Senior Highlight with Tommy Zirkle!
Senior Engineering student, Tommy Zirkle, was recently accepted to doctoral programs at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Purdue University. Read on for an interview about his experience at Andrews!
- What are your career goals?
I want to focus on research & design at a major industrial firm concentrated in computer chips. For example, either transistors or spintronics (transferring info using electronic spin) or some sort of magnetic based memory; I want to increase capacity, reliability, speed and improve computers at the fabrication level.
- How would you say your experience at Andrews University/studying engineering prepared you for your future?
The math and science have been very strong and beneficial, especially because I want to go into the more fundamental side of engineering. My engineering classes have helped to give a more practical application of both the science and the math.
- Describe some valuable experiences during undergrad (so far) inside/outside of the classroom.
Specifically for my internships – the one this past summer; I applied things I learned from my engineering courses directly to what I was doing. The year before that, I was dealing with rotating magnetometer which uses a rotating coil and a magnetic field to determine the fields strength or flux. To understand how this works, I needed to have a physics background. It helped make my internship smoother. Everything ties back into what I am learning eventually, some way or another. I also appreciate Dr. Lovhoiden’s look on life: that there is work and also play. That is why you get a job, so you can provide for yourself and actually live; not be stuck at work all the time.
- Are you involved in any special projects ie. a senior capstone? If so, what is the project and how will it help you further hone your skills?
An automated grain moisture control system correlated with a dyer with Jason Ruiz (faculty advisor – Dr. Degroot and Dr. Lovhoiden). Farmers need a way to store grain for a long time. It has to be maintained at a certain moisture content so it won’t deteriorate in quality or spoil. That is about 13-15% moisture content depending on how you want to store it (this is normally for corn). The way the system will work is 1)measure the moisture content 2) feed that temperature/moisture content to a labview virtual system 3) control the dehumidification system (dryers). So the labview control system will control that system and will allow the user to interact with the system as well – data updates, past history, etc. The end goal would be for it to send text messages if it turned the system on or off, so the farmer will be updated from a remote location.
The problem that our system is addressing is cost. Current models commercially run for $6K or more. We are looking to produce a system for under $300. This is the prototype, so mass producing it may be a different cost. We should be able to produce these an order of magnitude less than the most basic commercial models.
- Please explain a bit about your previous summer internship/research experiences.
The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an eleven week program in which students work alongside professional researchers to complete a research project. There are six different laboratories, including a Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology and a Center for Neutron Research. The projects span a variety of disciplines including applied mathematics, physics, chemistry, material science and engineering. Overall, the program accepts around 130 students from across the country. The students are selected based on G.P.A, research interest and their plans for graduate school. The program includes a stipend, housing and travel expenses. At the conclusion of the program, the students are required to give a formal presentation of their research project to their peers. I was accepted into the program in summer 2012 and again in summer 2013 as a part of the Physical Measurement Laboratory and worked on “electronic instrument construction and testing”. Summer 2012 I worked on building and characterizing a rotating magnetometer for NIST’s next generation Watt Balance.
This summer, I’ll be going to Argon national laboratories near Chicago, working with nano materials and electrical characteristics of thin films.
- What advice would you give to future ENGR students?
Focus on doing your best in math and science so you don’t fall behind the first year. Once you get into college, work on getting internships over the summer. This is not stressed enough. Internships allow you to apply what you’ve learned and you get to experience things that you wouldn’t have been exposed to at Andrews; internships also have a big impact on your resume. But the most important thing is the experience the confidence you gain as an engineer. You’ll take part in developing a product, and to see it come to completion is probably the biggest motivation to continuing my work.