UTAEngineer Magazine, Fall 2012

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The bi-annual magazine of the UT Arlington College of Engineering.



UTA EnginEEr
The UniversiTy of Texas aT arlingTon | College of engineering Dispatches from the Forefront of Discovery
Fall 2012

UncAnny TherApy

A robot named Zeno may hold the key to early autism detection in children.

UTA EnginEEr | i

UTA Engi nEEr
College of engineering Dean

FALL 2012 VoLUme i, nUmber 1

Engineering Cancer Solutions Three UTA researchers are making progress in the war against the deadly disease.

Jean-Pierre Bardet
Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Lynn Peterson
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs

J. Carter Tiernan
Interim Associate Dean for Research


Anand Puppala
Director of Communications

Jeremy Agor
University CommUniCations Associate Vice President for Communications and Marketing

P. David Johnson

Jessica Bridges

I, Zeno A specially designed, human-like robot is helping researchers understand how autistic children move, react, and communicate.

At the Forefront of


Brody Price
University Photographers

Robert Crosby Beth McHenry


t UT Arlington we’re asking big questions and seeking innovative solutions. Our students and faculty tackle the pressing problems in today’s society, everything from clean energy to health care solutions to national security. With more than 4,500 students and 31 degree programs, the College of Engineering is one of the largest and most comprehensive engineering programs in the state, providing students the resources, support, and expert knowledge they need to succeed.

To learn more about the College of Engineering, including information on our graduate programs, many corporate outreach opportunities, and more, visit www.uta.edu/engineering.

UTA Engineer is published twice a year by University Communications. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited. The comments and opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily represent those of The University of Texas at Arlington or the staff of UTA Engineer. Copyright 2012, The University of Texas at Arlington. An equal opportunity/ affirmative action employer. College of Engineering UT Arlington Box 19019 Arlington, TX 76019 817-272-3682 [email protected] www.uta.edu/engineering

2 DispATch 3 LAb noTes

Need for Speed The student-run Formula SAE team has a long history of success. Its new challenge: building a hybrid race car.

Modeling Motor Proteins Assistant Professor Alan Bowling has a powerful ally backing his newest research: Sir Isaac Newton.

Manhole Makeover The integrity of the nation’s 21 million manhole covers is under investigation by the college’s engineers.

20 beyonD The LAb
21 DOnOR 22 ALUMni

23 cLAss noTes 24 re-engineereD


lab notes
Opening the Next Chapter of our Engineering Story
The College of Engineering at UT Arlington enjoys a formidable advantage because of its location. North Texas is a vibrant region undergoing rapid economic development and unprecedented population growth, and we are right in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, now the fourth-largest urban area in the nation. It is a great time to be a UTA engineer and to experience the groundbreaking exploration launched by faculty and students. They are committed to serve industry, government, and academia through leadership in education, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and are proud of improving the quality of life in Texas and beyond. Our faculty is innovative and travels off the beaten path to make all kinds of new discoveries that positively affect all people. Our students think creatively through a transformative learning environment to flourish as engineers and entrepreneurs. We are evolving quickly on our way to becoming a major research institution. This inaugural issue of UTAEngineer features a few examples of research breakthroughs that take place here, including early detection of cancer and autism spectrum disorder. In addition to health care, the College of Engineering is leading the way in many other areas. Our researchers received the only NASA research grant awarded this year for the study of hypersonic propulsion systems, defeating on their turf well-established institutions like Stanford, MIT, and Caltech. Our students are winning prestigious national awards like the Goldwater Scholarship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. The list goes on. The stories on these pages offer a glimpse of the innovation and creativity that punctuate every day in the College of Engineering. Our limitless imagination will transform our future, and our efforts will keep the University, the region, and its people at the forefront for years to come.
The new weather radar system will provide researchers with more precise data.

The LATesT DeVeLopmenTs From The coLLege, iTs FAcULTy, AnD iTs sTUDenTs

A chinA connecTion

Dr. Jean-Pierre Bardet has been dean of the College of Engineering since January 2012. The civil engineer is a progressive and innovative leader who is dedicated to aiding the University in its goal of attaining Tier One status.

Better Forecast, Better Plan
A weather radar system being installed at UT Arlington promises faster, more precise data about severe weather and flash flooding. The system is a venture of the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), a National Science Foundation engineering research center. D.-J. Seo, associate professor of civil engineering, is leading a research team that will help mine the data collected by the radar for important weather information that can be used in emergency management, development, and stormwater drainage planning. “In severe weather, minutes can mean the difference between life and death,” Dr. Seo says. “The new system can see the small details in the atmosphere. You can tell what is happening very close to the ground every minute.” UT Arlington is one of four sites selected to host a CASA radar for the first phase of the DFW Urban Demonstration Project. Plans eventually call for about a dozen throughout North Texas.

Jean-Pierre Bardet
Dean, UT Arlington College of Engineering

UT Arlington has established a joint master’s degree with the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications in computer science and engineering, with a focus on software engineering. The partnership will bring students to campus each year, beginning in fall 2013. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to build partnerships not only with these students but with Beijing University and China in general,” says Fillia Makedon, JenkinsGarrett professor and chair of the Computer Science and Engineering Department. “Software engineering is a global field impacting everything and driving innovation.” Dean Jean-Pierre Bardet believes programs like this build prominence for the college and the department. “International students see that we are at the forefront of learning and research,” he says. “We want to attract the best and the brightest from all points of the globe.”

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lab notes FACULTy
High-Fiber Strength
Making concrete stronger is the goal of Ali Abolmaali’s new research. The Tseng Huang Endowed Professor of Structural Engineering and Applied Mechanics and chair of the Civil Engineering Department is studying new techniques to reinforce the vital construction component. “There are significant cost savings if concrete can be made stronger with added durability through the addition of fibers or chemicals,” Dr. Abolmaali says. He and his team are testing synthetic and steel fibers to determine the feasibility of using them as alternative reinforcements in precast concrete structures. The experimental testing program will include both material and full-scale structural tests on concrete precast structures of different sizes. Abolmaali’s work is being funded via a grant from the Germany-based BASF Construction Chemicals company. “Both displacement and load control tests will be done to meet the project’s testing needs,” Abolmaali says. “We think that BASF fibers will enhance the reinforced concrete precast structures when compared with more conventional concrete structures.”

