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Power Ahead

Clemson is now home to one of the world’s largest and most capable electrical grid simulators. Thanks to the work of Clemson graduate and eGRID creator Curtiss Fox, one day, renewable energy sources like wind, solar and more will do even more to make things go.

When the lights flicker, we barely notice. Our homes stay warm. Our laptops switch to battery backup. Maybe an old clock radio needs a reset, but otherwise life goes on uninterrupted.

In the world of distributed-energy production, however, even a momentary disruption in power can be a big deal.

Whether it’s something as small as a voltage fluctuation (think: a squirrel in a transformer or a tree falling on a power line) or something as significant as a cyber attack on the power grid, knowing how the next generation of energy will respond to these disruptions matters — a lot.

That’s where Curtiss Fox of the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) comes in. The work he and his team are doing today at the University’s Energy Innovation Center on its grid simulator will forever change the way we power our nation, and even our world.

The Duke Energy eGRID has been under construction at Clemson’s Charleston-based testing facility since the first of this year, shortly after Fox was named director of operations. Assembly wrapped up on the eGRID this spring, and the summer months will be spent essentially turning the equipment on in preparation for the center’s first customer: a private company affiliated with the energy industry. Although the proverbial switch has yet to be flipped, the eGRID project has been four years in the making, with Fox at the helm since the very beginning — first as a Ph.D. student and now as director of operations. It’s no wonder the prospect of making the simulator come to life, likely sometime this fall, is so thrilling for Fox.

“This,” he offers enthusiastically, “is when you really start making the equipment perform.”

J. Curtiss Fox receiving his doctoral (2013) degree in electrical engineering from Clemson.

J. Curtiss Fox receiving his doctoral (2013) degree in electrical engineering from Clemson.

FOX RECEIVED HIS PH.D. IN ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING in December 2013, but his work on the eGRID project dates back to May 2010. At that time, the Department of Energy had just awarded a grant to the drivetrain facility so that it could conduct mechanical testing of wind turbines by constructing two wind turbine dynamometers: one 7.5 megawatts, one 15 megawatts.

The Department of Energy grant had a specific purpose: to allow Clemson to perform Highly Accelerated Life Tests on wind turbines — in layman’s terms, the tests are designed to simulate extreme events, those outside the turbine’s normal operating range, to see how they respond. These tests are important before the turbines are deployed to the field for obvious reasons, namely to prevent equipment failures and avoid expensive replacements on the highly technical equipment.

About the time the grant was awarded, Fox’s longtime Clemson adviser, Randy Collins, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Science and professor of electrical and computer engineering, attended a presentation about the then-proposed wind turbine drivetrain testing facility. Collins spoke with Energy Innovation Center facility director and senior scientist, Nick Rigas, and learned about an electrical diagram of the proposed facility. On that diagram, there was a box. But no one quite knew what type of equipment was going to go into the box.

Collins mentioned to Rigas that he had a grad student who could look into that for him. A few weeks later, Fox drove to Charleston. He met Rigas. He landed the job: grad assistant at CURI. Fox’s main objective was to figure out what kind of electrical equipment went into the box. He also was charged with designing power-flow studies and studying the transient response of the electrical equipment within the facility.

The rest is history, or the future — as the case may be.

THE BOX HAD A NAME, if not a specific function: LVRT equipment. It turns out it was actually an addition to the wind turbine facility’s electrical system. It wasn’t until after the grant was awarded that the Department of Energy came back to Clemson and asked if the University could also look at working an electrical test into what was otherwise mechanical testing of the wind turbine drivetrains.

The answer, thanks to Fox, was “yes.” That box was right in his wheelhouse. Low Voltage Ride-Through, or LVRT, is the ability of electrical equipment to keep working even when there are brief disturbances in the power system — something like lightning strikes, fallen trees or even animals on the power lines. When the lights flicker or short out, it’s because the flow of electricity has been disrupted. Fox had been pursuing a thesis on the subject, and now he had an opportunity to give it real-world application.

So, Fox developed a grid simulator to troubleshoot these kinds of power interruptions and reduce the risks that those in the energy industry worry about as they try to integrate new technologies into the electrical grid.

Since then, Fox’s work to bring this capability to the Energy Innovation Center has introduced a world-class, advanced testing platform capable of modeling grid conditions anywhere in the world.

