Episode 4 - Research at Wichita State

Episode 4 March 09, 2022 00:28:28
Episode 4 - Research at Wichita State
Forward Together
Episode 4 - Research at Wichita State

Mar 09 2022 | 00:28:28

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Show Notes

On this episode of the Forward Together podcast, WSU President Dr. Rick Muma and his guests discuss cutting-edge research being done at Wichita State University. To celebrate Women’s History Month, President Muma speaks with Dr. Melinda Laubach-Hock, director of sustainment at WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research; and Dr. Coleen Pugh, vice provost for research […]
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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:07 Hello, shocker nation. And welcome to this month's edition of forward together podcast. This month, I want to focus on research more specifically, I'd like to talk about how Wichita state university fosters a spirit of innovation and serves our communities through the variety of research projects done by our students, our faculty and innovation partners. My first guest today is Melinda LaBeck hock, who is a director of sustainment for national Institute for aviation research in 2021. The NY, our team managed roughly 200 million in research and development that included work with the defense industry manufacturing and private companies. Welcome Dr. Lobbuck Hawk. Thank you so much for being here today. Speaker 2 00:00:48 Good to see you as well. Thank you for inviting me to participate today, Dr. Muma. Speaker 1 00:00:51 So at an IRR, you work at the aircraft structural test and evaluation center, and we, we call that Aztec another mnemonic. Um, tell us a little bit about, um, that type of research and, and what y'all do out there as to, Speaker 2 00:01:07 So Niara began operating out of the old Kansas Coliseum in 2013, and we turned it into the Aztec facility, which is the third largest structural test facility in the world. And one of the largest tear down facilities in north America, we do a lot of defense research out there. So we are looking at how to extend the life of airframes, how to make sure they continue operating safely to the end of their economic life. So on the full-scale test side, we're taking large air frames, putting them in fixtures and applying loads to them that are very similar to what they would see flying in the air to assess how, where we need to inspect, where we need to look, what we need to do to keep them operating safely. When they actually fly in the air. Uh, from the sustainment perspective, we're taking airplanes apart piece by piece. We're looking at the structural health of the pieces, and we're also working on a digital engineering campaign out there, which is taking airplanes that were designed before the digital age and moving them into the digital age to help reduce sustainment costs and to continue to allow those airframes to be operated safely into the future. Speaker 1 00:02:13 Yeah. And I've been out there several times and you've, uh, provided tours for me, um, each, each of those times. And so I don't know if the audience would really have a good perspective, but I'll try to provide one here. So a B one bomber or B one B bomber. Um, you have to, I think that you've, um, torn down and, um, you know, translating that, all those parts into digital, um, uh, drawings and that sort of thing. I want the audience to understand that these are huge aircraft that, um, uh, are, are being evaluated in that facility. Um, and it's just almost impossible to have people understand, uh, how large these aircraft are, how, uh, important the work is that we're trying to do, uh, around that aircraft and for the B one bomber, you correct me if I'm wrong, I want it to fly for another 40 years, or Speaker 2 00:03:15 They're looking to retire the B ones in about 2040. So we're looking at about another 20 years of service life. Speaker 1 00:03:20 Yeah. And so you're trying to make sure that they continue to fly and, uh, develop prototypes for parts and different kinds of, uh, uh, support for that aircraft. Is that in a nutshell sort of Speaker 2 00:03:35 Correct? Absolutely. We moved to few few slashes through the city of Wichita in 2020 and 2021. So many of us may have seen the airframes on the road to give you some size perspective. There are about half a football field long, and they take up three lanes of traffic. We're digitizing about 50,000 parts on the B one airframe. So we have upwards of 200 to 250 people, both, uh, full-time employees of nigher and also engineering and other majors of students working on those programs. Speaker 1 00:04:07 And it's a good example of how we're able to, uh, provide applied learning experiences for students, particularly those who are in computer science or computer engineering or other, even other fields. Um, when you go to that facility, you see all kinds of students, um, uh, doing that work. So it's really great and really fits into what we do as a university. So speaking of the , uh, bomber, um, uh, this week, it was announced at nine cars, uh, B one digital engineering transformation program received a hundred million dollars from the air force to continue the program. That has to be one of the largest research grant awards in the state. It for sure is here at Wichita state. Um, that's incredible. And can you tell us a little bit more about what the purpose of that