“You’ve got to have more engineers”

“You want tech jobs in Utah, you’ve got to have more engineers.”

That’s what Adobe co-founder and University of Utah College of Engineering graduate John Warnock once said to then-Utah Governor Michael Leavitt, according to a May 11 story on Forbes about Utah’s rising tech sector.

In the last 20 years, the number of tech jobs in Utah rose 347%, and the state is now third in the country in venture capital activity per capita, according to the story.

Read below from Forbes about Utah’s success story as a rising tech center, thanks in no small part to our ability to feed new engineers into the workforce.

A few weeks ago, Former Utah Governor and Health & Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt spoke at a technology summit here in the state. He talked about where Utah’s tech sector was 25 years ago, where it is now and what needs to happen to keep the momentum going.

“Leadership is a generational relay,” Leavitt said. “Each generation builds on the generations before.” A quarter of a century ago, Leavitt’s administration laid the foundation for the state’s business growth with an objective to become a tech capital.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

2019 COE Convocation

The 2019 University of Utah College of Engineering convocation is once again upon us, and it will be an exciting time for graduates who will move on to the next phase of their lives. Congratulations to all!

Click here for information about convocation, which will be held Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m. at the Jon Huntsman Event Center. Check-in begins at 5:30 p.m., and the procession begins at 6:40 p.m. For those family members who cannot attend the event, go to the college’s main website at www.coe.utah.edu to view a live stream.

*** Please note: If you are walking, please be aware that this program is scheduled to end around 8:45 p.m. Out of respect for others who have worked so hard for this day, all graduates are expected to remain seated until the end of the program. Travel and dinner plans should be made accordingly.

COE Rises in Rankings

The University of Utah’s College of Engineering continues to rise as one of the nation’s most respected engineering institutions, according to U.S. News & World Report, whose rankings of graduate schools was released March 12. According to the 2020 rankings, the U College of Engineering’s overall graduate program jumped three spots to No. 55.

Meanwhile, chemical engineering’s graduate program rose five spots to 56th, civil engineering climbed two spots to 65th, mechanical engineering moved up one spot to 65th, and materials science and engineering had the largest gain with seven spots to 57th.

The rankings are based on a series of scores from surveys with deans, corporate recruiters, employers and company contacts, as well as GRE test scores from master’s and doctoral students, acceptance rates, faculty-to-student ratios, research expenditures, doctoral degrees awarded and more.

The college also has ranked high in other areas. According to the latest ASEE Databook, the College of Engineering is ranked 29th in the country in total tenure-track faculty, 36th in research expenditures, and 40th in doctoral degrees awarded.

The U’s College of Engineering has experienced tremendous growth in the last two decades with research expenditures rising 280 percent since 2002 (with $95 million in engineering-related expenditures in 2018) and the number of Ph.D. graduates rising 193 percent. Tenure track faculty has also grown with 192 faculty members in 2018, a 73-percent increase since 2002.

U Celebrates Research Milestone

Due to the extraordinary efforts of faculty, students and administrators from colleges and departments across campus, the U celebrated its biggest year in research funding ever—$515 million was awarded to projects addressing a wide range of issues, from non-opioid painkillers to geothermal energy in Utah.

Scholarly activity is also on the rise—members of the U family won more awards, received more citations, attended more conferences and published more books and journal articles than last year.

The Vice President for Research’s Office premiered “What One U can Do,” a video honoring the research community’s outstanding accomplishments during the State of the U address on Jan. 7 by President Ruth V. Watkins.

Click below to see the new video where you’ll spot many people and places from the College of Engineering.

Making a Better Biodegradable Pad

Each year, nearly 20 billion sanitary pads, tampons and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year, and it takes centuries for them to biodegrade inside plastic bags, according to a 2016 Harvard Business School report. Additionally, it requires high amounts of fossil fuel energy to produce the plastic for these products, resulting in a large carbon footprint.

But a team of students led by University of Utah materials science and engineering assistant professor (lecturer) Jeff Bates has developed a new, 100-percent biodegradable feminine maxi pad that is made of all natural materials and is much thinner and more comfortable than other similar products.

The SHERO Pad uses a processed form of algae as its super-absorbent ingredient, which is then covered with cotton and the same material that makes up tea bags. The result is a maxi pad that is effective, comfortable to wear and can break down anywhere from 45 days to six months.

