Each year, undergraduate students studying the sciences apply for Research Experiences for Undergrads (REUs). Hayley Bower, a senior engineering physics major, was accepted to Purdue University’s REU program and over the summer began work with their Resilient Extraterrestrial Habitats (RETH) Project. She is currently one of five undergrads working on Purdue’s RETH team.
For her role on the team, Bower is using her engineering physics background to evaluate the risks of radiation exposure in the lunar environment and to design an extraterrestrial habitat capable of protecting the inhabitants from the harmful effects of radiation.
“One of the primary issues I’ve encountered is the different types of radiation,” said Bower. “There is galactic and solar radiation, which are very different. Galactic is pretty much constant, while solar is very intense and sporadic. I am also trying to predict if the lunar soil is radioactive, so finding one material or a combination of materials that will best protect lunar inhabitants against those factors is a big challenge.”
All senior engineering students work on a capstone engineering project. These projects include developing design specifications, conceptual designs and final designs.
For her senior capstone, Bower is continuing her research on radiation and working with fellow senior, Robert Shaver, as well as faculty members from both AU and Purdue to develop a protective shielding for lunar inhabitants.
“For my senior project, I wanted to use the information I had collected over the summer to come up with a solution to the radiation and propose a design,” said Bower. “The ultimate goal of the Purdue team is to design effective shielding and I don’t know if they will use what I propose, but it could hopefully help get them started.”
Bower will be the first AU student to graduate with the engineering physics degree. She decided to pursue engineering physics after her freshman year, which she began as a physics and math double major.
“I took a couple of engineering courses, which were interesting to me, and I made the switch when I found out this major was in the works,” said Bower. “The professors are a lot of fun and the classes were great. It’s also a little more practical than just physics. You get the basics of the physics major and a lot of hands-on experience with electrical, mechanical and computer engineering, so you get a broad perspective. The engineering physics major is unique in that way.”
With a growing engineering program and a strong physics department, the new engineering physics major seemed to be a natural next step for AU.
This year is the first year engineering physics will be offered officially in the catalog. The major is 85 credit hours and compliments the existing physics major with more background in engineering and computer science.
“We designed the engineering physics degree to give students practical application by applying the engineering to the physics,” said the Dean of the School of Science and Engineering, Dr. Chad Wallace. “It also gives students a little extra work in some of the upper level areas on the physics side, which will help them if they continue on to graduate school.”
Although this is a program offered at other institutions, it differentiates itself in several ways. Like many other programs at AU, it boasts smaller class sizes that allow for more individualized attention.
They also offer their students a very hands-on approach to learning. Undergraduate students are constantly in the lab designing and building things.
“Our labs, particularly on the engineering side of things, are very strong compared to other institutions,” said Department Chair of Physical Sciences and Engineering, Dr. John Millis. “Undergraduates at other institutions typically don’t have access to the types of labs and equipment we give our students access to.”
The other component of AU’s engineering physics program that sets itself apart is the idea of “humanitarian engineering.”
This idea challenges students to consider how they can use their skills to serve Christ and the world. They prepare their students for situations in which they may need to come up with a solution to a problem using whatever local resources are available to them.
By gaining experience in a variety of situations, students are prepared for whatever lies ahead.
“Our hope is that this new major will better prepare our students for graduate school or if they want to go into a high-tech industry job,” said Millis. “They’ll have that theoretical background in physics complimented with some of the design, hardware and software skills that they would get with a computer science and engineering degree.”