UTPA signs $518K contract with Amsted Rail
Posted: 10/11/2010
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Another contract between The University of Texas-Pan American and Amsted Rail shows the railroad manufacturer that UTPA researchers are on the right track with their work.

Andoni Zagouris, a 22-year-old master's student in mechanical engineering at UTPA, has been working on the research projects since he was an undergraduate at the University. Zagouris won two poster competitions for his work on testing IONX wireless sensors.

UTPA is receiving $518,431 from Amsted Rail to continue its research and development on testing bearings and other products from the company's various industries.

The current funding will be used to pay for five research projects that will revolutionize the way the railroad industry designs and monitors bearings and develops new railcar technologies that will allow for higher cargo loads and safer on-track operations.

UTPA has been conducting research, led by Dr. Constantine Tarawneh, associate professor of mechanical engineering, for the railroad product company for the past five years. There are currently six faculty members, 10 graduate students and eight undergraduate students working on several projects.

Since 2005, the University has received about $1.5 million from Amsted Rail for its work.

"It's amazing," said Tarawneh, the principal investigator for the grant.

Tarawneh added the funding from Amsted Rail would not have been possible without the collaboration between faculty members and students who have been conducting various research for the company.

"We're basically doing this as a research team," Tarawneh said.

Tarawneh said he was originally approached by a colleague at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln - where he is an alumnus and has taught summer courses for the past seven years - about looking into why certain railroad bearings were heating up. He ended up taking over the research, bringing it back to UTPA and recruiting other faculty and students to help him. Amsted Rail was impressed by their work and began giving them other projects. Their research is detailed in the Fall 2009 edition of Los Arcos.

Findings from one of their research projects, testing IONX wireless sensors, is currently being used in a field test in Australia.

"It ended up being something great because now we have students excited because they see whatever they're doing is actually being implemented ... and a company's using it in Australia in a test," he said. "The faculty are buying into it, the students are buying into it and because they're excited about it, we end up producing very good-quality work that the company sees, they see us as part of their growth, and that's why we've been able to get these grants. This has helped students believe in themselves because what they are learning they can use it and be productive."

Andoni Zagouris, a 22-year-old master's student in mechanical engineering, has been working on the research projects since he was an undergraduate at UTPA. His work on the IONX sensors testing garnered him a second place prize in a poster contest at the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Conference in El Paso and first place in the HESTEC Science Symposium Poster competition, both held in September.

"It's encouraging," Zagouris said. "All the work I did as an undergraduate was vague; I couldn't see the end result. Now that everything is starting to pan out and formulate, it is encouraging to see the impact of the work we've done and it's heard around the world. Knowing what we're doing is changing the way the industry works is seriously motivating."

Zagouris said he is grateful to the University and Tarawneh for letting him be a part of the Amsted Rail projects as an undergraduate. That opportunity is not available at many other universities, he said. "It's really a helpful situation in terms of getting hands-on experience," he said. "Sitting in class and listening to theories and taking notes can only take you so far, but I really learned a lot when I got in here and started using tools and designing stuff and starting to think creatively."

Although the UTPA group is just starting to see its work being implemented by the railroad industry, it is excited about the potential of the research, said Dr. Javier Kypuros, associate professor of mechanical engineering and one of the faculty members involved in the projects.

In the meantime, the projects have been a beneficial experience for students, he said.

"I think for them it's really interesting because they get to interact with the company that is implementing it, and they get to see their work actually being used," he said. "We do a little bit of theoretical, a little bit of numerical and a lot of experimental. We see that they get to see all the things they learned in action and it's not just a lot of hocus pocus."