The grid simulator is a center for innovation, where energy efficiency, energy storage and smart-grid technologies can be developed, tested and certified before they are rolled out for the mass marketplace. All the while, the project has been an opportunity to educate industry about power systems engineering and to show them how it could impact their future workforces.

“THE QUESTION THAT ARISES IS, ‘How do we go about integrating the renewable, distributed, new-generation storage energy equipment into the existing infrastructure, such that you can offset costs associated with upgrading the infrastructure?’” Fox explains of his work at CURI.

Think of it like this: Say you have a power line feeding a neighborhood, and then a developer decides to build again, and the neighborhood doubles in size. “They would either need to install another power line or rebuild it with bigger equipment,” Fox explains.

“But what if they could come in and install energy storage and not have to rebuild that power line?” Fox asks. “They could defer an upgrade, or avoid having to put in a whole new power line, by simply placing newer, more efficient equipment in existing locations.”

That’s exactly the kind of technology Fox’s grid simulator works to troubleshoot, something that is of great interest to utility companies, energy equipment manufacturers and national energy officials, among others. Specifically, the eGRID houses equipment that facilitates testing of the three key renewable energy technologies: energy storage, wind turbine energy and large, utility-scale solar energy.

It is this third and final component of the testing facility, a Photovoltaic (PV) Array Simulator, that is the most recent innovation moving Clemson to the forefront of the alternative energy field. Clemson’s PV Array Simulator — which essentially combines several acres of solar panels designed to capture energy from the sun into a small box — is scheduled to come online this fall, and when it does, it will be the largest such simulator in the world. It will also make Clemson’s grid simulator the only one in the world capable of testing all three of the key renewable-energy technologies.

The $98 million testing facility has been funded by a $45 million Department of Energy grant, and matched with $53 million of public and private funds. The eGRID represents another $12 million on top of that. It’s truly pioneering technology, something officials at the highest levels of government have taken notice of, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman.

“Developing America’s vast renewable energy resources is an important part of the Energy Department’s ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future,” Poneman offers. “The Clemson testing facility represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing global industry — helping to make sure the best, most efficient wind energy technologies are developed and manufactured in the United States.”

J. Curtiss Fox (right) chats with U.S. Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman at the dedication of the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center.

J. Curtiss Fox (right) chats with U.S. Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman at the dedication of the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center.

LAST YEAR FOX AND HIS COLLEAGUES FILED A U.S. PATENT on the grid simulator while he also successfully defended his dissertation on Low Voltage Ride-Through technology. The grid simulator project is now a separate, Department of Energy-sponsored project supported in large measure by corporate partners including Duke Energy and SCANA.

“The energy industry is a growing and changing industry,” offers Kevin Marsh, chairman and chief executive officer of SCANA Corporation, the parent company of SCE&G, a key partner in the project. “It is important for the private sector to work with public partners such as the U.S. Department of Energy and Clemson University to address the opportunities and challenges that face our industry.”

It’s Fox’s past collaboration that bodes so well for the future of the electrical grid.

“As a student, I was allowed to collaborate directly with industry,” Fox says in retrospect. “These projects are only a steppingstone for the research and innovation that will be needed for the grid of the future. I hope to continue to contribute to those efforts.”

SCETV: World’s Most Advanced Energy Testing Facility Opens in South Carolina

Clemson University’s Drive Train Testing Facility: Economic Impact

Clemson and SCE&G partner on one-of-a-kind energy systems research & testing facility

In These Hills

International teachers learn and teach

Richard Balikoowa from Uganda was one of 16 teachers from seven different countries who studied on campus and taught in local schools from January through May. They are part of the International Leaders in Education Program, a professional exchange program funded by a subgrant from the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), which is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The teachers completed an on-campus academic program with some of Clemson’s School of Education faculty, and then interned with a partner teacher at Riverside Middle, Liberty Middle and Seneca High.

As part of this program, which is in its sixth year at Clemson, the teachers engage in formal and informal cultural activities in which they learn about American culture and share about their own. Teacher Fellows go through a yearlong selection process; they are nominated by their own country, approved through that country’s American embassy and local Fulbright commission, and screened through the U.S. State Department and IREX. Clemson is one of four universities selected to host the group.

