JULY 15, 2021 — Editor’s note: This article is the third in a three-part series about cutting-edge structural engineering research taking place at UTSA. Read the first article in the series here, and the second article in the series here.
The UTSA College of Engineering and Integrated Design continues to establish itself among the best engineering schools in the country, according to alumni, who say their education has prepared them to practice advanced engineering principles leading to safer buildings, bridges and aircraft.
“You have people doing cutting-edge research here,” said Daniel Ramirez-Tamayo ’21, who graduated from UTSA with his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and conducted research under the supervision of faculty members Harry Millwater and Arturo Montoya.
Ramirez-Tamayo is a researcher with Pacific Northwest Laboratory, one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. He was an intern with the firm in 2019 and 2020, before joining full-time this past April.
He points to the work of faculty members like Montoya, who is the lead for UTSA and its work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the Resilient ExtraTerrestrial Habitats Institute (RETHi). The institute’s researchers aim to design and operate resilient deep space habitats that can adapt, absorb and rapidly recover from expected and unexpected disruptions.
“Our drive to recruit top faculty and achieve R1 research status is deeply rooted in our commitment to provide the best education experience for our students,” said JoAnn Browning, dean of the College of Engineering and Integrated Design. “As evidenced by the excellent work Roadrunners are doing after graduation, we are making a significant and lasting impact in the structural engineering industry.”
To work with a prestigious entity like NASA, “that is the cherry on top of the pie,” said Ramirez-Tamayo, whose own research could lead to significant advances in the materials used to make automobiles. He has come up with a computational framework to model friction stir welding processes that enables manufacturers to join steel to other materials, like aluminum. Less steel in the production process translates into a more lightweight car that is also more environmentally friendly, Ramirez-Tamayo explained.
Looking ahead, the UTSA alumnus would like to one day play a part in advancing the knowledge of other students—much in the same way Montoya did for him. “I could see myself teaching, transferring my knowledge to students,” he said.
But it is not just UTSA’s high-quality research that students hold in high regard. Professors Montoya and Adolfo Matamoros have also created a home for engineering students—many of whom are coming to the United States for the first time.
“Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am in this stage of my life,” said Reza Nasouri ’19, who graduated from UTSA with his Ph.D. in civil engineering. “They made UTSA feel like home.”
Nasouri is a member of the structural engineering team at locally based BakerRisk, where he provides comprehensive services to mitigate hazards that could affect clients’ personnel and their properties, including their physical structures.
Nasouri’s clients include oil and gas companies—firms that are vulnerable to blasts and explosions that can ruin property and lives. His job is to ensure that his clients’ structures can withstand such incidents.
It’s a job for which this UTSA alum began training for while he was a Ph.D. student at UTSA. Working alongside Matamoros and Montoya, Nasouri researched the weld toe cracks that form on high-mast illumination poles during the galvanizing process. These are the poles that light up stadiums and streets and are used to display the large wayfinding signs on freeways. Their research into how these cracks form, and thus how to eliminate them, will lead to more durable structures. There is also the savings to companies, who will spend less time repairing or replacing cracked poles.
The project earned Nasouri the 2019 University Transportation Centers Outstanding Student of the Year award from the Transportation Research Board. The award recognizes students’ notable contributions to research in multi-modal, public transit, rail and road transportation as well as a student’s academic performance, professionalism and leadership.
At the heart of UTSA’s engineering discipline is a commitment to making the world a safer place, said Sterling Reynolds, a UTSA undergraduate student majoring in mechanical engineering. He was drawn to the discipline at a young age. When he was 9 years old, he and his mom watched the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrate as it reentered the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members.
“I didn’t want that to happen ever again,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds transferred to UTSA after receiving his associate’s degree from Palo Alto College. He credits two programs with helping him achieve his goals: The Transfer Academy for Tomorrow’s Engineers and the internship opportunities offered by the College of Engineering and Integrated Design.
Reynolds is currently participating in various research projects, including RETHi, where he is working alongside Montoya.
He says the research underway at the university to develop sustainable habitats on Mars is work that will also make the structures here on earth safer.
Like Ramirez-Tamayo, Nasouri also believes that he has a role to play in teaching the next generation of engineers. He would like to have his own company, where he would be in a position to impart real-world knowledge.
“I want to better prepare the students for the workplace,” he said. “That is my goal.”
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