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Utilizing Undergraduate Engineering Student Research Assistants In Fuel Cell Durability And Reliability Testing; Assessing Their Feasibility, Benefits, Value And Contributions

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Investigating Fuel Cells and Alternative Fuels in the Classroom and Lab

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1377.1 - 13.1377.29



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Paper Authors

author page

Robert Fletcher Lawrence Technological University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Utilizing Undergraduate Engineering Student Research Assistants in Fuel Cell Durability and Reliability Testing; Assessing Their Feasibility, Benefits, Value and Contributions Abstract

The question of whether undergraduate engineering students can provide meaningful support to a university’s research program is not unusual. Undergraduate engineering students often have limited technical experience, and sometimes have yet to complete even basic academic courses required to fully understand the research activities involved. This paper evaluates, assesses and reviews the feasibility, benefits, value and contributions of undergraduate engineering students in a major fuel cell system research study at Lawrence Technological University. In the spring of 2006 Lawrence Technological University (LTU) entered into a fuel cell research program with the US Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), in Warren, Michigan. The objectives of the research work were to build a fuel cell test stand, install a hydrogen gas tank supply system, and to test two 1.2 kW polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells to assess their performance, durability and reliability over a wide variety of operational and environmental conditions over a sixteen month period. In order to successfully accomplish this work nine student research assistants over the course of the program were required. All of these research student assistants were undergraduate engineering students from LTU’s Mechanical and Electrical Engineering programs, with the exception of one who was an international graduate student in the LTU Master of Science in Automotive Engineering program. This paper provides a review of the process utilized to hire and direct these student’s work efforts, and gives a detailed description of their contributions and accomplishments. All of the major research objectives for the program were achieved. We have found that students benefited not only from the engineering and technical understanding derived from such participation, but also in the soft-science areas of teamwork, time management, and multi- disciplinary activities. Detailed assessment data obtained from the student participants (by written survey), as well as from participating faculty that augment the understanding and value of such work to both student and institution are provided and reviewed. Some members of the student research team have since graduated and are now working as engineers in industry, and their perspectives on the value of participating in such undergraduate research are included in the assessments. The results of this effort at LTU strongly support the value and benefits of utilizing undergraduate engineering students in our university’s research program.

1. Introduction and Background

Lawrence Technological University is a private, fully accredited university located in Southfield, Michigan. LTU has nearly 5,000 students in more than 60 degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels through the Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Management. The College of Engineering is comprised of a Mechanical Engineering Department, an Electrical and Computer Science Engineering

Fletcher, R. (2008, June), Utilizing Undergraduate Engineering Student Research Assistants In Fuel Cell Durability And Reliability Testing; Assessing Their Feasibility, Benefits, Value And Contributions Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3929

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