Clemson team selected for Solar Decathlon

Clemson's Solar Decathlon team

Clemson’s Solar Decathlon team

The U.S. Department of Energy selected a Clemson team to compete in the Solar Decathlon 2015. Clemson is one of 20 colleges and universities across the country and around the world that will now begin the nearly two-year process of building solar-powered houses that are affordable, innovative and highly energy efficient.

“We are honored and excited to participate in the Solar Decathlon 2015,” said Akel Kahera, associate dean for Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “This competition offers our students a one-of-a-kind learning and training experience that helps students excel once they enter the clean energy industry.”

Over the coming months, the Solar Decathlon teams will design, construct and test their houses before reassembling them at the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition site in Irvine, Calif. As part of the Solar Decathlon, teams compete in 10 different contests, ranging from architecture and engineering to home appliance performance, while gaining valuable hands-on experience.

In fall 2015, the student teams will showcase their solar-powered houses at the competition site, providing free public tours of renewable energy systems and energy-efficient technologies, products and appliances that today are helping homeowners nationwide save money by saving energy. The solar-powered houses will represent a diverse range of design approaches; building technologies; target markets; and geographic locations, climates and regions, including urban, suburban and rural settings.

The Solar Decathlon helps demonstrate how energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies and design save money and energy while protecting local communities and boosting economic growth.

Clemson partners in national hub for genetics research

President Clements presents Self Regional’s Jim Pfeiffer with a bowl crafted from a cedar tree at Fort Hill, the historic home of John C. Calhoun and Thomas G. Clemson.

President Clements presents Self Regional’s Jim Pfeiffer with a bowl crafted from a cedar tree at Fort Hill, the historic home of John C.  Calhoun and Thomas G. Clemson.

In February, Clemson, the Greenwood Genetic Center and Self Regional Healthcare announced a new partnership that will establish formal collaboration among genetic researchers and Clemson faculty. Self Regional Healthcare will support Clemson’s Center for Human Genetics with a gift of $5.6 million over three years. The gift consists of an initial contribution of $2 million for the center’s facilities and a subsequent contribution of $3.6 million to support research in genetics and human diagnostics at the facility located on the Greenwood Genetic Center campus.

“Today’s announcement will create a new pipeline for genetic research,” said John Pillman, chair of the Self Regional board of trustees. “The collaboration of these three partners will ultimately connect genetic therapeutics research to patients.”

Steve Skinner, director of the Greenwood Genetic Center, said such collaborations are crucial in turning research advances into clinically available therapies for patients, not only in Greenwood and across South Carolina, but globally. “This collaboration is a major step forward for patients as we combine the resources and strengths of each institution: Self’s commitment to patient care, Clemson’s expertise in basic scientific research and our experience with genetic disorders and treatment.”
Self Regional and the Genetic Center have had an affiliation agreement since 1975 with the Genetic Center’s clinical faculty serving as the Department of Medical Genetics for Self Regional.

President Clements said the announcement brings us a step closer to moving basic discoveries in human genetics from a research environment to a clinical setting, where they can be used to diagnose and treat real human disorders. “Clemson is proud to be part of this important collaborative effort, and we’re grateful to Self Regional Healthcare for its support of our research efforts at the Greenwood Genetic Center.”

The center will address research and clinical opportunities in human diagnostics and epigenetic therapeutics advancing personalized medicine for intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and disorders of the immune and nervous systems. Specific research will include molecular diagnostics and therapeutics, bioinformatics and computational/systems biology.

Self Regional Healthcare, as a research and lead health care partner, will support hospital-based clinical trials and collaborate in designated research activities. This marks Clemson’s third significant development at the Greenwood Genetic Center. In June 2013, Clemson announced it would expand its genetics programs, create an internationally competitive research and development team, and expand research capabilities at the Greenwood Genetic Center’s J.C. Self Institute through the Center for Human Genetics, a 17,000-square-foot research and education center in human genetics. And in November, Clemson established the Self Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Human Genetics, jointly funded by the Self Family Foundation and the state of South Carolina.

Ballato selected for class of ’39 award

John Ballato 2013 recipient of the Class of ’39 Award.

John Ballato 2013 recipient of the Class of ’39 Award.

