This year, I have become involved with a new research laboratory on campus. A new student to USC is starting his PhD in mechanical engineering this semester and I have been assisting him in his lab since the beginning of the year. I am enjoying every minute of it and it is so great to be able to get hands-on experience working with equipment that I actually plan on using in my career.
Last year, I was extremely interested in getting involved in research on campus. USC advertised itself to me as a research institution when looking at different schools, and that actually ended being one of the biggest selling points for me coming here. Therefore, I spent a lot of time looking at different labs that I found interesting. I found one laboratory that sounded really awesome – analyzing various combustion properties of alternative fuels (mostly biofuels) – but the lab ended up being too far along for me to really contribute much with my limited skills as a freshman.
Therefore, I was ready and pumped when my sophomore year started to get involved in a research lab that interested me. I e-mailed the lab supervisor of the other lab I tried to get involved in in the year previous and he told me about this new lab that a new PhD would be in charge of. The research that was going to be done in the lab sounded absolutely fascinating to me. In the past, other PhD students have measured the amount of soot created from the combustion of hydrocarbon – derived fuels, but this lab was going to take that experiment and conduct it in a high pressure environment to observe whether the pressure at which the biofuel is burned makes a difference in the generation of soot. I was excited and began to do work in the lab my second week of classes.
In one half of a semester, I have learned soooo much about fuels and we have not even started doing any tests yet! Because this is a new project, we have been constructing the different parts of the test system and doing calibrations of the various equipment. I have been doing a lot of work specifically with the flow panel. The flow panel is a board of pressure gauges that allows someone to control the pressure of the different gases that will be flowing into the test chamber during the experiments. The test chamber (shown below) is going to be completely sealed from the atmosphere, as we will be creating our own conditions in the chamber when we burn the various fuels.
I really enjoy this lab and I look forward to contributing a lot more and hopefully working in the lab throughout college. I am so glad I have been to find this opportunity to get some hands-on experience with something that I am very interested in and could see myself doing in ten years.