“This is novel in comparison to other biodegradable options out there for pads,” said Amber Barron, a University of Utah junior in materials science and engineering who is on the team of four students. “Most are really bulky because they don’t have a superabsorbent layer.”

The need for something like the SHERO Pad originally came from SHEVA, a nonprofit advocacy group for women and girls in Guatemala, which turned to Bates because it was looking for a sustainable solution for feminine hygiene waste. One of Bates’ area of research is in hydrogels, which are water-absorbing polymers.

“In Guatemala, there’s no public sanitation system. All the rivers are black because they are so polluted,” Bates says. “So there really is a genuine need for people in Guatemala to have biodegradable options.”

Part of Bates’ solution came one night while feeding his 5-year-old daughter.

“One day we were eating dinner with white rice, and my daughter spilled it all over the floor,” he says about that night two years ago. “The next morning, when I was cleaning it up, it was all dry and crusted. I drove to work and thought, ‘What was it about rice that does that?’”

That question of how rice hydrates and dehydrates began a two-year process of searching for the right natural materials for the feminine pad, which included testing with different leaves, such as banana leaves, and forms of cotton.

Bates, Barron and the rest of the team — which includes sophomore students, Sarai Patterson, Ashlea Patterson and Ali Dibble — ultimately developed the SHERO Pad, which is made up of four layers: An outer layer of raw cotton similar to a tea bag to repel liquid, a transfer layer of organic cotton to absorb the liquid and pull it from the outer layer, the super-absorbent layer made of agarose gel (a polymer from brown algae), and a final layer made of a corn-based material that keeps the moisture inside and prevents leakage.

While there are other similar sustainable feminine pads on the market today, they either use a hydrogel that is not 100 percent biodegradable or they use thicker layers of natural cotton that are uncomfortable to wear, Barron says. Another advantage to the SHERO Pad is that it can easily be manufactured in smaller villages using locally sourced materials and without sophisticated tools, just common presses and grinding stones, Bates says.

While the team originally developed the SHERO Pad for users in developing countries such as Guatemala, Bates and the students also will start selling the product in the U.S. for environmentally conscious women. A working prototype has been produced, and they have launched a startup company based in Bountiful, Utah. They hope to have products in Guatemala and on U.S. store shelves within a year.

U Top University for Commercializing Technology

The University of Utah is the top research university in the nation when it comes to commercializing technology innovations, according to the Milken Institute’s 2017 ranking of Best Universities for Technology Transfer.

The U has “quietly evolved into one of the most prestigious research universities in the United States with a strong emphasis on commercializing its research,” the institute said in the report released April 20. The U moved to the top spot after being ranked 14th in the institute’s inaugural report released in 2006.

The U was ranked above other top-tier research institutions, including Columbia University, the University of Florida, Brigham Young University and Stanford University.

“This recognition is due to the tremendous culture of innovation and entrepreneurship created by our faculty and the caliber of translational research here at the U,” said Keith Marmer, executive director and associate vice president of Technology & Venture Commercialization at the University of Utah. “The work our faculty is doing leads to knowledge and innovations that result in high-skill jobs and companies whose benefits are felt in Utah and beyond.”

This is the second time the U has been ranked No. 1 this year in the commercialization of its research.

The University of Utah was also named the top college in the country for aspiring entrepreneurs, according to LendEdu, an online marketplace for student loans, student loan refinancing, credit cards, and personal loans.

In a survey of the top 50 colleges, the U came out on top based on entrepreneurship courses offered, tuition and fees and entrepreneurship resources available.

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The Milkin ranking is based on the University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Index, which uses four key indicators of technology transfer success, measured on a four-year average (2012-2015): patents issued, licenses granted, licensing income and start-ups formed. These were normalized based on a four-year average of research dollars received by each university, for a total of eight measures.

The index uses data collected by the Association of University Technology Managers in its Annual Licensing Activity Survey.

The U attracted $417.2 million in research spending in 2015, the institute noted, and consistently ranked high across all the indicators. It was propelled to the No. 1 position due to licensing income and start-ups, which received the highest weights in the overall index.

Between 2012 and 2015, the U generated $211.8 million in licensing income and recorded 69 start-ups, which the report noted was a “remarkable accomplishment” given its location in a smaller metropolitan area.

“Utah has a strong entrepreneurial culture and an incentive system that makes it attractive for research faculty and students alike,” the report said, praising the U’s Technology & Venture Commercialization as “among the best in the nation.”