With the increasing popularity of Sci-Fi movies, it’s no surprise that lasers conjure up images of futuristic adventures in outer space. But materials science and engineering professor John Ballato’s work in fiber optics isn’t happening in a galaxy far, far away — it’s all happening right here in Clemson.

The 2013 recipient of the Class of ’39 Award, Ballato is director of the Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies (COMSET). His research in glass and specialty fiber has made seemingly fictitious concepts a reality. “It sounds very Star Trek-ish, but the military has lasers deployed around the world to shoot down a variety of threats,” Ballato said, “everything from missiles to RPGs.”

Although Ballato and his team don’t make the lasers that are sent to the battlefield, they do help develop the fiber optics that go inside them. The program’s success in the field of specialty fiber has enabled Ballato to work closely with the U.S. Department of Defense Joint Technology Office, which has invested more than $10 million in COMSET over the past eight years.

Ballato moved to Clemson in 1997 and worked with other researchers to start an optics program, no easy task for junior faculty members. “Doing optical fiber research is extremely expensive,” he said. “The equipment that you need is big, complex and dangerous.”

But a confluence of events fell into the team’s favor. The dot-com boom turned into the dot-com bust in the late 1990s, leaving a glut of fiber optic cable that no one wanted. But Ballato and his team knew there was more research to be done. They quickly found an underserved sector, a “sandbox” where no one else was playing, he said. “The Department of Defense was clamoring for specialty fiber,” he said. “They couldn’t get any because it was all going to communications.”

It was a perfect fit. The research had to be done onshore for security reasons, Ballato said, and the Department of Defense was a client with deep pockets. “There was nobody else talking to them,” he said. “Everybody else had moved on http://creative.clemson.edu/clemsonworld/2014/05/hills/to other things, and we rode that wave in fiber for 10 years, through two wars and a staggering amount of investment.”

Ballato said COMSET partners with companies to pitch programs to the Department of Defense. “Clemson is actually pretty unique nationally in the sense that we go from ‘dirt to shirt,’” he said. “We model it, we design it. We study new materials. We make the glasses. We draw the fiber. We build the lasers for them at a prototypic level. That’s extremely valuable for our partners. It’s a one-stop shop for them.”

Ballato served as the interim vice president for research and associate vice president for research and economic development, where he championed Clemson’s advanced materials related research and economic development. His achievements speak volumes, but this award may be the most meaningful. Ballato was chosen by his peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the University, the student body and the larger community.

As the 2013 winner of the Class of ‘39 Award, Ballato’s name will be engraved in stone next to 24 past winners. The Class of 1939 established the Award for Excellence in 1989 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the class and to recognize and inspire faculty service above and beyond expectations.

In March, President Clements announced that Ballato would take on additional duties as the University’s vice president for economic development.

Honoring Sacrifice

Clemson’s Air Force ROTC detachment gathered in March to send Lieutenant Colonel Tom von Kaenel on a 120-day bicycle journey to Juneau, Alaska, to raise awareness of the sacrifices of service members, veterans and their families since 9-11. Kaenel is the founder of Sea2Sea, a military nonprofit that organizes bicycling events across the country, partnering with other nonprofits and local organizations. During the memorial service held that day, Clemson cadets read the names of South Carolinians who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nanoparticles, Big Ideas

Apparao (Raja) Rao

Apparao (Raja) Rao

Although these images can easily be mistaken for abstract art, they are indeed high resolution transmission electron microscope images of unique nanostructures explored by R.A. Bowen Professor of Physics Apparao (RAJA) Rao and his team at the Clemson Nanomaterials Center.

The honeycomb-like structure (in purple) with rows of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal fashion forms the basis of a graphene layer — the quantum building block for buckyballs, carbon nanotubes and graphite. Supported by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Rao and his team have begun to chip away at reinventing energy storage by developing a cost-effective and scalable way to produce carbon nanomaterials. While energy is one of the focus areas, Rao’s team is also working on understanding the fundamental implications of nanomaterials on the physiological response.

Shown in the image (orange) is a silver nanoparticle coated with serum albumin, whose modified structure could be used to generate nanoparticles that can deliver useful drugs without being engulfed by the immune system.

