Montana State University

College of Engineering

Montana State University
P.O. Box 173820
Bozeman, MT 59717-3820

Tel: (406) 994-2272
Fax: (406) 994-6665
Location: 212 Roberts Hall

Dean and Director:

Brett Gunnink

Doctoral Candidate Profiles

Doctoral Candidates in Engineering and Computer Science

by Application

Helping fish reach spawning sites Predicting power supply failure
Understanding avalanche conditions Uncovering how knees and hips become arthritic
Treating wastewater with natural systems Addressing challenges in medicine & industry
Assessing driving simulators Designing electronics for space

by Degree and Option

Computer Science Engineering: Electrical & Computer Engineering
Engineering: Applied Mechanics Engineering: Environmental Engineering
Engineering: Chemical Engineering Engineering: Industrial Engineering
Engineering: Civil Engineering Engineering: Mechanical Engineering

by Student Name

Allen, Chris Sturlaugson, Liessman
Hogan, Justin Vogt, Sarah
Mueller, Jessica Walters, David
Plymesser, Kathryn Zignego, Donny

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Predicting power supply failure

Liessman Sturlaugson

Liessman Sturglaugson

Hometown: Carson, North Dakota
Doctoral Degree: Computer Science
Advisor: John Sheppard, Computer Science

Liessman’s research is focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning. He is interested in probabilistic graphical models, in particular continuous-time models, and has been applying them to problems of electronic diagnostics and prognostics.

Using data from a set of power supplies that have been run until failure under various conditions, Liessman has built a computer model that monitors a new power supply, detects its level of degradation, and predicts when it will ultimately fail.

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Understanding avalanche conditions

David Walters

David Walters

Hometown: Wixom, Michigan
Doctoral Degree: Engineering
Option: Applied Mechanics
Advisor: Ed Adams, Civil Engineering

David is investigating the formation of radiation recrystallized snow layers and their mechanical properties. Radiation recrystallized layers are thin layers of snow that form near the surface of a snowpack on sunny mountain slopes.

Once they are buried deeply, these layers often cause snow avalanches. The layers undergo significant changes in mechanical properties as the recrystallization process occurs.

He is developing a model which uses the snow’s microstructure to calculate changes in the direction and magnitude of macroscopic properties such as stiffness and strength.

The Subzero Science and Engineering Research Facility allows him precise control over meteorological parameters to replicate mountain conditions as well as the ability to perform tests that cannot be conducted outdoors. He also conducts field work regionally and frequently collaborates with area avalanche experts.

David came to MSU because here he can merge his professional interests in engineering mechanics and his personal interest in all things snow.

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Addressing challenges in medicine & industry

Sarah Vogt

Sarah Vogt

Hometown: Rolla, Missouri
Doctoral Degree: Engineering
Option: Chemical Engineering
Advisor: Joseph Seymour, Chemical & Biological Engineering

Sarah uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a well-known medical imaging tool, to study engineering systems.

MRI noninvasively characterizes the structure of porous materials such as ceramics and rocks, gels like cheese and tissue culture biomaterials and can measure the motion and transport of fluids such as water flow through pipes.

Sarah integrates advanced math, physics and chemistry concepts to develop new engineering models of complex systems. She has studied the motions of molecules in a wide range of technologically important materials and flowing systems.

This work helps people understand how biomedical and industrial filters get clogged. Such knowledge has broad applications, such as treating wastewater, refining biofuels, cleaning up environmental pollution, modeling the potential impacts of oil spills on sea ice formation, conserving water and energy in food production, and using biomedical gels to grow tissues for organ regeneration.

Sarah is a research assistant professor at University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia.

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Helping fish reach spawning sites

Katey Plymesser

Kathryn (Katey) Plymesser

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Doctoral Degree: Engineering
Option: Civil Engineering
Advisor: Joel Cahoon, Civil Engineering

Katey Plymesser is studying Steeppass fishways, typically used in smaller streams and remote areas. Many previous studies only analyzed velocities in the downstream direction, but Katey is characterizing velocities in three dimensions to account for swirls and eddies.

She is studying American shad, a species of herring native to the Atlantic Ocean that spawns in freshwater rivers. “We know that American shad are not swimming through existing fishways well, but we don’t know why,” according to Katey.

