NRG undergraduate researchers present their summer work

NRG undergraduate researchers Morgan Mayer, Logan Fairman, and Maria Politi.

Over the last few years, the Niemeyer Research Group has been fortunate to work with some excellent undergraduate student researchers, thanks to support from the National Science Foundation through Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental awards, along with Oregon State’s URSA Engage and Women and Minorities in Engineering programs. This year, three student researchers (Morgan Mayer, Logan Fairman, and Maria Politi) presented posters about their summer research at the 2018 Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium.


Morgan Mayer presented a poster on her summer work at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, CA. Photo by Aaron Fillo.

Morgan Mayer is entering her fourth year majoring in Chemical Engineering, and has been working with the group since January 2017. This summer she interned at Sandia National Laboratories under the SULI program, where she worked under Dr. Judit Zádor at the Combustion Research Facility.

Morgan’s summer research focused on calculating uncertainties in reaction rate parameters used in combustion models. These numbers control how fast or slow a reaction progresses (its rate) and are extremely important to develop accurate models for how fuels burn. Some of these parameters can be found using experimental measurements, but these days chemical kinetics researchers rely on quantum chemistry calculations to determine rate parameters. These methods are extremely powerful, but require some inputs that may be uncertain. (This means that we might only know that the value of the input falls within some range, even though we use a particular value in the middle). Morgan worked on a Python code to determine how the uncertainties in these inputs propagate through to the eventual rate parameters; this will help identify the uncertainty in the overall chemical model.

Prior to this summer, Morgan coauthored a paper published in Combustion and Flame with NRG collaborators Sai Krishna Sirumalla and Professor Richard West of Northeastern University. She also presented some of her honors thesis work at the 2017 Fall Technical Meeting of the Western States Section of the Combustion Institute in Laramie, WY.


Maria Politi presented a poster on her summer work at Oregon State, supported by an NSF REU Supplement. Photo by Aaron Fillo.

Maria Politi is also a rising fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Chemical Engineering; she has been working with the group since June 2018.

This summer, Maria gathered experimental data describing the ignition of fuels including hydrogen, methane, ethane, propane, and butane. (These are called the “foundational fuels” because their chemistry serves as the foundation for larger hydrocarbons, like those present in gasoline and diesel.) She collected data from over 80 published articles (containing almost a thousand data points), converted these into a standard data format called ChemKED, then archived them on a public database. Most of these data were either not publicly available before, or were stored in non-standard formats, and will be used to validate and improve models for fuel combustion.


Logan Fairman presented a poster on his summer work at Oregon State, supported by an NSF REU Suppplement. Photo by Aaron Fillo.

Logan Fairman is a rising second-year honors student majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He began working with the group in January 2018.

Logan’s work over the last year focused on performing computational simulations of rapid compression machines using the open-source software OpenFOAM. Rapid compression machines, or RCMs, are experimental devices that work like long, single pistons in an internal combustion engine. As their name suggests, RCMs rapidly compress a mixture of fuel and air to reach a high pressure and temperature; then, after a certain time delay, the mixture ignites. RCMs are used to study how different fuels ignite, and provide data to validate and improve models (like the data Maria collected!). Logan specifically looked at how the shape of the piston head affects the mixture, and identified desirable geometry features that ensure a well-mixed interior.


Maria and Logan’s 2018 summer research, and Morgan’s 2017 summer research, was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant 1535065. Logan’s work in winter/spring 2018 was supported by the Oregon State STEM Leaders program, which in turn is funded by NSF award 1432810.

Morgan’s summer project at Sandia National Laboratories was supported by the AITSTME project as part of the Predictive Theory and Modeling component of the Materials Genome Initiative. She was also partially (50%) supported by DOE Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program. Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory managed and operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC., a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-NA0003525. The views expressed in the article do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Energy or the United States Government.