These student papers are the best

Excellence in

Written Communication

I am delighted to present to you three of our Communication in Engineering, Excellence in Written Communication Award winners! These are the best student papers from past terms of CCOM 206. They have been added to eScholarship@McGill and they are well worth a read.

Nathan Robbins – Performance of Nose Cone Geometries on Sounding Rockets

Read the full paper on eScholarship

This investigation compares the performances of several nose cone geometries and their suitability for flight on a high-altitude sounding rocket. Many geometries have been proposed to mitigate the extreme aerodynamic forces and phenomena encountered during such high energy ascents. The geometries in question include the conic section, Haack Series nose cone, and the aerospike nose cone; all of which are evaluated according to their coefficients of drag, heating characteristics, and several outstanding factors such as wall shear stress, pressure distributions, and useful internal volume. The investigation concludes that the aerospike nose cone is well suited for high-altitude sounding rockets because of its capacity to reduce drag, its exceptional ability to reduce heating, and its larger useful internal volume. Through this unique combination of performance and volume, the aerospike nose cone is a likely candidate for the forebody of high-altitude sounding rockets for future missions.

Katia Rosenflanz – Biodiesel Production: Advancing Lipid Extraction to Fuel our Future

Read the full paper on eScholarship

The use of diesel and fossil fuels to power the globe’s increasing energy demands have caused large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, negatively impacting the environment. This has led researchers to investigate alternative energy sources. Biodiesel, a renewable, biodegradable, and environmentally-friendly resource, shows promise; microalgae, which consume large amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases, has been introduced as a potential supply for the necessary oils. Because of algal cells’ strength and chemical properties, however, the physical extraction of lipids is difficult. This paper compares three methods to improve lipid extraction: microwave radiation, osmotic shock, and bead beating. They are assessed based on dry weight lipid output, efficiency, and scalability. Based on research, bead beating has high energy consumption and relatively low lipid production; thus, it is unadvisable for mass production. Osmotic shock has high output and no energy consumption, but is fairly inefficient due to a large time requirement. Microwave radiation performs fairly well in terms of lipid output, efficiency, and scalability, making it the most viable option, but microalgal biodiesel is only now entering the picture as an alternative energy source. Further research and resources must be invested in order to introduce these techniques into the global energy market.

Allan Reuben – Nanomagnetic Logic Circuits as an Alternative to Silicon CMOS-based Circuits for use in Extreme Environments

Read the full paper in eScholarship

As hardware and software technology improves, sending robots to do research in extreme environments is increasingly frequent. This shift creates a need for computer chips optimally designed for those environments. Computers that operate in extreme environments must account for limitations and requirements not present in consumer or corporate uses such as: extreme power management, high radiation exposure, and high computation reliability. Silicon-based computers have become the accepted standard in computing for every environment due to their high speed and ease of manufacturing. Nanomagnetic logic circuits are a promising new technology that may help engineers optimize computers for use in extreme environments. These two systems are compared based on their durability from radiation, power utilization, and clock speed. For mission-critical computer operation in extreme environments, nanomagnetic logic circuits offer many advantages over traditional silicon-based computers.

Plant regrowth after 1,600 years

Spring is here and my parents have started planning their garden by growing tomato seeds indoors.  In about a month’s time, these seeds will have grown into small plants that will be transplanted to the earth outside when the weather is warmer.  There was an interesting article published in the March 17th issue of Current Biology that discusses how scientists were able to regrow a moss plant that had been frozen for 1,600 years.  They just let it thaw and watered it.  According to the authors, it is the first study to report the revival of a frozen plant or animal after such a long period of time.

McGill Engineering Research Showcase (MERS)

The Faculty of Engineering’s Research and Graduate Education Office will host the first annual McGill Engineering Research Showcase (MERS) on Friday, October 18th, from 3pm to 6pm, in the McConnell Engineering Building lobby. This time MEDA scholars (3rd year plus only), Tri-Council or provincial Masters Award recipients (2nd year only), and Mitacs Masters students (2nd year only) are called to present research posters during the event.

Come, see and learn more about research across all engineering disciplines!!!!!!!!!

SURE and SURE Poster Presentation Fair

McGill Engineering Faculty has a special program, called Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering, which pairs registered students with McGill scientists and researchers. The admitted students will have a chance to work on a research project under a supervisor during the summer and get a feeling of “research” while earning some income. Click here to learn more about this program.