grant award is for and, uh, what you guys hope to do going forward? Speaker 2 00:04:58 Absolutely. And you did a good job alluding to the size of the . It's a very, very large airframe. So the digitization effort is massive. Uh, we began a contract with in 2020 to start this effort. It was planned to be a five-year effort. Um, we were funded to do the first couple of years. So some of this is follow-on work. Um, in addition, where in addition to the structural digital twin that we're building, we're starting to look at systems and structures is not the only thing that keeps air frames from being ready to fly. So we're starting to look at how to integrate systems work into that. And we're also beginning at Wichita state some weapons work. So we're going to begin doing some research for the air force on whether the types of weapons they're pursuing are gonna work well with the air frame. We're also making, um, enhanced digital, um, engineering models that will help predict where problem areas will be on the aircraft moving forward so that we can start to proactively design repairs. So we're at inserting technology smartly to help the B one, uh, through the end of its life cycle. Speaker 1 00:06:03 I think it's important for people to also understand her listening to this and, and following Wichita state and, and what we do at the institution in terms of research. Th this is, uh, what I would say is where the rubber meets the road in terms of research. You know, there's all kinds of theoretical research that's, uh, led up to this. Um, um, but this is actually applying that work into a real situation, solving a problem for the air force, um, and utilizing our research expertise. And, um, I think people sometimes miss that, um, when we're talking about these kinds of things, Speaker 2 00:06:40 Absolutely. I wish I could turn back the clock about two decades to be a student and have the opportunities that the students at Wichita state are getting in these applied learning situations. Um, they are getting to function basically as full engineers under the supervision of senior engineers and, um, the product we're delivering, uh, we've often been referred to as the tip of the spear for digital engineering, for the air force and for the army and some of the other branches of service. Uh, we're really breaking ground both on a theoretical and applied perspective, uh, in the digital engineering world. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:07:13 So as a director of sustainability at night, our talk about why sustainability is such an important field of research, mentioned a few things, um, but particularly in the defense industry. Speaker 2 00:07:25 So in defense, a lot of people, um, get excited about the cost of a new airplane. You know, you look at like joint strike fighter, $90 million for new airframe. What they fail to realize is there's about 10 times the cost on the backside to keep that airplane flying through its service life. So how we do maintenance, uh, where can we improve that? Um, how can we continue to keep the airframe operating safely? How can we make it more mission ready? One of the things, uh, the department of defense has picked up on in the last five or 10 years is the fact that we own a lot of airplanes, but they're not always ready to go to the fight. So what do we need to do to make sure we're at 80, 85% of our planes are ready to go at any given time? Um, so it's, it's a whole different branch of engineering that you don't necessarily learn about while you're in school. Speaker 1 00:08:13 Yeah. And so this is kind of related, you've worked in the defense research side for almost 20 years now, as you mentioned, um, how have you seen research change, uh, over that 20 year period? Um, particularly at Wichita state? Speaker 2 00:08:28 Well, when I joined Naya, we were primarily doing commercial research and, uh, we were probably more in the developmental or theoretical research stage as opposed to the applied research stage. And to give you a perspective in 2002, Naya was about 250 people. We're about 1300 now. Uh, and I think we've had to move out of the commercial industry and diversify our portfolio to include defense and space just as you know, the Wichita aviation market goes up and down, uh, periodically with the economic cycle and, um, biz jets and the type of airplanes that we produce here in Wichita are especially susceptible. So we've started to even see Wichita's a community begin to add defense to their portfolio. If you talk to like spirit air systems, they're working in defense, Textron's working in defense now. And I think Naya was kind of leading that effort, bringing military leaders here to showcase what the city of Wichita could do. Speaker 1 00:09:23 I know though has to be challenges in your work, um, personally as a research scientist and, um, uh, people should know that you have a PhD in, um, in engineering. And so, uh, the challenges that you've had to have faced over your career, can you talk a little bit more about those and, and what that has done to move forward, um, your area, uh, Aztec? Speaker 2 00:09:50 Sure. I think the greatest, um, challenge that I have as a researcher is knowing where to stop. Uh, the defense department has so many interesting problems. You can quickly find yourself going off on a tangent and, and, and building a program for 10, 15, 20 years on a single platform. Uh, and I are, we really want to