Pam Buffington Redmon ’85

“It’s Personal”

pam-buffington-redmonWhen it comes to Pam Buffington Redmon’s passion to control tobacco, it’s personal.

Two weeks before her 1985 graduation from Clemson’s School of Nursing, Redmon received a call that no daughter wants to receive. Her father, a longtime smoker, was being rushed to the hospital and would need open heart surgery. He survived, but struggled with heart issues throughout his life.

After graduating from Clemson, Redmon began work as a critical and coronary care nurse in Greenwood then continued her career as a cardiac rehab specialist and clinical research nurse in Ohio. In many of her cases, she saw her father’s health story — smoking that led to health struggles — replicated in the lives of her patients.

So when she decided to enter the next phase of her career, she earned a master’s degree in public health from Emory University and embarked on a mission to impact health by working to control the use of tobacco.

Redmon first served as a staff member, then later executive director,
of Emory’s Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium, which provided tobacco-control training and technical support to national, state and local organizations and foundations.

She then became executive director of the Global Health Institute– China Tobacco Control Program, a Gates Foundation initiative at Emory that is developing tobacco control and prevention initiatives, including smoke-free policies and mobile health interventions, in 17 Chinese cities with populations equivalent to U.S. states.

She also serves as administrative director for the Tobacco Centers for Regulatory Science at the Georgia State University School of Public Health. The center focuses on understanding the human and economic factors that contribute to decision-making regarding the use of tobacco products.

“Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the U.S. and around the world, and decreasing tobacco use reduces the health, social, environmental and economic burdens it creates for individuals and communities,” she said.

Redmon and her husband, Kevin, a 1985 Clemson computer engineering graduate, are also playing an important role in the life of their alma mater by joining together to fund the Kevin and Pam Redmon Class of 1985 Annual Scholarships. Both first-generation college students themselves, the scholarship will be given to first-generation students in the School of Nursing or College of Engineering and Science.

Clemson’s Own Monster Garage

If you go to the website for Clemson’s Machining & Technical Services, you can read about the many capabilities of this department in the College of Engineering and Science. Seven bullet points list everything from drafting and machining to plastic fabrication and welding.

They might consider trimming that page down to just six words:

We can make just about anything.

That’s what director of instructional and research support Phil Landreth ’84 will tell you, backed up by his staff of engineers, artisans and craftsmen who work in the basement of Freeman Hall, packed with high-powered equipment and projects. “It’s like walking into Monster Garage every morning,” Landreth says with a grin, referring to the Discovery Channel show. There are no chrome dashboards or classic interiors, but the challenges they meet each day and the solutions they create have life-changing implications.

Say hello to the four managers of the shop — Truman Nicholson, Jeff Holliday, Brad Poore and Charlie McDonald ’04. Get them talking about their many projects, and their faces light up as they begin to tick them off:

  • Joist hangers and hurricane clips for the Wind Load Test Facility
  • Heart valve bioreactor and part of an artificial knee for biomedical engineering
  • A component of the buoys in the Intelligent RiverTM project
  • Fullerene nanoparticle producers for chemistry, physics and COMSET
  • An etching press, larger than commercially available, for the art department

The list goes on and on — from turf cutter blade parts for athletics to a machine to make miniature bales of cotton for materials science and engineering and air handling shafts for Facilities Maintenance and Operations. They produce samples for undergraduate labs to use for stress testing. They’ve helped students develop easy-to-connect joints for the steel bridge competition. They’ve created a mechanism to dynamically compress artificial cartilage tissue as it is being grown. They even worked with emeritus professor Cecil Huey to replace the governor on a historic steam engine for the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico.

Etching Press

Etching Press

When art professor Sydney Cross wanted an etching press larger than she could find commercially, she went to the guys in Machining & Technical Services. The outcome? An etching press with a 5’x8′ bed.

“It is the largest etching press at a university on the East Coast,” says Cross, “and I don’t know of anyone commercially producing them at that size.” Her classes use the press on a regular basis. Pictured here is Claudia Dishon ’10, who completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking.

2012 SAE formula hub

The MTS shop produces a number of parts for the formula car teams that Clemson fields. Pictured here is the front hub being machined for the 2012 SAE formula car.

