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Got Energy for Undergraduate Research?

Professor Sohail Anwar works with students to develop research projects based on numerous aspects of energy.
By: Therese Boyd

Many articles extol the rewards of undergraduate research. A simple web search brings up “5 Reasons Why Undergraduates Should Do Research,” “Why Undergraduate Research Matters in College,” and—by former Penn State president Rodney Erickson—“Why Involve Students in Research.” Students benefit in many ways, including learning how to research and how to collaborate, developing relationships with professors, and building their resumes for jobs or graduate school. At Penn State Altoona, Professor of Engineering Sohail Anwar invites students to work with him on developing research projects that are based on numerous aspects of energy. The research ideas may be based on the current developments in electric vehicles, renewable energy, smart grid, battery storage, green building, solar bricks, or green manufacturing.

Because of the move away from fossil fuels worldwide, “there is a lot of interest in electric vehicles,” Anwar says. A concern, however, is charging a vehicle on a home electrical system, which may require an expensive upgrade to the system. Anwar’s research is focused on finding an affordable recharging solution for owners of electric vehicles. “We have a multicampus, funded project, which runs until May 2021, and we are looking to expand. The research team, with three faculty members from three different Penn State campuses, is working on the development of an effective energy management system for electric vehicles so they can store energy and manage it.” The research team includes students from Altoona and Hazleton campuses: “All the collaboration is taking place through Zoom. Because we cannot easily work on the physical aspects, we are going to collect data using online tools. We do have simulation software.” Planning for the future expansion of this EV research project is in progress.

For years Anwar has been working on another of his research projects, solar walls, which are used for passive heating. At the moment, he says, “I have a funded project and a research assistant, but I would like to have more research assistants in the future. The project, which runs until May 2021, involves the design, construction, and experimental investigation of a novel PCM solar storage wall.” The end goal of solar walls is to provide passive heating, heat preservation, heat insulation, and passive cooling.

Penn State has a Multi-Campus Research Experience for Undergraduates (MCREU) program for engineering students. In this program, Anwar explains, “University Park and Commonwealth campus faculty collaborate, then work with and supervise students.” Some of Anwar’s projects are supported by MCREU and he encourages students of all majors to explore the possibilities that MCREU provides. “We have supervised students in some wonderful research projects,” he says. Opportunities are not limited to the research itself; “some of our students are now developing research articles for refereed journals.”

Three research projects in the 2020 MCREU program that involve Penn State Altoona students focus on energy and the future. One project is titled “Methodological Framework for the Implementation of a Smart Grid in a Sub-Saharan Country: Senegal,” where students are working on developing microgrids “with actual data from Senegal,” says Anwar. “Development of a Mobile Photovoltaic System for Aid in Disaster Relief” is concerned with powering hospitals along the US coast in times of disaster. And “Economic Feasibility of Micro-Grid Energy Storage and the Impact of Emerging Technologies on Its Viability” is about evaluating energy storage because, of course, once energy is created it must be stored if not used immediately.

Anwar says any students interested in working with him for the development of energy-related research projects through MCREU or other Penn State undergraduate research mechanisms are welcome to contact him and he will “work with them on research proposals for working in the summer of 2021 and beyond.” There are endless energy-related research opportunities for any students wanting to have an active part in twenty-first-century energy solutions.