Associate professor mario romero-ortega is developing prosthetics that provide users a sense of touch.

De-bUgging compUTers cheApLy

moDeLing moTor proTeins
Alan Bowling has a powerful ally backing his research: Sir Isaac Newton. Dr. Bowling, assistant professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, received a National Science Foundation grant to study a new model for how motor proteins behave in the body. He contends that mass and acceleration make a difference at the nano level. This goes against the most widely accepted thinking and teaching, which omits mass and acceleration from the model, thus making it possible to violate Newton’s second law (force equals mass times acceleration). “We think you have to account for that law,” Bowling says. “We believe it makes a difference in whatever predictions you are using the model for when you are looking at the motor protein’s behavior.” His new approach for modeling the proteins satisfies Newton’s second law without sacrificing accuracy and while also decreasing simulation time down to several minutes.

professor Ali Abolmaali’s synthetic and steel fibers could help reinforce concrete structures.

A Titan of Tech Mario Romero-Ortega has long been interested in finding ways to improve prosthetic limbs. Because of his research, the Metroplex Technology Business Council named the bioengineering associate professor a 2012 Tech Titan in the Technology Innovator category. The council is the largest technology trade association in Texas. Dr. RomeroOrtega was honored for his work developing prosthetic arms that can allow injured military veterans and other amputees greater movement and may restore their sense of touch. “Our end goal is very ambitious, but we believe it can be achieved, if not for us, then for our kids and grandkids,” he says.
IllustratIon By laguna DesIgn/getty Images


engineering FAcULTy hAVe iT coVereD

The research of several faculty members has made front page news over the past few months. Samir Iqbal, an electrical engineer specializing in nanotechnology; Young-Tae Kim from bioengineering; and their colleagues were featured on the cover of Lab On a Chip journal for their work on building solidstate micropores to get

direct information about cell populations. With this system, cancer cells can be detected by their distinct behavior. Dr. Iqbal also made the cover of the May 2012 issue of IEEE Transactions on Nanotechnology for his work on PLGA micro- and nanoparticles with a different team of researchers that included Azhar Ilyas and Kytai T. Nguyen from

bioengineering. That same month, Anand Puppala, associate professor of civil engineering, had his research on shrinkage-induced pressure in unsaturated expansive clays highlighted on the cover of the Journal of the Southeast Asian Geotechnical Society & Association of Geotechnical Societies in Southeast Asia.

Computer “bugs,” or flaws in software programs and systems, cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars every year. UT Arlington engineers are trying to change that. “Bugs can be as little as a misplaced or mistyped computer character, and it is extremely difficult to find them in applications that interact with very large databases,” explains Christoph Csallner, assistant professor of computer science and engineering. He is principal investigator for a three-year project titled “Testing Large-Scale Database-Centric Applications,” for which he and his team will attempt to find such bugs and then create techniques that check user programs for them. “Our goal is to find as many bugs as possible as cheaply as possible in these applications,” Dr. Csallner says. The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates that better bugfinding techniques could save the U.S. economy at least $20 billion annually. Co-principal investigators on the project are Assistant Professor Chengkai Li and Associate Professor Leonidas Fegaras, also of the Computer Science and Engineering Department. The team received a National Science Foundation grant to fund its work.

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lab notes REsEARCH
Moving innovations to the marketplace is a key goal of research institutions like UT Arlington. Several engineering faculty were recently rewarded for their efforts to do just that. The Texas Medical Research Collaborative awarded grants to three researchers in critical health care fields: bioengineering Associate Professor George Alexandrakis, TMAC Research Engineer Heather Beardsley, and bioengineering Professor Hanli Liu.

brian huff and Atilla Dogan


A new monitor may soon help keep infants safe while they sleep. Electrical engineering Professor J.-C. Chiao, recent UT Arlington Ph.D. graduate Hung Cao, and TMAC Research Engineer Heather Beardsley have

hArnessing A siLenT KiLLer

developed a sensitive wireless sensor system that can detect carbon dioxide exhaled by babies while they sleep. More importantly, the sensors can tell when infants are not expelling carbon dioxide and quickly signal for intervention. “This has the chance to save lives,” says Dr. Chiao. “Our system is more accurate than current systems. It should reduce false alarms that desensitize

parents or caregivers.” Dr. Cao said he was inspired to develop the new sensor after his son’s birth in 2006. “I was watching him through the glass in the hospital nursery sleeping so soundly, but I couldn’t tell if everything was OK. So I thought, ‘How can I be sure he’s fine?’” Cao recalls. He was working with Chiao at the time on a project developing

gas sensors for monitoring missiles. “I thought, ‘why couldn’t that same type of system be used for detecting the carbon dioxide that people breathe out?’” Cao says. The new sensors can be attached to a baby’s crib or car seat. They are less cumbersome than current technology, which requires a breathing apparatus to be placed around the baby’s nose.

Enabling Hypersonic Speeds
Mechanical and aerospace engineering Assistant Professors Luca Maddalena and Luca Massa are helping make space more accessible. They recently received a three-year NASA National Research Award to create injector designs to support combustion at hypersonic speeds, which could help enable affordable access to space for large hypersonic vehicles. In the photo below, you can see a laserbased visualization of the supersonic air/fuel mixing process in a Mach 2.5 flow that was reproduced in a supersonic wind tunnel. The flow from right to left (the mixing process) and the laser illumination in the middle of the photo show the cross-stream vortical system produced by the injector developed at the UT Arlington.