touch a bunch of different platforms and make sure that we're bringing the biggest bang for the buck to the air force for what we're delivering. So that has been a challenge, um, learning to work with a diverse group of people in digital engineering. Like I said, we have probably in all of digital engineering, maybe 300 5400 heads, uh, those range in age from 16 up to 70. And so there's learning to work with that diverse population, learning how to communicate with a student versus someone who's more experienced than I am, for example, um, I think those would be the most evident challenges that I faced during my career. Speaker 1 00:10:42 Well, you've seemed to overcome, um, all of those. And if anybody who's listening has an opportunity to visit as tech. It's an amazing facility. Very interesting. Um, and, uh, hope, hope that, uh, some of our listeners have that ability to tour along with you because you provide a great tool or a great explanation of what you all are doing. So I thank you so much for being here today. Um, we really appreciate learning more about what's going on and as tech and, and I are, and good to see you Speaker 2 00:11:11 Again, thank you, Dr. Miller. Speaker 1 00:11:15 My next guest is Dr. Colin Pugh, vice provost for research and Dean at Wichita state's graduate school. She works with faculty to advance research on campus, particularly funded research. I appreciate your time today, Colleen. So good to see you. I'm looking forward to having a conversation about what you do to help promote research on campus. But first, I just want to, um, talk a little bit about you and your background and your fields of chemistry and, uh, macro molecular science. It's a mouthful you've been involved in research all over the country, including MIT case Western university of Akron and now Wichita state. So what are some of the points of difference, uh, that you might see, uh, those institutions as compared to Wichita state in terms of research and the kind of research that's carried out? Speaker 3 00:12:04 Right. Well, first of all, you have to remember that, that I have different perspectives from those, or come from a different viewpoint in, I think in two ways, first, uh, macro, molecular sciences and interdisciplinary field, and then chemistry is a more traditional one and, and traditionally more siloed. So I have those two perspectives from the various places I've been. And then also of course, I, I was a student or a post-doc or a faculty member, and, and now in an administrative position, and my viewpoint has broadened each time I see more. Um, but I often think back about, uh, uh, a year that I spent in Germany. My, my PhD advisor sent me to the university of Freiburg and he, um, came to visit at one point because there was a conference there. And so of course he was asking me, what did I think, what were the differences? Speaker 3 00:13:00 And so I was, I was telling him, uh, what I, what I was observing. And then he says, you know, whenever you go somewhere new, the first thing you see are all the differences. And then eventually you realize everything's the same. And, and so I think that's something that, that I see, there's a lot of, uh, a lot of similarities between all of these institutions taking into account, whether it was multidisciplinary or more single focused. But I think the biggest differences that I could see would be with MIT and their vast resources that they have. Um, but another issue is, is WSU is, is more student-centric and has, um, uh, probably more focused research stance than a place that has lots and lots of resources. And I, I often felt kind of bad when I was at MIT and that, um, students were often, they were given, uh, a topic that they were going to do their research on and then disappeared for for three years, and then they'd come up with something brilliant. Speaker 3 00:14:09 But in the meantime, it was really difficult for them, you know, a lot of mental challenges that way. And I think that, uh, WSU operates more of the way I've operated in other places where I think it's really important to when you're working with students and newer researchers is you, you help define the problem first, and then you wean them off. You know, you're waiting for them to take ownership of, of the research project. And, and so I, like I said, I, I think our research here is, is more focused and more student-centric. We, we want students to be engaged and become independent when, when they're ready to become independent. Speaker 1 00:14:47 So glad that you made those comments about, um, being more centric, because there's in a traditional view of research amongst faculty across the country, they believe that they you're a teaching institution, or you're a research institution cannot do both. And I think our university has shown that you can do both and many other institutions have been able to demonstrate that as well. But I, from my experience as a researcher, I couldn't imagine not having that interaction on a regular basis with students and helping them go to the next step and actually then helping me to refine things. So it's, you know, it's, it's a, it's a two way street, so yeah. So great, great, um, uh, comments about that. Appreciate that. So, moving on in terms of what we're focused on here at the university, um, we have been talking about for a number of years and becoming a research one institution, which means that we would be performing