The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A new perspective on engineering research

Today was a very enlightening day, as we toured several different engineering research labs at UESC here in Ilheus. I wish every student from our IE 351 class were here to observe the truly unique perspective they have on materials and engineering. The researchers here are working on engineering new materials such as concrete, polymers, and fuel from a completely different perspective than we have in the United States, and it is fascinating. For example, one big problem they have here is that everything is made of concrete, but concrete does not last forever, and it becomes a giant waste product. They are looking into making concrete with all different sorts of materials incorporated into its mixture to make a stronger concrete block that will last longer, be more economical, and more environmentally friendly. One of the materials they are incorporating is a styrofoam-like material that is unique to the area, but that they obtain by grinding recycled products. Another material is fibers that are taken from the bark of a tree they have. I apologize that I don't remember the specific names of these materials right now!

We also saw some pretty awesome simplified devices they built to help visualize the deformation of materials in tension and compression. I admit I'm pretty nerdy, but Dr. Yochum, Dr. Pierce and I were pretty excited about them!

We were also shown some work where they are incorporating naturally-found fibers from Brasil, such as coconut shells, into polymers to try to improve corrosion resistance--a significant problem in their very humid climate next to the ocean.

We were also shown their biofuel lab, where they make fuel out of Brasilian products such as sugarcane. Then, while the students toured the AgroIndustry lab, the professors from UESC, SBC, and SAU discussed future collaboration and exchange opportunities with projects and students. There are some very promising ideas that we hope to begin pursuing in the near future!

After our great day in the engineering labs, we attempted to go kayaking on the bay near downtown Ilheus, but the guy who runs the business didn't show up! So instead, we hung out and bonded for the afternoon an evening. Not a bad time at all. This weekend we don't have any scheduled group time, but several of the hosts are planning get-togethers with other hosts so the students can hang out together. They should all have really great weekends!

Thank you, UESC faculty, staff, and students, for the great day!!!

One last little note that the SBC girls sort of made fun of me for, but, hey, I'm from Iowa! I had to take pictures of the LIZARDS that run around. We do NOT have lizards running around--crazy!

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