Drone DiVersiTy
Drones have gained worldwide attention lately because of their use by the U.S. military. But this technology also has civilian applications. Thanks to work by Associate Professors Atilla Dogan and Brian Huff and others, the College of Engineering is at the forefront of this research, positioning itself as a resource for companies interested in unmanned aerial systems technology. “My opinion is that the next growth in unmanned aerial systems will be in the civil arena, in areas such as police and fire and rescue,” says Dr. Huff. “We hope the technology eventually will be cost-effective for these uses, as well as for farmers who need to check fields and real estate agents who want to fly property lines and take photographs.” UT Arlington is involved in a local consortium led by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Innovation and hosts the Lone Star Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “We are committed to being active in bringing this technology to the region,” says Huff.

The Future of Foldable Phones
Mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Cheng Luo envisions a day when a flexible cellphone can be folded and placed in a pocket or when a laptop can be rolled up and stored. Through a National Science Foundation grant, he is developing a process called “micropunching lithography” to create lightweight, low-cost, flexible, polymer-based devices that could replace the silicon-based materials commonly used in today’s electronics. The process involves two operations, cutting and drawing, during which polymers are deformed using rigid and soft molds, respectively, to create desired polymer channels and sidewalls that can be used for detection and delivery.
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professor cheng Luo hopes his new process will lead to electronics advancements.

hAVing An impAcT in prinT

Sajal K. Das—a UT Arlington Distinguished Scholar, professor of computer science, and founding director of the University’s Center for Research in Wireless Mobility and Networking—recently published a book, Mobile Agents in Networking and Distributed Computing, and served as editor of the Handbook on Securing Cyber-Physical Critical Infrastructure. Mobile Agents focuses on computer programs that can autonomously migrate between network sites; Handbook focuses on foundations and techniques for securing critical infrastructures.

maddalena and massa’s study looks at the effectiveness of new fuel injection schemes.

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lab notes CLAssROOM
Each summer, groups of high school students invade the UT Arlington campus to learn about engineering and forge new friendships. The college hosts five weeklong camps for students from 5th to 11th grades. Two are residential, but all include four components: an individual project, faculty presentations, field trips to places like Bass Hall and DFW Airport, and a team project. “There are no cultural role models for engineering like CSI provides for forensic science,” says camp director and Assistant Dean Carter Tiernan. “We’re giving kids a


Star Sky Scholar Wendy Okolo, a Ph.D. student in the
Teens DrAwn To engineering ThroUgh sUmmer cAmps
chance to try engineering and realize, ‘Oooh. This is cool!’” All of the camps touch on a variety of engineering disciplines, plus related topics in chemistry and physics. One of the most popular is the Girlgeneering Camp, which allows girls to explore engineering without having to face social pressures. “The high schoolers who come to camp and talk to professors and current students really make a strong connection,” Dr. Tiernan says. “These are the students we’re most trying to reach—the ones who aren’t automatically thinking of a career in engineering.”

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, was awarded a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense. The star student is studying formation flight of aircraft as a possible fuel-saving initiative, specifically looking at how using internal fuel transfer and differential thrust could offset increased drag on a trailing aircraft due to the turbulence caused by a lead aircraft.
ph.D. student wendy okolo received a highly prestigious fellowship to fund her research.

Junior aerospace engineering major erica castillo achieved an unprecedented honor for UTA.

Making UTA History
Erica Castillo recently became UT Arlington’s first Goldwater Scholar. The highly prestigious award is given to about 300 college sophomores and juniors nationwide. Castillo, a junior, is majoring in aerospace engineering and physics, with a minor in mechanical engineering. She believes her Goldwater honor should be shared with the UT Arlington professors who have inspired her, among them physics Lecturer Barry Spurlock, aerospace engineering Professor Wen Chan, and UT Arlington Assistant Provost Mahera Philobos. The Goldwater scholarship is awarded based on merit, and its goal is to encourage a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by offering financial support in those fields.

Flexibility is a key factor in the College of Engineering’s success, something it will soon demonstrate again, as it gets set to offer many of its master’s degree programs entirely online. This will make it easier for local engineers to further their education even if they are unable to attend classes the traditional way. “We realize that many professionals in this region have busy schedules that do not allow them the flexibility they need to come to campus, so we’re creating a solution that will allow them to acquire a master’s degree and advance their careers,” says Steve Gibbs, who worked in the telecom industry before joining the Electrical Engineering Department in 2004. He spent the summer collaborating with the college’s departments to both identify existing courses that could lead to an online degree and create pathways to add other tracks. Thanks to upgrades in technology in many engineering classrooms, online master’s degrees are now close to reality, with live-streaming of courses likely following in the near future.

oFFering onLine opTions To FiT A hecTic LiFesTyLe

Local middle and high school students took part in a variety of engineering summer camps at UT Arlington.

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Need for Speed
UTA’s Formula sAE team has had incredible success over the past 30 years. now, members are tackling a new challenge: building a car that’s both fast and environmentally friendly.
Most universities urge their students to take it slow on the roads; UT Arlington helps them build and drive race cars. Since 1982, mechanical engineering Professor Bob Woods has led students in Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) competitions with universities worldwide. The University’s success is unmatched, with seven victories in the United States and more in England, Australia, and Japan. This year, the team built a hybrid car for the first time, competing in the Formula Hybrid contest at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Technical issues prevented the car from running on the first day, but they were fixed for the second day, when UT Arlington dominated the endurance competition. The team turned in the fastest lap by 10 seconds in an event where a difference of one-tenth of a second usually wins. “We had the most sophisticated car out there. It was very state of the art and it was fast,” Dr. Woods says. “A lot of the systems on the car called for things that even the professors didn’t know how to do, and I’m very proud of the students for figuring out solutions on their own.” The team finished fourth out of 39 teams and took home the GM Best Engineered Hybrid Award. “There were three automotive companies at the competition and they tried to recruit our students. I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back to Arlington with my whole team!” Woods says. “One guy at Texas Instruments said that electric cars were big, and that students who come out of college with a knowledge of batteries and controls could name their price.” Future plans for the Formula SAE team include building a fully electric car in 2014. “It may be less complicated than the hybrid, but it will still be sophisticated. It will have four-wheel drive,” Woods promises. •

The car has a blended brake: The first ¼-inch of the brake is electric and the rest is hydraulic.

The team designed and built a carbon fiber wheel to reduce the unsprung weight. The wheel is stiffer and much lighter than aluminum racing ones.