Annual shad harvests of 17.5 million pounds at the turn of the 20th century in Chesapeake Bay dwindled to less than two million pounds by the 1970s. Katey will use her data to develop a computer model that characterizes fishways in the Connecticut River and ultimately help engineers design or retrofit fishways to help fish move upriver.

Katey cites working one-on-one with her advisor, Joel Cahoon, as something that sets MSU apart from other universities.

Kathryn “Katey” Plymesser is one of only 14 students nationally chosen as a 2011 Hydro Research Foundation fellow. The $94,000 award will fund two years of research.

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Designing electronics for space

Justin Hogan

Justin Hogan

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Doctoral Degree: Engineering
Option: Electrical Engineering
Advisor: Brock LaMeres, Electrical & Computer Engineering

Justin is developing a radiation-tolerant computer system. By using commercial off-the-shelf devices, he hopes to increase the flexibility and performance of space-based computing. Radiation from high-energy particles adversely affects electronics in space. The research team’s system uses programmable logic devices to detect and mitigate radiation-induced faults.

Justin enjoys testing systems in a representative environment. For this project, he and others have sent the system on a number of high-altitude scientific balloon flights. The computer system reached altitudes between 90,000 and 120,000 feet for up to 12 hours at a time. The team is preparing for a suborbital rocket launch which will take the computer system 73 miles above the Earth.

NASA and the Montana Space Grant Consortium are funding the project.

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Treating wastewater with natural systems

Chris Allen

Chris Allen

Hometown: El Dorado Hills, California
Doctoral Degree: Engineering
Option: Environmental Engineering
Advisor: Otto Stein, Civil Engineering

Chris is working with faculty members based in the College of Engineering and in other MSU colleges to evaluate the use of constructed wetlands to remove pollutants from wastewater.

Treatment wetlands not only offer a low-cost, sustainable alternative to traditional wastewater treatment systems, which are often energy intensive; they also provide ecological benefits, such as wildlife habitat.

Many removal processes are affected by the seasonal variation of temperature and plant growth.

Regulations typically require wastewater treatment processes to remove nitrogen-containing compounds because they can be toxic to fish and humans and degrade downstream water quality. Chris is analyzing the effects of plant species, temperature, and nutrient loading on
the removal of nitrogen compounds from the wetlands.

Research sites include a greenhouse and a field site in the Bridger Bowl Ski Area. Preliminary data indicate that appropriate plant selection and certain design criteria might allow treatment wetlands to perform well year-round in cold climates.

Chris is a former president of MSU's student chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

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Assessing driving simulators

Jessica Mueller

Jessica Mueller

Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee
Doctoral Degree: Engineering
Option: Industrial Engineering
Advisor: Laura Stanley, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

Jessica works in the Western Transportation Institute’s Advanced Driving Simulation Lab and studies how the complexity of driving simulator scenarios affect how people behave while driving.

Jessica is exploring how people respond while driving on real roads compared to how they respond to those same environments modeled in WTI’s advanced driving simulator. Her investigation includes drivers’ physiological, behavioral, and subjective responses.

Jessica’s research will help people assess the efficacy of high-fidelity driving simulators, with the ultimate goal of improving safety for drivers and the general public.

Jessica's research is funded by an MSU College of Engineering fellowship and a grant from Montana Academy of Sciences.

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Uncovering how knees and hips become arthritic

Donny Zignego

Donny Zignego

Hometown: Vancouver, Washington
Doctoral Degree: Engineering
Option: Mechanical Engineering
Advisor: Ron June, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering

Donny is studying biomechanics and biomedical engineering. His goal is to understand how cartilage cells (chondrocytes) sense
and respond to mechanical loading, and how this can result in osteoarthritis (OA).

OA is the most common joint disorder, affecting more than 100 million people worldwide, 27 million of them in the United States. OA is a degenerative joint disease often associated with excessive loading and aging of the joint.

In articulating body parts, such as knees and hips, chondrocytes are subjected to almost constant loading. How they respond to mechanical deformations is extremely important in understanding and improving joint health.

Donny’s lab work involves harvesting chondrocytes, growing them in tissue culture, embedding them in 3D hydrogels, mechanically
deforming them, and analyzing their biological outputs using mass spectrometry.

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