Air Force donates state-of-the-art equipment to UTPA
Posted: 06/10/2004
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Thanks to the generosity of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate, The University of Texas-Pan American Department of Manufacturing Engineering has a new "toy" in its possession that will provide students an opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment formerly used by scientists and engineers in the U.S. Air Force.

Pictured left to right during the ribbon cutting are Dr. Edwin LeMaster, director, UTPA School of Engineering and Computer Science; Dr. Hendrick W. Ruck, director, Air Force Research Laboratory Human Effectiveness Directorate; Congressman Rubén Hinojosa; and Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo, UTPA provost/vice president for Academic Affairs.
The directorate donated $375,000 of rapid prototyping equipment to UTPA for the chance to build an academic program around the high-tech equipment - previously used in the directorate's division at Brooks City-Base in San Antonio. The joint venture will focus on the importance of high technology for research, economic development and careers in private industry and the Air Force.

"The Air Force Research Laboratory donation marks the creation of a new collaboration between the directorate and UTPA," said Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, associate vice president of Academic Affairs. "This kind of donation and collaboration is important because of the positioning that it provides for UTPA to increase its interaction with local, regional, and national agencies and businesses to solve problems that will positively impact economic development."

A ribbon cutting ceremony for the equipment was held May 27 at the UTPA Engineering Building as part of the 2004 Information Technology (IT) Summit, May 27-28, hosted by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) in conjunction with the UTPA Computing and Information Technology Center (CITeC).

After Hinojosa opened the ceremony, Dr. Hendrick W. Ruck, director of the Human Effectiveness Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, spoke about the education partnership between UTPA and the directorate. Ruck said the goal of the partnership is to train young scientists and engineers for careers in the Air Force.

"We are also committed to increasing opportunities for historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions and other minority institutions to work in our research areas," Ruck said. "We hope that will lead to future employment for students or faculty who decide that it is a neat place to work and it fits them. This event is a very significant part of our strategy to build a collaboration in the future so that people will have opportunities."

The rapid prototyping equipment donated was formerly used to design life support equipment for Air Force aircrews. Ruck said the equipment helped develop oxygen masks that were custom fitted for crewmembers exact facial features.

Above is a customized mask designed by the state-of-the-art equipment donated to UTPA by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate. UTPA received more than $300,000 in high-tech equipment from the organization.
"With this gift engineering students at UTPA will have the opportunity to design parts or products that can be customized for specific markets," Ruck said. "I want to assure you the equipment we donated is state-of-the-art. We needed it for a very special project in the Air Force, we solved the technical problem and we didn't need it anymore. Sometimes when you get things that are gifts, you may not want it but this is good stuff."

Dr. Edwin LeMaster, director and associate dean for the School of Engineering and Computer Science, said he and UTPA engineering students are looking forward to working with this equipment and custom designing all kinds of gadgets, including prosthetic devices.

LeMaster said they plan to continue the activities the original rapid prototyping lab was used for - mask customization. In addition, the use of the equipment will be integrated into the sophomore courses in manufacturing process.

"It (the equipment) opens the areas of mask customization, cutting edge manufacturing and engineering designs that few universities can offer its students. This promises to be a great partnership and we look forward to many different dealings with the Air Force Research Laboratory," Le Master said.

The directorate is a 1,000-person research and development organization with facilities at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Brooks City Base, and the Mesa Research Site, Ariz. Technologies under development by the directorate include those that support aircrew training simulators; life support equipment; crew escape systems; visual and auditory displays; biotechnology; logistics support systems; and computer-aided tools for designing and evaluating crew stations and other human-centered systems.