The team developed a microcontroller to control the steering and brakes and to determine, based on the dynamics, how much torque to give each wheel. Then they built sensors to relay information to the microcontroller.

The team designed an electric motor in conjunction with Parker Servo Motors, which provided a frameless model that the students then had to build.

A123 Systems provided the team with lithium-ion batteries, but the students had to design a battery pack and holder.

Both front wheels on the front-wheel-drive car have motors; there are controllers for the rotors.

The students collaborated with Texas Instruments on a battery management system to ensure that all the cells were charged to the same level; they then built a circuit board to control the high and low levels.

The car uses torque vectoring to optimize braking through the turns by shifting to each wheel at the right moment.

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Engineering Cancer Solutions
The future of cancer research is cross-disciplinary and collaborative. in this, engineers at UT Arlington are leading the way, as they research methods for detection and treatment.


he fight against cancer is neverending. Across the globe, the finest scientists and researchers struggle to stay one step ahead of the deadly disease, which claims hundreds of thousands of American lives each year. But although the battle is not yet won, significant progress is being made in labs and classrooms right here at UT Arlington. In the lab of Jenkins Garrett Professor J.-C. Chiao, prostate cancer gets the spotlight, as he and his colleagues work to develop a device that can assess cancer risk. Meanwhile, a few doors down, bioengineering researchers are busy building a nanoparticle-based drug delivery system that could help reduce the devastating side effects of chemotherapy. And in the Electrical Engineering Department, Samir Iqbal has found a novel use for silicon chips as a cancer detection device. As their work will show, the war on cancer is a cross-disciplinary, collaborative endeavor. The National Cancer Institute estimates that about 1.64 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2012. For a fight this large, all hands are on deck. Predicting Cancer’s Next Step To tackle a disease as prevalent as prostate can-

cer, Dr. J.-C. Chiao, an electrical engineering professor, knew he’d have to get to the heart of the danger—metastasization. So he and his team developed a microfluidic device that can assess the risk of metastasis in patients due to cancer cell migration, a major cause of death. Called MiMiC (Microfluidics for Migration of Cells), his device uses prostate cancer patients’ own blood to determine this risk. In an attempt to replicate human blood vessels found in bone, it has microscopic tunnels that allow cancer cells to travel between two chambers. A very small drop of patient serum is placed in one chamber and prostate cancer cells are placed on the other side. Researchers then observe the sample to see how fast the cancer cells move toward the serum. “Our pilot study shows amazing results. We took blood from patients who have metastasis and from healthy men, and found that we can predict with 85 percent accuracy which samples induce metastasis,” Chiao says. “The study is all

J.-c. chiao’s mimic device uses cancer patients’ blood and prostate cancer cells to determine their risk for metastasis.

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strategy,” Chiao explains. “If there’s no risk for metastasis, you don’t necessarily want to give chemotherapy. If there is possibility for metastasis, the doctor can use the technology to find the right drugs that will work best.” The research team has also tested its device with breast, lung, and kidney cancers, to promising results. “I can envision a future where this technology is refined into a piece of desktop equipment in a clinic that enables staff to regularly monitor patients during their visits.” Improving Chemotherapy for Patients As Chiao’s research demonstrates, despite its benefits, chemotherapy treatment also has many drawbacks. But Kytai Nguyen wants to change that. The bioengineering associate professor is developing a cancer cell-selective nanoparticle system that can be targeted for imaging and drug delivery to detect and cure prostate cancer. She and her team—which includes former Associate Professor Jian Yang, Ph.D. student Aniket Wadajkar, and Professor Hsieh of UT Southwestern—has invented nanoparticles that have a magnetic core covered by a fluorescent, biodegradable polymer shell. The core is useful for magnetic targeting, MRI imaging, and producing induced heat for hyperthermia. A magnet is placed on the skin near the affected area to draw the nanoparticles directly there, thus making imaging easier and facilitating better drug delivery. Meanwhile, the biodegradable photoluminescent polymers serve both as a drug carrier and an optical contrast reagent, allowing researchers to detect cancer cells more easily. “Some drugs are very toxic. We want to kill cancer cells, but we often kill healthy cells, too. If you deliver chemotherapy drugs to the whole body, you will have negative side effects, such as hair loss and fatigue,” Dr. Nguyen explains. “But if

you can load these nanoparticles with medicine and deliver those drugs directly to where they’re needed, you can lessen these. Plus, we have found that the nanoparticles attack cancer cells more with a magnet than without.” In Nguyen’s lab, the team has successfully created a particle with a polymer created by Dr. Yang and a peptide created by Dr. Hsieh that will attack prostate cancer cells and not harm healthy cells. The nanoparticles are unique and can address the current challenges in prostate cancer management, and may also help treat breast, skin, thyroid, and other cancers. What’s more, the nanoparticles can be used several times and allow adjustments to the drug load to improve therapeutic efficiency. And since the photoluminescent polymers are biodegradable, they are eliminated from the body once they are no longer useful for treatment. Finding Treatment in New Places Like Chiao, Assistant Professor Samir Iqbal is also working on cancer metastasization, but his research has found inspiration in an unusual

with this technology, doctors will no longer have to wait for the physical symptoms of cancer to appear before beginning treatment.

source: cellphones. The silicon chips used in those and many other electronic devices, it turns out, can be repurposed to identify cancer cells in a patient’s blood stream long before they metastasize and become deadly. The chips, in fact, act as mousetraps for cancer cells. Using a new class of molecules called aptamers, which were developed by a chemist at UT Austin, Dr. Iqbal has created a surface that increases trapping efficiency: Rogue cells come in contact with the surface and don’t want to leave, but healthy cells won’t bind with it because they see it as a foreign object. “With this technology, doctors will no longer have to wait for the physical symptoms of cancer to appear before beginning treatment. Rather, they can detect the presence of cancer cells early and stop metastasis,” Iqbal explains. “Diseased cells have a lot going on that’s different than normal cells. When cancer starts, it’s hard to find because there’s a very small concentration of cells. The tumor cells also travel through the bloodstream searching for other organs that they can invade.”