On Thursday, August 15, 2013 between 1 and 4pm, there will be this year’s SURE Poster Presentation Fair in the Trottier Engineering Building (Cafeteria level) where the students will present their findings from their projects.

Three minutes to explain yourself

Can you explain your research activities or thesis in 3 minutes to someone outside your field?  Jinna Kim in University Affairs reports that many universities are holding prize-winning competitions that require graduate student participants to communicate their work to judges and an audience in just 3 minutes.  The idea is to teach students how to promote themselves and their research.

McGill University has an annual event called, “3 Minutes to Change the World” that provides a non-competitive opportunity for graduate students to present their research to a general audience.  Below is an example of a presentation from this event:

What is “peer review”?

peer_reviewWe write a lot on this blog about finding, reading, and evaluating research articles and this post is about understanding the meaning of “peer review” in the context of scholarly publishing.

When we teach students about research methods during orientation, in their classrooms, and during one-on-one consultations, we always introduce the concept of scholarly vs. popular literature. That is, the difference between articles written by and for other researchers, and articles written by journalists and other types of authors for the general public (magazine and newspaper articles for example).

Most scholarly articles have gone through a peer review process, where one or more experts have evaluated the study and given it a stamp of approval. It is now ready for publication and use by other researchers to build upon the ideas in the study. This is just meant as a very lean preamble to a more in-depth article about peer review on the website boing boing. This easy to understand article is part of Meet Science, a series intended to “provid[e] quick run-downs of oft-referenced concepts, controversies, and tools that aren’t always well-explained by the media.” The article is succinct and attempts to answer some pertinent questions about the peer review process. I hope you find it helpful.

Image from

Can serious research be funny?

While readimascotng the newspaper, I came across a reference to the Ig Noble Prizes, which celebrates research that makes people laugh and then think.  The organization, Improbable Research, also publishes a bi-monthly magazine called, Annals of Improbable Research.  Check it out to laugh and for thought-provoking studies.

Image of “The Stinker,” the official mascot of the Ig Noble Prizes, from

Compare databases

We are forever recommending the big databases for finding journal articles and conference proceedings but do you ever wonder how much overlap there is between the databases in science and engineering? You can compare databases using the Academic Database Assessment Tool from the Center for Research Libraries.

Compare the journal coverage of the two major multidisciplinary databases, Web of Science and Scopus, or see how the content overlaps with Compendex (engineering), Inspec (physics) and Geobase (geosciences). According to this tool, there are 11377 overlapping journal titles between Web of Science and Scopus – not a small number.

The redundancy in the search results from searching multiple databases is why we also recommend using citation management software. You can send all of your records to EndNote, for example, from the different databases and then remove the duplicates before you look through them to delete ones you don’t like and select papers of interest you’d like to read. EndNote can also check the McGill Library holdings and attach full text PDFs to records (just fyi).

Calling all citizen scientists


There is room for everyone in science and researchers are harnessing the enthusiasm of everyday people (not to mention their free time) to work on projects.

Galaxy Zoo is perhaps the most famous example of citizen science, with over 200,000 volunteers classifying galaxy images taken from a robotic telescope. Citizens have always played an important role in astronomy but now anyone can contribute without buying expensive equipment. We humans are needed to describe the images but the task is too large for a researcher or group of researchers to take on. Thus far over 150 million galaxies have been classified by volunteer astronomers (zooites) and a few have gone on to make really neat discoveries.

A more local example is Phylo, a citizen science project from McGill. A lot of these projects are actually games that people can play (yes, science can be fun!) and this one uses your pattern recognition skills to solve DNA puzzles in order to learn more about gene mutations and genetic disorders.

I urge you to find a citizen science project that interests you. Take a look at this list from Scientific American. There are a lot of weather or nature watching options (Snowtweets, RinkWatch, ZomBee Watch, SubseaObservers). There is even an Open Dinosaur Project.

Happy exploring!

The year’s best images in science

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Check out the winners and runners-up of the 2012 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.  According to Breanna Draxler of Discover magazine, “the visualization challenge is designed to encourage a better public understanding of scientific research and is sponsored by the journal Science and the U.S. National Science Foundation.  Criteria for entries include visual impact, effective communication, freshness and originality.”

My favorite image is the “Polar Mapping of Structures in the Universe.”  What’s yours?