Student innovation celebrated at Oregon Tech's 'IdeaFest'
The Oregon Institute of Technology's annual "IdeaFest" returned in-person for 2022 to showcase student research projects and recognize the hard work and innovation of nearly 40 scholars in applied sciences.
Poster presentations lining an exhibit room at Oregon Tech's Portland-Metro campus in Wilsonville on Wednesday, May 18 featured inquiry and analysis conducted by junior, senior and graduate students as class projects in engineering, technology, health, manufacturing and other disciplines.
Projects were evaluated by a panel of five judges who scored the entries based on clarity, innovation, relevance, layout and other criteria, awarding prizes and recognition to the two highest-scoring projects.
Earning the distinction of "Best Student Poster" at the event was Justin Ringle, a graduate student in Renewable Energy Engineering whose project explored the potential for using "lunar regolith," the topsoil of the moon, as a medium for efficient energy storage to power a lunar base.
"To handle thermal management in space is incredibly difficult, because you don't have an atmosphere, and so the temperature changes really violently and things get really hot on the surface of the moon," Ringle said, adding that the heat can be extracted as a power source, in turn cooling the moon's surface temperature to safer levels for heat-sensitive electronics.
"Being able to keep those cool while also being able to use that excess heat would make our lunar base more sustainable and more efficient, which is what my Renewable Energy Engineering degree is all about — it's all about trying to use energy in creative ways to make things more efficient," Ringle said.
Runner-up honors for Best Student Poster were awarded to Scott Morris, a senior Renewable Energy Engineering student whose project analyzed the benefits of building electric vehicles using converted classic vehicles.
"I really wanted to use renewables in the automotive industry, because they're one of the top contributors to greenhouse gasses in the world and it seemed like there was very little actually being done," Morris said about the inspiration for his research.
"Building an entirely new vehicle uses a lot more resources and materials than converting a vehicle because if you're still making an electric battery, motor and controls for everything, not having to completely establish a supply chain for parts and the actual body itself reduces a lot of the materials used overall in order to produce an electric vehicle that can be used on the road," Morris said.
Along with certificates, both student honorees were awarded cash prizes of $400 for first place and $200 for second place.
Ringle, an aspiring professor and space exploration scholar, has worked in a number of student positions, currently serving as vice president of student government and president of the school's LGBTQ+ club.
Morris, an aspiring professional in renewable automotive innovations, decided to return to school after serving active duty in the U.S. Air Force for five years, currently serving as an aircraft loadmaster in the Air Force Reserve.
Both students said they enjoyed seeing and learning about their classmates' projects during the in-person event, which the university held remotely in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
"All of our ideas are just on the poster, and anyone can stop by and see, 'Oh, I could use this,' — so that was a really good opportunity," Ringle said, recalling discovering that a fellow student's unrelated project had a direct application to thermal management in space.
"It was definitely rewarding to actually talk to people and express the idea of my project to them in person; there's a lot of communication that is lacking when trying to communicate over virtual text messages or emails that doesn't really get conveyed properly," Morris said.
Lara Pracht, director of academic affairs for Oregon Tech's Wilsonville campus, said that the annual event, sponsored by the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce, benefits students by recognizing their work and providing a "learning opportunity to professionally present their work to a variety of audiences."
"Our mission is to be a hands-on university and to provide students with hands-on experiences, and this symposium really showcases all the hands-on work that our students do and how that sets them apart from many other college graduates."
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