In older detection systems, the blood sample had to have at least 1,000 cancer cells per million. But Iqbal’s new surfaces can be effective while trapping far fewer cells, allowing him to confirm cancer with 10 cells per million. The researcher’s goal is to be able to detect cancer during a patient’s annual physical, a time when it may be early enough to be isolated and cured. “We are defining a test that can detect cancer cells in the blood very early so we can find out if there is a site shedding scout cells and a distant site somewhere else in the body,” he says. “That way, doctors can focus on treating the primary site as well as preventing the cancer from spreading.” The electrical engineer believes his research may have a global reach. Smokers, for example, often smoke for years without cancer symptoms, but a simple blood test that can detect the presence of cancer early on could save lives and millions of dollars in medical costs. One other byproduct of Iqbal’s research is an increase in collaboration with researchers both inside and outside the University, something that he relishes. “The College of Engineering and the University have fostered a collaborative environment,” he says. “I’ve been working alongside doctors from UT Southwestern and the Arlington Cancer Center. Before, I never saw oncologists visit our campus. It’s an enabling factor that we don’t have to ‘defend our turf’ and it’s a credit to the University’s vision. It’s a new era at UTA.” •

samir iqbal is repurposing silicon chips into traps for cancer cells. his new system will help doctors detect cancer earlier in patients.

done outside the body with a tiny drop of blood. It’s not painful.” The next step for the researchers is to test chemotherapy drugs outside the body using the MiMiC assay to determine which ones effectively stop metastasis. Chemotherapy often has negative side effects for patients and may not be guaranteed to stop metastasis. By being able to test different drugs outside the body, doctors could adjust patients’ therapy to make sure the patients receive the most appropriate chemotherapy without having to inflict unnecessary side effects on them.

Chiao and his collaborators—Kytai Nguyen from the Bioengineering Department, J.T. Hsieh from the Urology Department of UT Southwestern Medical Center, and Alfred Distefano from the Texas Health Resources Arlington Cancer Center—believe the device is a step toward personalized medicine, as it not only can help doctors assess the risk that a patient may develop metastasis, but also tailor the therapy to the individual patient. “If we are able to predict if the patient has any factors in their blood that promote metastasis, we can help the doctor to decide a treatment

Kytai nguyen’s nanoparticles have a magnetic core covered by a fluorescent, biodegradable polymer shell that helps them provide better magnetic imaging and drug delivery.

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I, Zeno
A group of UT Arlington engineers thinks a robot with a funny name and a steady gaze may hold the key to early autism detection in children.

researchers are using a lifelike robot to better understand how autistic children react, move, and communicate.

he best communicator at UT Arlington can’t be found in a lecture hall or on a theater stage. He won’t wow you with his stature (being only two feet tall) or impress with his sonorous voice (it’s rather monotone). But what he can do—what he was literally built for—may make it easier for doctors to diagnose and treat autism. His name is Zeno, and he’s the impressive bundle of wires, Frubber, and sensors at the center of Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Dan Popa’s work on autism. Characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors, autism is a complex disorder of brain development. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
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about one in 88 American children are on the autism spectrum, with boys about five times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. Traditional detection methods for the disorder rely on speech and social interactions, which require that the child be old enough to talk. Were there a way for doctors to focus on their patients’ motions instead, they might be able to detect the condition earlier, and thus begin treatment earlier. Enter Zeno. “Recent studies have shown that robots can be helpful to children with autism,” explains Dr. Popa, who directs the Next Generation Systems group at the UT Arlington Research Institute. “It turns out that the kids are attracted to robots. In fact, they’d probably rather interact with them than with humans.” So, he and his research partners—Hanson RoboKind, the Dallas Autism Treatment Center, the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC), and Texas Instruments— teamed with Hanson Robotics to create a lifelike robot for their use. Created by Hanson Robotics owner and former Disney Imagineer David Hanson, it stands about two feet tall and has an artificial skin made of Frubber, a flexible material that can mold into different shapes. Hanson RoboKind was responsible for Zeno’s design—the
Above: Zeno interacts with one of the study’s young subjects. At right: Dan popa, left, and research assistant nahum Torres-Arenas embed sensors in the robot to enhance its features.

name comes from Hanson’s son—with UT Arlington mechanical engineering alumnus Richard Margolin serving as chief engineer for the project. After Hanson provided the initial robot, the research team embedded a more performancecontrolled system into it. This gives it the ability to not only interact with the children, but also to measure their movements and indicate what therapies might work best for them. Popa and his engineers currently employ “off-the-shelf” equipment for Zeno’s controls, but he eventually wants to create custom controllers using chips from Texas Instruments (National Instruments also has given his team equipment to test). These controls combined with the robot’s innovative Frubber skin allow Zeno to accurately mimic human movement and facial expressions like smiling, to maintain eye contact with a person, and to follow movements with his head and eyes. This human-like appearance sets Zeno apart from robots used in about a dozen similar studies being conducted worldwide, and, researchers believe, is key to his ability to detect autism symptoms. It’s a belief that flies in the face of a commonly accepted hypothesis, the uncanny valley. Proposed in 1970 by Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori, the theory posits that when human observers are presented with robots that look and act almost, but not exactly, like actual human beings, they feel uneasy. The team’s success with Zeno is challenging that long-held idea. In fact, the researchers want the robot to look and act as human-like as possible. They feel that if children are to learn movements by mimicking Zeno, then the robot’s movements need to be as fluid and lifelike as possible. Otherwise, Popa says, the kids will move awkwardly—like a robot. When working with children, the researchers use Zeno in three distinct ways. In “scripted” mode, the robot does default motions like waving, and the child is encouraged to follow the movement. In “therapist” mode, the therapist performs a motion that the robot plays back, using controls created by Popa’s team. This allows him or her to tailor a session to a particular child’s needs. Finally, in “direct” mode, the robot uses technology found in an Xbox Kinect to detect human motion and react, much like when a baby plays in front of a mirror. According to Nahum Torres, a Ph.D. student in UT Arlington’s Electrical Engineering Department, the researchers try to teach the children