research at the very highest level with, um, only a small number of institutions across the country. Matter of fact, the new rankings just came out, um, this past year. We're not quite there. We believe as you know, I've taught many times that we are on the cusp of becoming a, an R one institution. Um, so talk more about what that would mean to Wichita state. If we were able to achieve that, what, what would that bring to the university? Uh, what would it mean for students? Um, uh, if we were to go to that, Speaker 3 00:16:19 Right. So, um, the primary benefit that it brings is it's a recognition of, uh, what we can offer and that, again, I mean, that itself brings resources. I, I've never seen a solicitation for proposal that says only R one institutions need apply. It's always completely open. Um, but, uh, I have been in a room before, uh, where it was a group of researchers representing different institutions, and the reason why they had all gathered there to address an issue is because we were all at R one institutions. And so I think that's where you see a lot of advantages is that it brings more opportunities in, uh, the interaction with other institutions. And, um, it, it, uh, brings more resources that way, Speaker 1 00:17:18 What I've seen in, um, uh, just in our own state, there's often when there's a, when there's a research issue or, you know, talking about resources that need to go to research in the state. They often bring their R one schools together and, and, and the other schools are not part of that conversation. So, um, that's just another example of, uh, the cloud that kind of brings, um, right to the university. But I also think that, um, it helps with faculty because they see that we are really focused on research and, and I think students too, so particularly doctoral level students, master's level students. Um, so yeah, uh, so great points. Um, so with Wichita state's initiative around digital transformation and the new national Institute for research and digital transformation, what kinds of projects are you anticipating coming out of that? And what, what do you see as the process to engage faculty around them? Speaker 3 00:18:24 Well, one of the aspects that you'll see us there, there certainly are, um, more digital transformation types of, of resources becoming available. And for example, NSF announced last year that there will be, uh, an AI Institute in, in every state. And we have been fortunate enough to have, um, Dr. in the school for, uh, computing engaged in one of those where it's, it's centered at university of Texas at Austin, but Kansas well have an AI Institute at some point. And I think that, uh, Wichita state should certainly be one of those. Uh, we'll also see that there are, um, I'll quote, a quote, another friend besides my PhD advisor, but I'll quote, uh, Greg Kant as Dean of, uh, health sciences, who said that there are, um, fields are either data, rich analytics, poor, or data, poor analytics rich. And so I think we'll see those, you know, both types of fields will grow in the sense of health sciences is he, he says it's a data rich area, but an analytics poor. Speaker 3 00:19:37 And so certainly in those areas, you will see the analytics develop, uh, to use that information. Whereas in, in other areas, they're already with the analytics, but they don't have as much data to collect. And so their data sources will grow and what they want to analyze will grow. And so as far as our, um, our different areas, uh, I think they'll look at those type of areas to go into and certainly take advantage of the, uh, resources that we have on campus in terms of the high performance computing center, uh, not commuting, but computing center, and then having resources like net app on, on, uh, the innovation campus taking advantage of the resources in Naya. So I think it will become much more collaborative in order to take advantage of all those areas and help the different aspects grow. Speaker 1 00:20:33 Right. And just interviewed Melinda LaBeck Hawk, who is director of sustainment, uh, Aztec, which is the, uh, facility in north part of our county, um, doing, uh, digital twins. Um, so, um, that, that really, um, that particular project has really driven a lot of, uh, our research awards, you know, mostly through NY R um, but also I think has, um, uh, made, uh, other companies, other industry partners are aware of what we're doing and the reason why they're on campus like NetApp, um, smart factory. Uh, so it, to me, it really draws in pretty much everything, um, that you could think of because our everything's becoming digital and, um, becoming a part of this new economy that's driven by, uh, uh, data. Speaker 3 00:21:24 I think you'll see that even within curriculum, that there won't be a single discipline that, that doesn't have a digital aspect. And I think places like maybe not smart factory, but perhaps a place like NetApp, they, it, it won't be unheard of for them to, uh, have an intern from fine arts or, or from dance that, that is looking at some aspect where they're analyzing dance moves or you know, how to incorporate that into different fields. So it, it will, it will permeate all of our, all of our disciplines. Speaker 1 00:21:55 Yeah. I'm so glad you brought that up because our faculty have over the last two, three years really come forward with all kinds of new degree programs. So we have a course, uh, data science degree, data