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NSF Funding Wave Energy Project to Boost STEM Education

jinwangJin Wang

The National Science Foundation is funding a project designed by a group of Old Dominion University researchers to promote the study of ocean wave energy while also piquing the interest of young students in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Jin Wang, associate professor of mathematics and statistics, leads the research team that will carry out the $200,000 project - "A Multidisciplinary Platform for Wave Energy Education"-over the next two years. The goal of the work is to promote undergraduate education in wave energy and train the next-generation workforce to meet ever-increasing energy needs.

Co-principal investigators on the grant, all of whom are ODU faculty members, are Gene Hou, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Ravindra Joshi, Eminent Scholar and University Professor in electrical engineering; and Todd Fantz, assistant professor of STEM education and professional studies. Other senior personnel on the grant are Miltiadis Kotinis, ODU assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Vishnu Lakdawala, ODU associate professor of electrical engineering; and Clair Berube, who received her Ph.D. from ODU's Darden College of Education and is an assistant professor of science education at Hampton University.

Harnessing wave energy has been a goal of scientists and engineers for centuries, but interest in it has increased recently in response to calls for renewable and non-polluting energy sources. A variety of schemes have been proposed to use buoys, floats and pistons, turbines, rams and pumps to turn the huge potential of wave energy into electricity and other energies needed by humans.

Wang and his colleagues were previously funded by an ODU Office of Research multidisciplinary seed grant to model and analyze wave energy. They will build upon their research on wave energy as they now create five different undergraduate course modules that will be available to several hundred students each year. "The faculty on this team will incorporate their expertise and research findings into the development of five innovative and self-sufficient course modules related to wave energy," the project abstract states.

The new course materials will be offered in the departments of math and statistics, mechanical and aerospace engineering, electrical and computer engineering and STEM education and professional studies.

"Students will gain knowledge, mathematical and computational skills, and hands-on experience of wave energy through the proposed learning activities inside and outside the classroom," Wang explained.

Overall, the project integrates curriculum development, computer simulation, software demonstration, educational design, field observation and community outreach. The outreach activities will include STEM collaborations involving historically black colleges and universities, community colleges, high schools, the military and industries. Special effort will be made to include underrepresented groups in the outreach activities, Wang said.

The experiences and results of this project will be widely disseminated through Web pages, digital libraries, peer communications, and journal and conference publications, according to the abstract. In particular, the course materials, educational software and design products will be freely available on the Internet.

For Wang, this is the third major NSF project he has under way. Last year, he received a three-year, $280,000 grant together with College of William and Mary faculty member Jianjun Paul Tian on the modeling and simulation of tumor growth. He was also part of an NSF project to conduct an optimal control study on cholera outbreaks.

"We are very pleased with the success of Dr. Wang and his associates in obtaining multiple NSF grants and in focusing on interdisciplinary research across the university," said Chris Platsoucas, dean of the College of Sciences.