It highlighted several research and entrepreneurial endeavors at the U: the Center for Medical Innovation; the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars program; the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute; and the Center for Engineering Innovation.

The institute noted that public and private universities are a source of competitive advantage because they create a skilled workforce and, through research and development and tech-transfer, help create new technologies and new industries.

“Research funding should be a top priority for enhancing American economic growth,” the institute stated in its report.

More Power to the People

Thanks to the discovery of a new material by University of Utah engineers, jewelry such as a ring and your body heat could generate enough electricity to power a body sensor, or a cooking pan could charge a cellphone in just a few hours.

The team, led by University of Utah materials science and engineering professor Ashutosh Tiwari, has found that a combination of the chemical elements calcium, cobalt and terbium can create an efficient, inexpensive and bio-friendly material that can generate electricity through a thermoelectric process involving heat and cold air.

Their findings were published in a new paper March 20 in the latest issue of Scientific Reports. The first author on the paper is University of Utah materials science and engineering postdoctoral researcher, Shrikant Saini.

Thermoelectric effect is a process where the temperature difference in a material generates an electrical voltage. When one end of the material is hot and the other end is cold, charge carriers from the hot end move through the material to the cold end, generating an electrical voltage. The material needs less than a one-degree difference in temperature to produce a detectable voltage.

For years, researchers have been looking for the right kind of material that makes the process more efficient and produces more electricity yet is not toxic. There are other materials that can generate power this way, such as cadmium-, telluride- or mercury-based materials, but those are toxic to humans. The unique advantage to this new material by Tiwari’s team is that it is inexpensive to produce and, mostly importantly, bio-friendly and eco-friendly while still being efficient at generating electricity, Tiwari says. Therefore, it could be safe to use with humans.

“There are no toxic chemicals involved,” he says. “It’s very efficient and can be used for a lot of day-to-day applications.”

The applications for this new material are endless, Tiwari says. It could be built into jewelry that uses body heat to power implantable medical devices such as blood-glucose monitors or heart monitors. It could be used to charge mobile devices through cooking pans, or in cars where it draws from the heat of the engine. Airplanes could generate extra power by using heat from within the cabin versus the cold air outside. Power plants also could use the material to produce more electricity from the escaped heat the plant generates.

“In power plants, about 60 percent of energy is wasted,” postdoctoral researcher, Saini, says. “With this, you could reuse some of that 60 percent.”

Finally, Tiwari says it could be used in developing countries where electricity is scarce and the only source of energy is the fire in stoves.

The Technology & Venture Commercialization Office of the University of Utah has filed a U.S. patent for the material, and the team will initially develop it for use in cars and for biosensors, Tiwari says.

In addition to Tiwari and Saini, co-authors on the paper include graduate students Haritha Sree Yaddanapudi, Kun Tian, Yinong Yin and David Magginetti.

 

This news release and photos may be downloaded from:

http://unews.utah.edu

All Brawn AND Brains

You may know Taylor Sparks as a University of Utah materials science and engineering assistant professor. But earlier this month, he was Taylor Sparks, reality TV guest star.

Sparks appeared in an episode of the Discovery Channel television show, “Diesel Brothers,” a popular reality program based on his brother’s successful truck modification shop, DieselSellerz, in Woods Cross.

In the latest episode, which aired March 13, his burly, bearded brother, Dave “Heavy D” Sparks, wants to modify a Ford truck so it can perform a somersault, a feat that has eluded him before. So Dave enlists his brother Taylor to come up with the necessary physics to make it happen.

Based on some equations, Taylor, who earned a doctorate in applied physics from Harvard University, deduces that his brother’s crew has to find the center of gravity, build a round roll cage, and use hydraulics and extra weight to force the truck to roll forward.

“We’re fighting physics,” Dave Sparks says in the episode. “Luckily, we’ve got a scientist on our side.”

Click on the video below to see if they make it (they try the stunt in front of Taylor’s engineering class).

Click here to watch the full episode (cable subscription required).

Utah’s Need for Engineers

Utah’s growth in the technology sector continues to skyrocket, and engineering colleges around the state are doing everything they can to meet the high demand for engineers.

In the first six months of 2016, Utah had the greatest percentage increase of technology-related jobs in the U.S. with a growth of 7.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the number of tech-sector jobs in Utah grew from about 46,000 to 70,000 from 2005 to 2015, according to the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (see graphic above).

