High School Students 3D Print Rocket Propellant, Take on Real Science and Engineering Research

Local high school students from Rapid City and Sturgis spent their summer at SD Mines researching and developing 3-D-printed rocket propellant; fusion bonds to make lighter, more fuel-efficient parts for the automotive and aerospace industries; and titanium biomedical implants that combat the body’s rejection of foreign objects.

Sponsored by the Army Education Outreach Program, SD Mines hosted the Research and Engineering Apprenticeship (REAP) program, which provides opportunities for high school students to conduct research for five to eight weeks alongside faculty and graduate students.
Stevens High School senior Rebecca Watts 3-D printed rocket propellant, looking at the burn characteristics, with the goal of eventually 3-D printing a rocket engine. Watts’ research was co-sponsored by the SD Space Grant Consortium.
Ultimately, the team Watts worked with wants to 3-D print any objects using energetic materials, which range from explosives and rocket fuels to gasoline and pyrotechnics. The team included
Watts, Nicholas Ritchie, an industrial engineering sophomore, Sharla Glover, a mechanical engineering senior, Derek Neubert, a chemical engineering graduate student, and Lori Groven, Ph.D., a chemical and biological engineering assistant professor.
“I really had no idea how incredible 3-D printing can be, how helpful it can be. I can 3-D print things that are almost impossible to weld or put together any other way, so it opens up a whole realm of possibilities in the future,” Watts said.
Central High School junior Enrique Mandas researched fusion bonding using an ultrasonic spot welder, which uses the energy from high-frequency vibrations to instantly fuse plastics together. The goal is to use this bonded plastic material, polypropylene, in automotive and aerospace parts. Polypropylene parts are a better alternative to the heavier metal parts currently used in these industries. Its strong yet lightweight properties can increase fuel efficiency while maintaining safety standards. Mandas focused specifically on optimizing the joining process of the plastic materials in order to create the strongest bond.
Mandas was struck by the power of a small task – welding plastics together – to transform two behemoth industries. “You become a changemaker once you become a scientist or engineer. You can discover something big that will change the world or something small that will change your life.” Mandas was mentored by Joseph Newkirk, a mechanical engineering graduate student, and Cassandra Degen, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering assistant professor.
Sturgis High School senior Grayson Nelson worked to optimize orthopedic implants, such as those used in shoulder and knee replacements. The problem with implants is they have a large surface area under constant tension in the body. To combat this, Mines researchers created titanium oxide nanotubes, essentially titanium rust, to coat the implant, thereby decreasing the surface area under tension and consequently allowing the implant to better integrate with the body.
Nelson took the research further with Jevin Meyerink, a biomedical engineering graduate student, and Grant Crawford, Ph.D., associate professor in materials and metallurgical engineering. They added a fluorescent biological organism onto the nanotubes in order to pinpoint exactly where the tension was and sent samples to South Dakota State University researchers who then inserted antibiotic into the nanotubes to combat the body’s rejection of the implant.
“I did an internship at the VA Hospital, and I loved the medical aspect. But I also want to do research. At Mines, I integrated metallurgical, biological, and chemical engineering, and now I want to get a biochemical degree and go into the medical field,” Grayson said.
Around 120 students at over 50 universities nationwide participate in REAP each year. Up to 90 percent of REAP participants pursue STEM studies at the post-secondary level.
Click here for more photos of the REAP students.



Last edited 8/28/2017 8:40:19 PM

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