simple movements, then, once those are learned, add speech and facial expressions. “When we say hello to someone, we might wave, then say hello, then smile,” he says. “Children with autism have trouble processing two commands at a time, so the robot helps them learn to complete a set of tasks.” For Nicoleta Bugnariu, associate professor at UNTHSC and a physical therapist/neuroscientist, motor control issues are what she is most interested in learning from the children’s interactions with the robot. “How these children keep their balance, reach for an object, and move about a room may be extremely important in diagnosing autism,” Dr. Bugnariu says. She feels that if we can detect these motor biomarkers and determine the timing of these differences during the developmental process, it would greatly benefit diagnosis and treatment. “In the first two years of life, language is a small part of a person,” Bugnariu continues. “Children move first, then speech comes. We can’t wait until they use speech. We need to determine sooner who has autism.”

The kids are attracted to robots. They’d probably rather interact with them than with humans.

One of the children the researchers have observed is Pamela Rainville’s 7-year-old son, Anthony. Rainville found out about the research project from Carolyn Garver, director of the Dallas Autism Treatment Center, and thought it might benefit Anthony. “It’s always good for Anthony to be put in different situations, things outside his normal routine,” she says. “Anytime he can be around other people, it’s a good learning and growing experience for him.” Anthony has worked twice with Zeno so far. Rainville believes her son got more out of the second meeting than the first, and she expects he’ll get even more out of subsequent interactions with the robot. “This second time, Anthony fist-bumped Zeno, which was great,” she says. “He was a little more relaxed.” Popa and his team routinely visit UNTHSC to analyze the data collected through the experi-

ments with the robot, and then use that information to evaluate the quality of the interaction. “It gives us tons of data we can study to determine whether there is a correlation between a child’s improvement and their work with the robot. I think there is, but it’s too early to tell,” he says. One big reason why it’s too early is that the pool of children Popa and the researchers at UNTHSC have been able to work with is very small. They have only had sessions with about five kids and need far more to determine trends. To recruit more subjects, Popa has teamed with Marc Schwartz, director of UT Arlington’s Southwest Center for Mind, Brain, and Education, to create a room aimed at autistic children at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Dr. Schwartz’s goal is to provide the kids with an experience that will allow them to benefit from the museum, and he believes that including a robot could help. For his part, Popa hopes that it will allow his team to collect more data to add to their research. “We also want to take the robot out of the lab as much as possible and see if it has other uses,” Popa says. “For instance, robots like Zeno could be used in occupational or physical therapy to help people relearn motions.”

As of now, there are really no biological methods of determining autism. “We just observe,” says Dr. Garver. “That’s why this research is so important. If we can document that a certain eye gaze or motor movement means some level of autism, this could help in developing ways to treat it early on. ” Parents like Pamela Rainville who are working with Popa and his team understand this. They know that whatever data the engineers and doctors discover may be more beneficial for future generations of autism patients than their own children. But that’s OK. “I know it might not help Anthony,” Rainville says. “But I think if this research can help other children with autism through early diagnosis, then that’s well worth the visits.” •

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beyond the lab
Koonnamas Punthutaecha, a civil engineering alumnus, recently received the Thai government’s highest civil servant honors for his extensive work in civil transportation for rural roads. He serves as a head of the Maintenance Management Development System Division in the Bureau of Maintenance of the Department of Rural Roads for the Thailand Central Government. The award was given by the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Yongyuth Wichaidit, in April. Dr. Punthutaecha received his Ph.D. in civil engineering in 2002 under the guidance of Anand Pup-

The LATesT DeVeLopmenTs From The coLLege’s ALUmni AnD Donors

ciViL engineering ALUmnUs receiVes highesT ThAi honor

coLLege FoUnDer giVes bAcK
Wendell Nedderman, President Emeritus of UT Arlington and founding dean of the College of Engineering, recently made a gift to the College’s Wendell H. Nedderman Endowment Fund that will allow it to reach the funding level required to become a professorship. The gift honors Dr. Nedderman’s long and distinguished career as UT Arlington president, dean, and professor. (He retired as president in 1992.) “Professorships are most important to the prestige of a university,” Nedderman says. “The dean will now be able to put these funds to good use.”

yongyuth wichaidit and Koonnamas punthutaecha

mAV grAD is moVing Up

pala and has extensively published his research work. He has been a great help to UT Arlington in recruiting geotechnical engineering

students and has been involved in research activities with Dr. Puppala on rural pavements related to soil stabilization topics.

The senior ranks of the international engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti just got a little more blue and orange. Albert Chen, P.E., S.E., (’79) was recently promoted to senior vice president for the company’s Los Angeles office. Chen, who received his master’s in civil engineering from the University, has more than 30 years of experience in the structural design of mixed-use, commercial, retail, parking, health care, education, and hospitality projects. His background includes overseeing tenant improvement projects, forensic investigations, new building design, and seismic upgrades for existing structures. A licensed civil engineer and structural engineer in California, Chen is also a member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and is active on the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California’s seismology committee, which is heavily involved in the development of the nation’s seismic codes.

Arnold petsche’s $1 million gift to the college will fund a prestigious new center for automotive engineering.

Alumnus Ayush maheshwari’s work at ericsson has made an impact.

High-Speed Entrepreneurship
Two decades ago, when Professor Bob Woods needed high-tech wire for the race cars his engineering students were designing, he turned to Arnold Petsche, founder of the A.E. Petsche Co., a leading supplier of such materials for the aerospace industry. Now Petsche has made a new commitment to the College of Engineering by donating $1 million to establish the Arnold E. Petsche Center for Automotive Engineering, a gift that will be doubled through the University’s Maverick Match program. The center will promote engineering education, innovation, and entrepreneurship, especially through student participation in the Formula SAE program, which Dr. Woods advises.


