Going Against the Grain with Research Opportunities

Every time that I pour creamer in my coffee, I’m a bit mesmerized. The swirls and clouds of liquid seem to form randomly, yet with an overall order. Of course there must be some equation that yields the exact same vortex. Yes, this is what courses in fluid mechanics and heat transfer have told me. But what is that equation? For now I am content with just leaving that a mystery and enjoying the view every morning.

Have you ever thought about that kind of thing? Have you ever wanted to figure out something similar? Since this is DeKalb, perhaps you have wondered about the migrations of geese in and out of the area? Or maybe you are interested in airplanes and have wanted to find out what properties actually make a wing perform well.

In order to satisfy your mind, you could perform some research. Of course you would first go to the handy-dandy Founder’s Memorial Library and look up a book about the migration of geese in the Midwest United States. Wonderful! You’ve done it. You’ve figured it out. But what if your particular interest hasn’t really been explored in the particular way that you are interested in? Then you will need to do a bit more than just go to the library.

This is where experimentation comes into place. Where there’s a question, there’s an answer. But sometimes you just have to go find the answer independently. If you are studying engineering, there are plenty of great professors that are willing to give guidance towards any experiment that you wish to partake in.

Richard Dzherkov (which may or may not be a made up name), is studying mechanical engineering and is on a fast track to getting his PhD in procrastination. Richard says, “After failing to obtain an internship last summer, I personally requested research with Dr. Pohlman so I could gain experience and widen my understanding of engineering.” He has been carrying out this research since May 2015 and is still keeping it going.

Here are a few words about the interesting research that Mr. Dzherkov is performing:

“Granular materials are special in that they behave both as solids and liquids.  In our research, we are investigating their flow in conveyors (i.e. as fluids).  We do this by taking video of the side of a transparent conveyor and using a particle tracking program that gives the positions of all particles in each frame.  More specifically, we are investigating the efficiency of these conveyors.  To understand and explain the physics behind these phenomena would be of help in engineering by helping to quantify and understand inefficiencies.  We have done this two ways.  First, we have investigated transient development of the flow, proposing a mechanism for how a pile of material develops in the conveyor.  Unfortunately, conveyor efficiency is basically constant over time, so, though interesting, it didn’t help the main project.  The other route, which we are currently taking, is examining how the velocity flow field of the material varies over the container.  This would show how the kinetic energy of the material dissipates, and thus also explains inefficiency.”

I don’t know about you, but that just gets me excited. I have actually seen a few presentations about this research, and there are some neat pictures associated with it.

First Photo for GSSecond Photo GS

(Pictures from MEE 390, Fall 2015 “Mechanisms and Effects of Granular Pile Development in a Conveyor” presentation)

Richard works on the project independently and keeps in contact with Dr. Pohlman for guidance.

Everything has a cause and an effect. Research can be a great way to figure out what those causes and effects actually are. Plus it’s something that you can put on your resume and help you stick out when applying for that dream job.

Now someone, please, get off of Facebook and figure out that geese migration problem. Then I’ll know when to stay away from campus!


– Greg Sassi


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