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Experiential Learning through Undergraduate Research on a Roadway Energy Harvesting Design (WIP) ASEE NCS

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2021 ASEE North Central Section Conference


University of Toledo, Ohio

Publication Date

March 19, 2021

Start Date

March 19, 2021

End Date

March 20, 2021

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Sabrina Martin University of Pittsburgh

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An undergraduate mechanical engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Tony Lee Kerzmann University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Tony Kerzmann’s higher education background began with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics from Duquesne University, as well as a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, Dr. Kerzmann began his career as an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Robert Morris University which afforded him the opportunity to research, teach, and advise in numerous engineering roles. He served as the mechanical coordinator for the RMU Engineering Department for six years, and was the Director of Outreach for the Research and Outreach Center in the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. In 2019, Dr. Kerzmann joined the Mechanical Engineering and Material Science (MEMS) department at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the advising coordinator and associate professor in the MEMS department, where he positively engages with numerous mechanical engineering advisees, teaches courses in mechanical engineering and sustainability, and conducts research in energy systems.

Throughout his career, Dr. Kerzmann has advised over eighty student projects, some of which have won regional and international awards. A recent project team won the Utility of Tomorrow competition, outperforming fifty-five international teams to bring home one of only five prizes. Additionally, he has developed and taught fourteen different courses, many of which were in the areas of energy, sustainability, thermodynamics, dynamics and heat transfer. He has always made an effort to incorporate experiential learning into the classroom through the use of demonstrations, guest speakers, student projects and site visits. Dr. Kerzmann is a firm believer that all students learn in their own unique way. In an effort to reach all students, he has consistently deployed a host of teaching strategies into his classes, including videos, example problems, quizzes, hands-on laboratories, demonstrations, and group work. Dr. Kerzmann is enthusiastic in the continued pursuit of his educational goals, research endeavors, and engagement of mechanical engineering students.

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Innovating new energy harvesting techniques that do not rely on fossil fuels is a critical step towards expanding sustainable infrastructure and fighting the effects of climate change. The Yale Program for Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) conducted a survey with Climate Nexus and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication that found 78% of voters support upgrading the electrical grid and expanding renewable energy sources using federal funds. This public support for renewable energy is essential for revolutionizing the way the country sources its electricity. The push towards clean energy sources is a huge steppingstone in the ongoing battle against climate change. As scientists and engineers consider possible solutions, it is imperative that they consider what infrastructure already exists and how it can be re-engineered and updated to provide electricity. One possibility to consider is updating our roadways to work for us to generate electricity.

As of 2017 the Federal Highway Administration reports that there are 4,184,471 miles of public road in the United States alone. These roadways provide a diverse environment for energy harvesting within vast amount of infrastructure that already exists. The near constant exposure to solar radiation, wind, run-off from precipitation, and repetitive mechanical loading creates an opportunity to implement a system that takes advantage of one or more of these resources. Two separate comprehensive reviews of roadway-based energy have concluded that there is a wide-open space for further research of possible devices.

The research done by an undergraduate student focuses on the feasibility of implementing a roadway-based energy harvesting device. The project also looks at the possible long-term impact of the device on the environment while keeping in mind its effects on the surrounding roadway. There is an emphasis on the enthusiasm and support of this concept from the public. In an effort to design a device that would be able to garner public support as well as improve the outlook of the climate crisis, multiple questionnaires were used to gather opinions to help shape the design of the energy harvesting device.

Hands-on research opportunities help relate the important concepts learned within lectures to real-world applications. While the classroom setting is effective at introducing the basics, I find it hard to grasp the material being taught until I can actively apply it to a project or problem outside of the lecture hall. Some courses lack a hands-on component that facilitates making important connections between class material and the real-life scenarios where these concepts would be applied. A research project is one opportunity that can make up for what these classes may be missing. This project was especially consequential during the fall semester of 2020, when the entirety of my schedule was remote due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With this project I was able to supplement my learning outside of class despite a lack of on-campus opportunities.

Martin, S., & Kerzmann, T. L. (2021, March), Experiential Learning through Undergraduate Research on a Roadway Energy Harvesting Design (WIP) ASEE NCS Paper presented at 2021 ASEE North Central Section Conference, University of Toledo, Ohio.

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