More Bars for the Buck
If you’re a Verizon customer, chances are Ayush Maheshwari helped make your gadgets go. A core network engineer for Ericsson, the alumnus (’10 ME) currently is working on LTE and First Office Application (FOA) projects for Verizon. He is responsible for designing, testing, and implementing new features, software, hard-

ware, and network solutions for the company. “Being a part of the FOA team allows me to work on latest advancements on the core LTE network,” Maheshwari says. “Last year I was involved in implementing IPv6, which made it easier for our customers to install more LTE cell towers. As a result, more cities were able to get LTE coverage.”

Dean Jean-pierre bardet and wendell nedderman

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UTA EnginEEr | 21

beyond the lab ALUMni

Class notes
Jan Collmer (AS, Science and Engineering; ’63 BS, Mathematics) wrote Go Start Something! Live Life on the Edge. A longtime Dallas civic leader, he worked at Texas Instruments before moving to Varo, where he started a semiconductor unit. He founded Collmer Semiconductor in 1979 and sold it in 2005. Michael S. Greene (BS, Mechanical Engineering) is the 2012 recipient of the Pat Wood Power Star Award at Gulf Coast Power Association. The award is presented annually and recognizes significant contributions toward the advancement of competitive energy markets in Texas. Greene is a retired TXU/Energy Future Holdings executive and a UT Arlington Distinguished Alumnus. Gary Trietsch (BS, ’74 MS, Civil Engineering) was named Transportation Giant of the Year by the Texas Chapter of the International Chinese Transportation Professionals Association. He is a vice president at Dannenbaum Engineering in Houston and a member of the College of Engineering’s Board of Advisors. Leslie Doss (BS, Electrical Engineering) has been named to the board of directors for Tootie Pie Co., which bakes and sells handmade pies. Subsidiary. He has been in Brazil for two years and with the company for 21. Ram Srinivasan (MS, ’84 PhD, Electrical Engineering) is senior vice president of engineering for Mevio, an Internet entertainment network.

updates, news, and goings-on from engineering alumni
in the Department of Advanced Technologies at Alcorn State University. He recently received a three-year, $377,000 Early Career Faculty Scientific Leadership Award from the Department of Homeland Security. Duke University School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Science and Policy. Enrique Baez (BS, Civil Engineering) is a resident engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan. He is responsible for 30 projects valued at approximately $200 million. Vineeth Shetty Kolkeri (MS, Electrical Engineering) is an iPhone wireless engineer at Apple.


in Dallas, which received a $1.9 million grant from Texas’ Emerging Technology Fund to support the development of its Clinical Pathways Management Solution software.



MOre Alumni/Giving info

Andrew Novobilski (MS, ’00 PhD, Computer Science Engineering) is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. He had been dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics and a computer science professor at Arkansas State University since 2009. Previously, he was assistant provost for research and engagement, chief research officer, and professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


Agbai “George” Agwu NNanna (MS, ‘02 PhD, Mechanical Engineering) was appointed to the Francis and Elsie Meyer Professorship for Purdue University Calumet’s Water Institute, which he directs. He also is a professor of mechanical engineering and holds a courtesy professor appointment in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus.



mike hawkins turned his engineering education into a career of helping others find their own solutions.

Alum Finds Fit as CEO Coach
Since leaving UT Arlington in 1983, alumnus Mike Hawkins has transferred the skills he learned as an engineer—namely, innovative problem-solving—and turned it into a unique career. After working for such diverse companies as Halliburton, Electrospace, and IBM, he shifted his attention to helping others achieve their greatest potential. The award-winning author of Activating Your Ambition: A Guide to Coaching the Best Out of Yourself now serves as an executive coach to hundreds of CEOs, and is president of the consulting company Alpine Link Corporation. Hawkins is also an active member of the College of Engineering’s Advisory Board.
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Abhijit Kaisare (MS, Mechanical Engineering; ’07 PhD, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) is a senior design engineer with Anveshak Technology and Knowledge Solutions in Pune, India. Daniel Schweickart (PhD, Patinya Samanuhut Electrical Engineering) (MEngr, ’11 PhD, has been named a fellow Mechanical Engineering) by the Institute of Electri- is an assistant professor cal and Electronics Engiof engineering at Ubon neers. A research engineer Ratchathani University in in the Air Force Research Thailand. Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, he was recognized Shahi Riaz (MS, for contributions to Mechanical Engineering) insulation systems and is lead engineer/technolothe development of design gist at GE Aviation, which guidelines for aerospace provides commercial and applications. military jet engines and


Curtis Frodge (BS, Mechanical Engineering) is a robotics engineer at NASA, where he has worked on Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space, and Centaur 2, a mobility platform for Robonaut 2. Jayme Gonzalez (BS, Aerospace Engineering; ’07 MS, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; ’10 MBA, Cohort MBA) is an engineering specialist at Bell Helicopter Textron. She is working on the autopilot design for the 525 Relentless commercial helicopter and is the autopilot lead for the UH-1Y and AH-1Z military models. Brent Lagesse (MS, ’09 PhD, Computer Science) is a scientist at BBN Technologies, which provides research and development services in Cambridge, Mass.




Jyotirmay Gadewadikar (MS, ’07 PhD, Electrical Engineering) is an assistant professor

Justin Bosworth (BS, Civil Engineering) was named Young Engineer of the Year by the DFW Mid-Cities Chapter of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He is a graduate engineer at Wier & Associates, an Arlington-based professional services company. Vijay Dixit (MS, Computer Engineering) is an engineer at Garmin Ltd. in Olathe, Kan. The company produces personal GPSbased navigation devices. Safwan Mahmud Khan (MS, Computer Science Engineering) is pursuing a doctoral degree at UT Dallas. Abanish Singh (PhD, Computer Science Engineering) is a postdoctoral fellow in the Goldstein Lab at the



Nikhil Aphale (MS, Biomedical Engineering) is a research associate at Becton, Dickinson, and Co., a medical technology company in Boston. Jason W. Brown (BS, Aerospace Engineering) is a weight engineer at RECARO, which specializes in ergonomic seats for automobiles, aircrafts, and homes. Kunal Kale (MEngr, Mechanical Engineering) is a design engineer at Unique Industrial Product Co. in Houston.

