Engineering showcase sparks innovation

By Michael Ellis Langley

Friday, January 15, 2021

Annual UC Davis event helps Sandia connect with students

UC Davis logo
UC Davis

With the help of almost a dozen members of the workforce, Sandia was able to successfully lead the 2020 Sandia Engineering Design Award for undergraduate students who participated in the Engineering Design Showcase at the University of California, Davis, held virtually due to the pandemic.

Erin Mussoni and Camron Proctor organized Sandia’s participation in the June event. Teams of up to 10 UC Davis seniors were asked to tackle an engineering problem, leveraging the skills they learned as undergraduates.

Each team presented their design to a panel of judges, including the Sandia volunteers and UC Davis College of Engineering Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies Ralph Aldredge. Teams were judged on their demonstration of the engineering design process, creativity and innovation. The judges also paid close attention to a project’s connection to national security and consideration for diverse communities.

“UC Davis has great programs for alternative energy studies, bioengineering, mechanical engineering and other disciplines that are relevant to Sandia. We want to get the best and brightest who are doing real engineering work,” Camron said.

“We also asked them to show how their project aligns to national security and Sandia’s mission areas,” Erin said.

Impressive results

The winning team presented Process intensification in direct synthesis of dimethyl carbonate for carbon dioxide utilization, asserting that climate change is a growing threat to national security and America’s socioeconomic way of life. They proposed a process to create a direct synthesis of dimethyl carbonate from carbon dioxide and methanol, a method that shows promise in processing high volumes of carbon dioxide as a chemical feedstock.

“They thought about their design project with a greater view,” Erin said. “They also stood out through their advanced technical writing and their oral presentation. We were impressed because they communicated at a graduate level.”

Camron agreed that the team members did a good job of “distributing responsibility for the work and for demonstrating the process.” But, he added, the Engineering Design Showcase does a lot more than put a spotlight on undergraduates.

“We want the students to be aware of what we are working on and we want to start that relationship with them,” he said. “We also want to enhance our relationship with UC Davis — to show them what kind of jobs their students get. The leadership at the university needs to understand that we are doing good, important work on behalf of the nation.”

Both Erin and Camron said the challenges posed by the pandemic were managed easily because the innovations made within the past few years encourage more students to participate and advance the event.

They also thanked the other Sandians — most of them UC Davis alumni — who helped with the organizing and judging.

“I’m grateful for their passion and leadership for this entire endeavor,” Erin said. “Their diversity in technical backgrounds was huge, and they made it so that we had judges from enough disciplines to accurately examine the work of every team, no matter their major. It made everything really easy.”