Turning Ideas into Reality - Above, On and Below Earth

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Communications, College of Engineering

From outer space to below the earth’s surface, students in Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering (COE) are involved with research that allows them to apply their theoretical knowledge to real life problems. Learning beyond the classroom takes place in the labs as well as in the field to give students a chance to discover new phenomena, methods, and techniques.

Drilling on the planet Mars? For a group of engineering students in the School of Aerospace Engineering (AE), the challenge from NASA was to create and test a remote control drilling device that could be used for future subsurface access to other planets. Their research project, “Drilling Automation for MARS Exploration (DAME)," was cited as an outstanding accomplishment that contributes substantially to the NASA mission of scientific discovery. Not only did the students design a drill that would work remotely, but would also drill for three hours on available power that was restricted to 100 watts (similar to a light bulb in your house). The drill could be used on Mars to look for ice, water, or life, and needed to be fully automated and capable of untended operations. While human operators on Earth listen and feel drill vibrations coming from underground, space drilling needs robotic instrumentation to be able to distinguish vibrations. In the future, AE students will be working to help devices such as this drill respond and react to drill vibrations felt when used on other planets.

For engineering students working in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), what’s under the earth’s surface is drawing their attention as they explore earthquakes and how to minimize losses from these catastrophic events. Students are working to reduce the risk of loss from earthquakes through predictive models of structural performance, and are developing innovative mitigation technologies to reduce those losses. Not only are students working to design new bridges (which are extremely vulnerable when a catastrophe hits) to withstand an earthquake, they are also engaged in research to show how to retrofit existing bridges to help these structures remain viable in the event of a future earthquake. The economic damage and potential deaths resulting from a large magnitude earthquake are considerable, but the ability to respond in these emergencies is even more crucial. Keeping bridges open and functioning after an earthquake is a key component of the research being done by our CEE students.

While climate change is a major concern to many scientists, engineering students in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) are working to find new ways to collect weather data to help model and predict the impact of the global climate on our society. Since glacial regions are more sensitive to the effects of climate change, data collection from these arctic regions is crucial. ECE students are developing a robotic system to navigate to a desired location without relying on a human operator. Robots have limited perception and reasoning, not to mention that their capabilities are limited by their own developers. However, students are finding that it is more feasible for robots to function as the explorer, rather than humans, especially in areas with extreme weather and terrain. In the lab, ECE students are focusing on increasing the capability of robot vehicles to function in natural environments, such as planetary surfaces, undersea, underground, and in remote geological locations here on Earth.

These are just a few examples of research that make Georgia Tech a center of excellence and innovation. Whether it is above, on, or below the earth’s surface, there is opportunity for Tech students to be involved in hands-on research that creates new knowledge, makes new discoveries, and finds innovative solutions. For more information on the exciting opportunities at the College of Engineering, visit our Web site or contact Laurence J. Jacobs, associate dean for Academic Affairs, at


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Rachael Pocklington
  • Created: 04/05/2010
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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