In Memoriam
Fay Lillian Nation Van Dam (’41 AA, General Studies), 90, Dec. 16, 2011, in Arlington. Ms. Van Dam was an administrative assistant in the College of Engineering for more than 50 years. The Fay Van Dam Outstanding Staff Award was established in her honor in 1991 to recognize a member of the college’s support staff.






Fred Buckingham, P.E. (MS, ’93 PhD, Mechanical Engineering) is CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Alternative Petroleum Technologies S.A. Alvaro Miguel Polanco (BS, ’85 MS, Industrial Engineering; ’82 BBA) is the general manager for the Mary Kay Brazil

Don Harrelson (BS, Civil Engineering) was named Engineer of the Year by the DFW Mid-Cities Chapter of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He is an associate civil engineer at Baird, Hampton, & Brown Inc., a Fort Worth-based engineering and surveying firm. Vasu Rangadass (PhD, Computer Science Engineering) is a principal with net.orange


Nikhil Lakhakar (MS, ’10 PhD, Mechanical Engineering) is a reliability engineer at Cascade Engineering Services, which provides aerospace and medical engineering solutions and laboratory services. Jeffery S. Woodruff (BS, Mechanical Engineering) is a manufacturing engineer at Downhole Solutions in Conroe.


William Casey Long Sr. (’57, AA, Mechanical Engineering), 76, Dec. 5, 2011, in Ferris. Mr. Long was president of Long Machine Tool Co. in Ferris.

Eddie Lynn Cheatham (’72, BS, Civil Engineering), 64, Jan. 11 in Colleyville. Mr. Cheatham was a professional engineer and a professional surveyor. He founded Cheatham and Associates, an engineering consulting firm in Arlington. David Joe Linan (’72, BS, Civil Engineering), 62, Jan. 25 in Fort Worth. Mr. Linan had worked for the Army Corps of Engineers since 1974. Curtis L. Oppermann Jr. (’72, BS, Civil Engineering), 65, March 25 in Amarillo. Mr. Oppermann was a professional engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation for 31 years, serving the Fort Worth and Dallas districts. He received the American

Council of Engineering Companies Award for Excellence while working as project manager on the George Bush Turnpike for KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown, & Root). Jerry G. Swaner (’73, MS, Industrial Engineering), 76, Dec. 11, 2011, in Arlington. Mr. Swaner worked for the Department of Defense and the Internal Revenue Service, where he earned a presidential citation from President Jimmy Carter for his work in productivity enhancement.


Hardik Shah (‘03, MS, Biomedical Engineering), 31, Oct. 3, 2011, in Albany, N.H. Mr. Shah was a Senior Design Assurance Engineer at Smiths Medical Group in Keene, N.H.

UTA EnginEEr | 23

Manhole Makeover
no longer just a bump in the road.
Every day, millions of people walk past, over, and around manholes. But while the metal discs are ubiquitous to urban life, few of us have ever given them much thought. And that’s a problem. Of the estimated 21 million manholes in the United States, about half are at least 50 years old. The Environmental Protection Agency further estimates that 3.5 million have serious structural decay and need immediate rehabilitation or replacement. These deteriorated manholes are the main source of two common problems— inflow and infiltration—that can cause sanitary sewer overflows and the overburdening of wastewater treatment plants. (Inflow is when surface rainwater enters into wastewater collection systems through gaps around manhole covers; infiltration happens when underground water seeps through the walls of manholes.) Enter UT Arlington researchers. Civil engineering Assistant Professor Mohammed Najafi and Firat Sever of Benton Associates recently received a grant from the Water Environment Research Foundation to evaluate manhole rehabilitation technologies. “These manholes were put in place 50 years ago and it’s been ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” says Dr. Najafi. “The majority have not been maintained and they could collapse, causing personal injury or property damage. Also, infiltration and inflow can add unnecessary cost to sewage treatment and even overflow treatment plants.” Najafi and Dr. Sever will evaluate the structural capabilities of common manhole rehabilitation materials by conducting tensile, compressive, and shear strength tests. They will also run computer simulations and apply materials to manholes on campus and in Arlington so they can monitor how those materials react. The final project is a decision software system that will allow municipalities and utility companies to review their problems, answer a set of questions, and come up with the best solution. “The cost to repair a manhole is about $10,000. If you multiply that by 21 million, it’s a huge amount of money,” Najafi says. “Our research can help cities be more cost-effective and efficient.”•

A new wAy oF LooKing AT The obJecTs oF eVeryDAy LiFe

Your gift can transform the life of an engineering student.

students are UT Arlington’s most valuable resource. With your support they can achieve great things.
At The University of Texas at Arlington, we’re preparing our engineering students to become tomorrow’s leaders and to make a lasting impact on society. The College of Engineering provides abundant opportunities for students to work alongside world-class faculty, exploring creative solutions to real-world problems and transforming ideas into viable products that drive economic development. We are committed to providing a first-rate, affordable education for as many students as possible. But we need your help to continue this mission. Your gift could fund a professorship, provide valuable equipment for research and teaching, and help a student fulfill his or her academic dreams. By investing in the Excellence Now annual giving program, you create a ripple that gives deserving Mavericks a brighter future and propels UT Arlington toward its goal of becoming a major national research university. Make a gift online at www.uta.edu/giving or call the Office of Development at 817-272-2584.


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COLLEGE Of EnGinEErinG DEPARTMENT OF Box 19019 UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS Arlington, TX 76019-0019 Box 19116 Arlington, TX 76019-0116

Non-Profit Org. U.S. Postage PAID Arlington, Texas Permit No. 81

Welcome Back, Students
Engineering students from all departments packed the Janet and Mike Greene Research Quadrangle in September for the college’s annual Welcome Bash. There, they mingled with faculty and staff, ate pizza, played games, and competed for prizes. Also mak-

camPuS uPdaTe

ing an appearance were Blaze (the University’s horse mascot) and the Maverick Dance Team. The Welcome Bash officially kicks off the academic year and helps new freshmen and transfer students feel proud of their decision to come to UT Arlington.

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