analytics, mathematical foundations of data analysis. We have cybersecurity, Homeland security, digital arts, even linguistics. So that's, that's an example of what people don't believe or know anything about. Um, uh, even the humanities draws upon this field as well. So, Speaker 3 00:22:26 And then in the linguistics, uh, feeding into accessibility. Speaker 1 00:22:30 Exactly. Yeah. Good point. So here's a broad question. Um, what do you see as the future of research and innovation at Wichita state? I know that you could, we probably could sit here the rest of the, Speaker 3 00:22:42 It's like an interview question coming here in the first place. Speaker 1 00:22:46 Um, so what, what's your thoughts on that? Okay. Speaker 3 00:22:49 Well, of course I'm coming from more of the faculty led research aspects. And, and I, I would say our future is certainly in, um, collaborative research, um, in, uh, multidisciplinary research. Uh, I think Omix will grow in terms of, uh, so not just genomics and proteomics, but in terms of considering all parts of the constituency in our, all the constituent parts in, in, um, a research area in, in develop new research areas. I think that, um, uh, because of that collaborative nature in the multi-discipline area, we'll see more long-term, uh, research where it really takes advantage of more of the academic style, where, uh, you look at the, you take advantage of the fundamental science in those areas, the innovation in brainstorming, and, um, feed that into two different areas. So I think that you'll see, um, for example, more consortium's where there is, uh, an area of research that, uh, we as scientists want to address, or, um, scholars want to address and companies are interested in, but, um, are willing to, uh, think more broadly and, uh, tackle questions that, that maybe are not totally specific to their companies, but are, but are aspects that will, if they can learn those aspects that will help their product, but recognize that, um, it doesn't have to be a short-term goal or a very specific well-defined, um, issue that may have made no sense whatsoever. Speaker 1 00:24:34 You have an example, um, that you could provide that, uh, that, that kind of, Speaker 3 00:24:41 Yeah. So, um, I'm thinking in terms of actually one of the oldest areas of center funding, um, with the national science foundation, and that is these I U C R C it's industry university collaborative research, and the way they often work is, um, an area will be defined and they won't duplicate any areas. Um, and I'll just, I'll give an example that, that I'm involved in. So, um, I'm involved one from my previous institution, that's the, the center for tire research and I'm, I'm sure most people think that tires, it's all everything's been invented. One of the issues of course, is a lot of it is, is not in open literature. So people who work there really know the issues, but, um, in that case, there's several, uh, companies from all over the world that are part of it. And they define, um, they define a couple of areas that they're interested in. Speaker 3 00:25:39 One, the one that I'm involved in right now is in the area of sustainability. And then, uh, the, so the, the company, um, advisors define the area, they contribute the funding to it. And then, uh, the researchers, uh, propose topics in that area. And the companies are interested in ones that, like I said, it will help them, but they're not, um, specifically impeding on their, um, their private technology. And so they're very good at, uh, offering advice in terms of, they'll say, uh, in, in that area, they'll help with the formulation and they'll say, this is not what we would really use, but it'll enable you to publish, answer those questions. And it will really help answer some questions in our area. So, uh, companies and academia willing to come together and, um, look at, um, sort of focused area, but very broadly and constantly thinking about what are some of the holes in the area and what can we do to advance the Speaker 1 00:26:42 Field? Yeah. Um, I was gonna S I was gonna, if you, weren't going to bring it up, I was gonna have you talk about your tire research and those of you who are listening, she's talking about car tires and other kinds of tires for vehicles of all different types. Um, um, so very interesting and very it's very applied in nature. Um, and I think one of the things that you're kind of getting at too is, um, working alongside industry partners and helping them maybe in direct ways, but also indirect ways with what sounds like, um, instead of the other way, which has been more traditional and there's less funding available as, as, as, uh, uh, professor who has this particular interests and once funding for that, but that may not be useful to anybody in industry. So that's why industry funded research is actually growing and getting more traction at institutions like Wichita state. So, um, so I appreciate that, um, explanation. So Coleen, um, thank you for being here today. Um, it's always good to talk to you beyond our regular meetings that we have at the university. And thank you, shocker nation for joining me today. Join me next month. When we celebrate something near and dear to Wichita, state's heart innovation month, innovation touches everything we do at Wichita state. And we'll talk about it in our next episode of forward together.

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