Heart valve bioreactor

Heart valve bioreactor

The MTS shop created parts for a heart valve bioreactor that was developed in Dan Simionescu’s Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine at the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInC). CUBEInC, which opened in December 2011, is part of Greenville Hospital System’s Patewood campus.

Faculty at CUBEInC collaborate with cardiovascular and orthopedic surgeons across the hospital system and expose their students to the highest levels of research.

Stress testing samples

Stress testing samplesIn undergraduate engineering labs, students perform stress tests to determine how various materials respond and to see the relative strength of different metals. MTS produces samples like the ones pictured here.

Fullerene nanoparticle producers

Fullerene nanoparticle producersWhen chemistry professor Ya-Ping Sun needed to create a mechanism to produce fullerene nanoparticles, he came to MTS. They worked with him and others in chemistry, physics and COMSET (Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies) to create this mechanism that produces carbon molecules used in pharmaceuticals, lubricants, coatings and composite materials.

Hurricane clips

Hurricane clipsWhen civil engineers were developing hurricane-proof building techniques, they worked with MTS to create joist hangers and hurricane clips that were then tested in the Wind Load Test Facility. Pictured here is one of the hurricane clips developed to keep roofs from lifting off houses during storms.

 

From drawings to reality

On the walls of the shop you’ll see pictures of years and years of formula cars designed, built and raced by Clemson students for the annual Society of Automotive Engineers competition. The silent partners in the projects are the guys in MTS.

“The students are building a prototype,” says Nicholson, “and we create different parts for them, like the rotors and the throttle body and the axles.” He picks up a differential that has been crafted out of a solid block of aluminum. “We usually do the differential.”

The competition is early May. Like other projects, these might start with a drawing on a napkin, but Landreth and the others pride themselves on the ability to work with students and faculty to figure out solutions, then make those solutions a reality.

“We meet with the students and talk about what they want and need,” says Nicholson. The back-and-forth conversation elicits a much better product than just dropping off an order and picking it up when it’s finished.

“I can count on one hand the failures    we have had of not being able to give someone what they need,” says Landreth.


Clemson SAE Formula Team

Where the rubber meets the road

Across campus in another little-known building are two guys spending their Friday morning working on Clemson’s SAE formula car for the competition that is less than three weeks away. The frame is welded together and sits on a large worktable. The whiteboard on the door lists most of the tasks that need to be finished, with a countdown of days to go before competition (19 at this time).

“There are more things we need to do, but I’m afraid if I put everything up there, it will overwhelm some of the team,” says Kevin Carlson, one of the team leaders. He and team member TJ Theodore will be here most of the weekend.

The SAE formula team is made up of students from mechanical engineering, industrial engineering and business who average 10-15 hours a week beginning in the summer. No course credit, no compensation. The seniors on the team will even have to choose between attending the competition or walking at graduation. Some of the team members (including the other team leader, Perry Ellwood) are working co-op jobs and come back to Clemson to spend their weekends on the car. Two alumni team members return once or twice a week to help as well.

The team relies heavily on the guys from MTS, who have produced 14 parts for this year’s car.

“We have 125 hours of MTS time,” says Carlson. “We completely design the car in SolidWorks [software application] and then go to MTS with drawings. They do the steering gears, the wheel hubs, the trigger wheels, the throttle body.” The team mills some parts themselves by hand. And they wrangle others, both donated and sold, from outside vendors.

Working with MTS not only saves the team money, but it also provides them with technical expertise. “It saves us around $6,000 to have their help,” says Carlson. “Hour-wise, it saves us over 300 hours of machining if we had to do it ourselves. They’re a huge help, both with the parts and giving us knowledge on how to machine things better or more efficiently.”

An engine for the rest of campus

The crew in MTS are probably best known for their work with the SAE formula car, but there’s not a college or department on campus that has not been affected by their work. Bioengineer Karen Burg discovered their capabilities while she was still a graduate student. Now a prolific researcher and holder of an endowed chair in bioengineering, she shares some of the credit with them for Clemson research productivity.

“I’ve worked with the Machining & Technical Services staff since I was a graduate student,” she says, “and I’m grateful for all their assistance on numerous projects. They are enthusiastic and helpful, and they have significantly increased our ability to conduct cutting-edge research.”

