions. Participants and participating institutions will be empowered to develop data-driven models of change for engineering curricular innovation.

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