Meanwhile on the front end, the number of students seeking engineering degrees has grown even more rapidly. At the University of Utah, for example, the number of first-year students enrolled in the College of Engineering has grown 178 percent in the last 10 years, according to the College.

“In some areas of the state it’s just massive growth,” Val Hale, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said about the growing number of technology companies in Utah. “There’s no doubt that technology is playing a key role in our economy moving forward.”

As a result, 81 Utah companies led by the Utah Technology Council have endorsed Utah Rep. Val Peterson’s, R-Orem, $5-million Request for Appropriation to aid the state’s engineering and computer science programs in dealing with escalating student demand. These additional ongoing funds would add capacity to the statewide system and expand the workforce needed by high-tech companies. Since 2014, the number of engineering and computer science degrees awarded by the statewide system have increased by 29 percent thanks to prior state investments.

“Fortunately, the number of qualified Utah students who want to study engineering and computer science is growing as fast as the demand for graduates. In 2005, 7 percent of the U’s freshman class wanted to go into the College of Engineering — this year, it was 19 percent,” said Richard B. Brown, dean of the U’s College of Engineering. “We need to grow the capacity so that we can educate them for these exciting, creative jobs of the 21st century.”

Being able to tap into a bigger pool of qualified graduating engineers from the state would certainly help Starr Fowler. The senior vice president for human resources at Provo-based smart-home services company, Vivint, said they are desperately looking for new engineers to accommodate their massive growth.

“We are growing a lot,” she said. “We have double-digit revenue growth year over year.”

Currently, Vivint has some 35 job openings for software and hardware engineers — not to replace employees who are leaving, but to fill new slots for the company’s expansion. Fowler said they are looking for qualified people ranging from software developers to mechanical engineers who help design their home security and smart-home devices. She also said Vivint is not the only company along the Salt Lake Valley with an appetite for more engineers.

“It’s huge,” she said of the expanding technology sector from Ogden to Provo, known as “Silicon Slopes.” “All you have to do is drive down I-15 to the Point of the Mountain and the other side and just see. Every other week there’s a new building up or a new sign with a new company. The growth is substantial.”

And Utah is not starving for just software developers, GOED’s Hale said. An expanding manufacturing sector, including in areas such as composite materials, has created a need for mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers among others.

“Manufacturing continues to grow in our state, and it’s very engineering-dependent,” he said. “We’ve experienced significant growth, and manufacturing is involved in almost all of our clusters from life sciences to aerospace. They all rely heavily on manufacturing, which relies heavily on engineering.”

Hale added that Utah continues to be an attractive target for business startups thanks to the valley’s proximity to outdoor recreation, the state’s quality of life and low cost of living. Consequently, that has made these companies more competitive when it comes to filling their workforce, and median salaries for technology jobs have risen. The average salary for a software engineer in Utah, for example, is more than $95,000, according to Glassdoor.com.

“When a lot of the companies reach maturity and are purchased, they stay here, like Omniture. Those jobs stay here instead of migrating elsewhere, and that creates an ecosystem that thrives,” Hale said. “It’s a good place for businesses to come and take root and grow.”

Sparks Receives NSF Award

Materials science and engineering assistant professor Taylor Sparks received a five-year NSF CAREER Award. The award is for his project of developing tools to more safely and effectively discover new materials that could be used to harvest wasted energy.

Typically, about 60 percent of energy used from things such as a laptop computer, cell phone or even power lines is wasted in the form of heat. “If you can recover even small amounts of that, there is tremendous potential for energy,” Sparks said.

So he and his team have partnered with a software development company to develop tools that can take huge amounts of data about all known materials and suggest the best sustainable thermoelectric compounds that can extract this wasted energy. The software company will develop the programs, while Taylor and his team will provide the database of materials and validate the software’s results.

“In essence it works like Netflix. If you watch season after season of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ or give it five stars, then it can suggest with high probability that you might also like ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’” he said about how the software would work. “Instead of picking random compositions out of a hat to discover new materials, we rely on computationally inexpensive statistical probabilities of thermoelectric performance to predict what new materials might be great performers, and then we go make them.”

By successfully coming up with compound materials that can absorb the heat and convert it to energy, these materials could be key to increasing the energy efficiency for any powered device.

Sparks earned his bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from the U in 2007, a master’s in materials from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a doctorate in applied physics from Harvard University.