The MTS crew has worked with Burg to create an instrumented container used for growing tissue for breast cancer research. Caught in a more casual moment, Burg remarks, “In short, Phil [Landreth] and the Machining & Technical Services personnel ROCK.”

The rest of the Clemson crew agrees.

Clemson's Monster Garage group

In addition to Phil Landreth and the four managers, the staff of Machining & Technical Services includes (L–R) David Kelley, Glen Rankin, Scott Kaufman, Brittney McCall, Bill Simmons, Dustin Gravley (kneeling), Dock Houston and Wendy Baldwin.

A Bias for Innovation

Innovation isn’t always creating a new, flashy product. Sometimes it’s taking something that already exists and finding a different or more efficient way to use the same product.

Lightbulb SketchThis idea, this intersection of form and function, is where science and the humanities come together. It’s also the place where universities like Clemson can allow students to stretch boundaries and truly innovate without the obstacles that often face companies — cost, time, bureaucracy of the process.

“It’s not just about making the machine, it’s also about seeing how people are going to use the product,” said David Blakesley, the Campbell Chair for Technical Communication and professor of English. He works extensively with students on the future of the traditional book — what forms it will take, how it will be published and how it will be read.

GIVING SHAPE TO IDEAS

Building on the idea of innovation while allowing for creativity is integral in Clemson’s new MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MBAe) program, which just graduated its inaugural class from the one-year program.

Designed for individuals who want to start their own companies, the program attracts students who come with a business idea, and then they spend the year networking, developing and refining their idea in the effort to graduate with a market-ready company.

“One of the primary goals of the MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation is to ensure that we incorporate a bias for creativity, experimentation and innovation,” said Greg Pickett, associate dean and director of the Clemson MBA program. “Just as an entrepreneurial mindset encourages big ideas, the knowledge gained from our unique curriculum provides students the real-life tools necessary to bring ideas to the marketplace.”

Starting a company wasn’t even a consideration for May MBAe graduate Riley Csernica when she began her undergraduate career at Clemson in bioengineering in 2008. “I kind of stumbled upon it and really liked taking charge and being creative,” she said.

What started out as an idea for a capstone project for her senior design class is now being made into a full-fledged business. She and her group mates were paired with a clinician from Greenville Health System, and from discussions with him, they created a shoulder stabilization brace for athletes and active individuals who experience recurring shoulder instability issues.

With idea in hand, Csernica entered the MBAe program — and now she and one of her original group members have begun Tarian Orthotics. They’ve already received a $50,000 National Science Foundation I-CORPS award as well as $7,500 from the Clemson EnterPrize Awards, the MBAe capstone business pitch competition. They have worked through the Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF), which promotes technology transfer of Clemson intellectual property, to file a provisional patent on the brace.

“There are definitely good days and bad days — there aren’t really any rule books we can look into for answers,” she said. “But through this program, we now have an idea of where we’re going and who to talk to. It was a great time for me to be able to focus on what we are trying to do big picture.”

BUILDING A CABINET OF CURIOSITY

Using an approach to education that fosters innovation, Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program immerses undergraduates in the research process. Students work in teams with faculty mentors, take ownership of their projects and assume the intellectual risks necessary to solve problems and get answers. Team-based investigations are led by a faculty mentor and typically span two to four semesters.

Creative Inquiry students develop critical-thinking skills, learn to solve problems and hone their communication and presentation skills, alongside getting to work on incredible projects with entrepreneurial prospects.

When Greenville Health System Children’s Hospital expressed the need for a pediatric arm stabilizer that could be used to facilitate blood draws from young patients, a Creative Inquiry class took the idea and worked for two years on a solution. The project team included 12 students majoring in mechanical engineering, nursing, bioengineering, business and general engineering, and CURF has since filed a provisional patent for the invention.

Think SketchIn a recent agricultural mechanization Creative Inquiry project, students converted a four-passenger electric golf cart into a teaching platform by building and designing a powertrain and utilizing a diesel engine with hydrostatic transmission. The students incorporated GPS guidance and variable rate controllers.

“We can now demonstrate agricultural power and machinery principles in addition to precision agriculture technologies in a more efficient and student-centered manner,” said Kendall Kirk, agricultural and biological engineering research assistant.

GROWING IDEAS

Clemson’s charge from the very beginning has been to innovate and improve the field of agriculture. And while the study of agriculture is far from new, researchers’ work is never done.

