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Senior mechanical engineering student’s year filled with highlights

Senior mechanical and aerospace engineering student James Berlin uses his programming talents to earn awards at the American Society for Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Student Professional Development Conference.

James Berlin’s senior year in mechanical and aerospace engineering was a busy one. In addition to his 18-hour course load and the 600 hours he spent on his capstone project, he served as captain of the Basic Utility Vehicle Team, which took second place at this year’s competition.

In April, he also won the award for the most technical oral presentation at the 2010 American Society for Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Student Professional Development Conference, and took third place in the U-Tube commercial production competition.

“We had 30 seconds to advertise a novel idea or a product, so I made a commercial about Dr. El-Gizawy’s company,” Berlin said of his third place video. Sherif El-Gizawy is a mechanical engineering professor who serves as Berlin’s advisor.”

“I had no idea how hard it was to get everything into 30 seconds,” he said. “Working with computers has always been a hobby of mine. I stated out making Web sites and then worked with video. I taught myself to do it by looking at tutorials on-line.”

Berlin’s fully animated AMSE winning presentation summarized his capstone project: designing, building and optimizing a small jet engine.

Because there are things about a jet engine that are not easily explained in a PowerPoint presentation, and because Berlin believes that format is over-rated and over-used, he decided to go for a video format, which he believes is more professional. It paid off.

“Dr. El-Gizawy wanted me to do use another research project for my capstone, but because I have such a huge interest in this field, I talked him into it,” Berlin said.

He recruited three other seniors – Sam Widge, Tim Vivian, and Vihn Dang – to work with him, each of whom also put about a 100 hours of time into the project.

“Because of their small size, small jet engines are really inefficient. We were looking for ways to make our engine more efficient without sacrificing performance.”

Berlin knew little about small jet engines but found a hobbyist in Europe who has been building them for 20 years who was able to answer his questions.

The capstone team successfully built and optimized the engine, but it wasn’t easy.

“It was a big project. You can shrink the size of the engine, but you can’t shrink the size of the air and fuel molecules,” Berlin said.

“Even though people said it was impossible, we had the internal components rotating at 120 to 150 thousand RPMs,” he added.

See Berlin’s winning U-Tube commercial here as well clips from some of his capstone group’s work with the jet engine: