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Team’s proposal earns ‘Most Creative’ prize at RevCon Challenge

In August, Mark S. Spector, a program officer at the Office of Naval Research, visited the College of Engineering. He is shown here, at left, with Ahmed Yousif, one of two mechanical engineering students who competed in the RevCom Challenge. They are viewing the device that was MU’s solution to the challenge.

Two University of Missouri mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate students traveled to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) in May to compete in the RevCon Challenge and walked away with the competition’s “Most Creative” prize.

Co-sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the challenge first invited students to submit proposals outlining novel field-reversible thermal connectors instead of the current wedgelocks, used in virtually every military electronic module.

The Mizzou Engineering proposal was one of four selected to compete and the team received $5,000 to further develop its idea and build its device before traveling to JHU/APL to demonstrate its solution.

Master’s student Ahmed Yousif, who attended the challenge with master’s student Evan Kontras, said that within a flight vehicle’s avionics box, for example, wedgelocks hold printed circuit board cards that might be damaged by the digital device’s high operating temps, against the module’s aluminum cooling plates.

“The pieces of a wedgelock move together, causing them to slide, providing a strong lock,” Yousif said.

“We physically changed the upper part of the cooling plate so that cards can slide in,” Yousif said of MU design, which utilizes magnetic force and ferrofluids — iron nanoparticles evenly dispersed in a water base — to fill the air gaps between cards and fins of cooling plate. “We changed the shape of the fins and used neodymium magnets, the strongest magnets on earth, in the cooling block. Ferrofluids will stick to walls and provide better thermal conduction, even if you tip the block upside down.”

Each team demonstrated its innovative solution to a panel made up of government officials and aerospace industry representatives, and results were displayed in real time as panelists asked questions and gave feedback.

Of the four competing teams, only MU modified the block; the others replaced the wedgelock with another device.

“They were very interested in our design,” said Yousif, who works in the lab of Associate Professor Gary Solbrekken and is using the research for his thesis. “Processors are getting bigger and more powerful,” he added. “Science and computer fields are developing that need help from mechanical engineers.”

Kontras, who is working in the lab of Professor Chung-Lung Chen, said he didn’t realize how critical wedgelocks were prior to the competition. “Many applications require custom-designed wedgelocks so it’s not that far-fetched to think they might actually use our design,” he said.

Chen, who accompanied the students to the event, said the competition was a way to bring Mizzou Engineering into the national spotlight.

“We were only one degree Celsius from Georgia Institute of Technology,” Kontras said of the team’s near miss of also winning the Lowest Thermal Resistance prize. “The third-place team had a 10 degree difference in thermal performance.”

Kontras, who also is completing a master’s in electrical engineering, worked with an MAE capstone group on the project. “The concept has a lot of potential. There is room for improvement and I like working on something that can be improved.

“The best part of going there was seeing the other designs. I couldn’t even have imagined their solutions,” Kontras said.

Yousif, who graduated first in his class at the University of Technology in Iraq, and received funding from the Iraqi government to attend graduate school at MU, said that he hopes to eventually publish a paper on the findings and give a presentation at a conference.

“I like research, but everything in Iraq is destroyed,” Yousif continued. “There are no labs and no private companies and investors. I came to the U.S. to improve my abilities and experiences. When I go back, I can help others.”