A team of professors and students in the agricultural mechanization and business program has designed and implemented technologies that allow a zero turn mower — a standard riding lawn mower that has a turning radius that’s effectively zero inches — to use its existing hydraulic circuit to power cylinder and motor–actuated implements. It can also operate accessory attachments such as log splitters, scrape blades, wood chippers, leaf blowers and others.

“This technology substantially increases the versatility of zero turn mowers and eliminates the need for additional internal combustion engines to drive accessories,” Kirk said.

As part of a horticulture class, students Malisia Wilkins and Allison Kelley recently tackled the idea of vertical gardening as a way to feed the hungry in small-space urban environments. Vertical gardening involves a simple structure, built vertically, that doesn’t require soil and retains water. To build one, they upcycled several standard wooden pallets and outfitted them with materials found at your average hardware store.

“When it came to designing the vertical garden, our first priority, beyond feeding people, was sustainability; our second priority was to design something inexpensive and easy to build,” they wrote in their report.

The three prototypes of varying sizes were then filled with cilantro, bell peppers, Italian parsley, kale, basil, sweet marjoram, oregano, chard, micro-greens, lettuce, strawberries, thyme — all plants that grow at shallow soil depths and, more importantly, provide nutritional value and health benefits.

“We believe that by educating individual families to produce on a micro-scale, we can work to eliminate food insecurities and hunger,” they said.

SPRINGBOARD FOR INNOVATION

Partnerships with Greenville Health System (GHS) and private corporations are helping drive innovation in the classroom as well as the business sector. From advanced materials to bioengineering, recent academic innovations have given rise to commercially applicable medical advancements.

These advancements are fueled by the 20-year partnership between the College of Engineering and Science and GHS, and more recently, the opening of the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInC) on the Patewood medical campus. This facility includes translational research laboratories that focus on cardiovascular and orthopedic engineering. CUBEInC enables the translation of high-impact medical technology and devices from the laboratory to bedside, providing numerous opportunities for entrepreneurial pursuits.

“GHS is a wonderful partner for Clemson,” said Martine LaBerge, bioengineering department chair. “Where Clemson has a comprehensive understanding of biomaterials, the hospital system is the go-to organization in Upstate South Carolina for medicine and surgery. When these areas of expertise are combined, there exists a real opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life of the people of our state.”

Using CUBEInC as a springboard for innovation, assistant professor John DesJardins and colleagues have mentored two recent senior biomedical engineering design projects that have development technologies destined for the marketplace — one of those being the newly formed Tarian Orthotics.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Thinking Person SketchInnovation and change happening in Clemson classrooms isn’t just affecting industry and business, but the future of teaching and classrooms.

“It’s so important for teachers to be able to think creatively and to be able to inspire this thinking in their students because they are charged with educating young people for an unknown future in a digital, global world that requires students to be literate across an interweaving media — from written text to the body to digital imagery to sound,” said Alison Leonard, assistant professor of arts and creativity.

To address this, she has created the Arts and Creativity Lab in Godfrey Hall, which was physically and aesthetically designed to cultivate creative and artistic thinking. The design of the space, along with the pedagogy of the class, nurtures ideas among students.

“We cannot continue to train teachers the same way that many of us were taught. The world is different,” Leonard said. “Ways of communicating continually are changing, and young students are literate in ways that are so multifaceted and mediated, that being flexible, creative, able to function and communicate effectively across cultures, contexts and media is essential.”

The same goes for long-standing products like books. In Blakesley’s class on the future of the book, his students approach creating a book in both traditional and non-traditional ways. Each has to think linearly across platforms — how will this read on the printed page? How will it read on a tablet? What will make this more interactive? In the end, the whole process is scrambled, and the writer has to rethink the approach. A book is no longer just a book in the simplest sense of the word.

The consequences of such innovation is that long-standing roles and processes need to be changed, adapted or simply eliminated. And change is hard.

“I like to think of our students as ‘change agents,’” Blakesley said. “Down the road, they’ll be more capable and likely to bring about innovation in the workplace. And they’ll be better prepared to anticipate the cost and challenges because they’ve done this already, in the classroom.”

Clemson writers Ron Grant and Jonathan Veit contributed to this article.