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UW McNair Scholar’s Research Project Chosen for ‘Posters on the Hill’ Event

February 11, 2014
Woman working in lab
Talysa Stockert, a UW senior majoring in energy systems engineering, was among 60 college and university students chosen nationwide to participate in the 18th annual Posters on the Hill event in Washington, D.C. Here, she pours low-density polyethylene (a substitute for ammonia borane) through a funnel into the twin-screw extruder. (UW Photo)

When Talysa Stockert was a child, she and her father shared time taking apart home appliances and putting them back together.

Now, Stockert, a University of Wyoming energy systems engineering major, is researching how to make hydrogen fuel cell cars lighter and, eventually, more competitive with vehicles that run on conventional gas.

That engineering innovation has garnered the UW senior some attention. Stockert, a UW McNair Scholar and first-generation college student, was among 60 college and university undergraduate students nationwide selected to participate in the 18th annual Posters on the Hill April 28-29 in Washington, D.C.

Stockert’s poster presentation, titled “Heat Transfer Study in a Laboratory Twin-Screw Extruder for On-Board Hydrogen Storage,” was chosen from approximately 600 submissions. The Council on Undergraduate Research sponsors the event.

“I’m still in shock. I really didn’t expect it,” says the student from Greybull. “It’s another chance to talk about my research with different audiences.”

That audience will include guests invited by the presenters, members of the Council for Undergraduate Research, and all U.S. senators and U.S. representatives, says Zackie Salmon, project coordinator for UW’s McNair Scholars Program.

Stockert’s poster presentation demonstrates her research in transporting and heating ammonia borane ­-- a solid, sticky hydrogen storage material. Heating the ammonia borane allows the hydrogen gas to be released from the solid and used by the hydrogen fuel cell to create electricity.

“You need a giant tank to hold hydrogen gas. The tank is heavy and unsafe,” Stockert says. “But, if you have a container of ammonia borane that will hold the same amount of hydrogen as a compressed tank, it is smaller and it weighs less.”

The reduced weight is what eventually may allow hydrogen-powered vehicles to compete, in terms of efficient gas mileage, with traditional gas-powered vehicles, she says.

Dogged researcher

Her current work is an extension of research Stockert began in April 2012. The initial portion of the project focused on using a twin-screw extruder to transport ammonia borane throughout a hydrogen-powered fuel system.

The twin-screw extruder, developed by the senior design team in UW’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is a device with two screws that work in unison. As ammonia borane passes through the extruder, the screws scrape the solid material in a back-and-forth motion. The material is then sent to a reactor and separated before being delivered to a holding tank.

“It’s a way of moving the solid material from the first tank to a holding tank, where you can extract it,” Stockert explains.

The hydrogen is then transported to a fuel cell for electrical generation.

“It will be a good stepping stone between gasoline and the next step,” Stockert says. ”I think it (hydrogen) will be a good portion of the future energy mix.”

Stockert is no stranger to research. During high school, she won first place in her division at the Wyoming History Day competition. Twice, she had winning projects in the Wyoming State Science Fair, which enabled her to compete at the 2008 and 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). She also competed at the 2009 International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project (I-SWEEP). There, she won a bronze medal.

Help along the way

Stockert is part of the McNair Scholars Program, which pairs graduate students with faculty mentors to conduct meaningful research in a laboratory. Her mentor is Yuan Zheng, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

“He’s been an incredible mentor to me. He basically let me do graduate-level research at the undergraduate level,” Stockert says. “He just tells me to be confident in what you know. You have to pick apart the problems and be resilient.”

The McNair Scholars Program prepares undergraduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education for success in doctoral degree programs. The program is for first-generation, limited-income or minority undergraduate students who seek doctoral degrees. The program is a project of Student Educational Opportunity, a unit of UW’s Division of Student Affairs.

Established in 1986 by the U.S. Department of Education, the program is named for astronaut and Challenger space shuttle crew member Ronald McNair.

“Talysa absolutely possesses the qualities it takes to succeed as a McNair Scholar. She is motivated, intelligent, caring, ethical, and faces challenges with grace,” Salmon says. “Thus, Talysa has truly earned the honor of presenting her poster on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Her understanding of alternative energy technologies places her on the threshold of being a leading energy systems engineer and a college professor.”

Stockert is only the second McNair Scholar from UW to have ever been selected to attend this event. Carol Cheatham, a former UW McNair Scholar from Powell and a psychology major, attended in 1999, Salmon says. Cheatham is now an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Student Education Opportunity and the McNair Scholars Program cover her expenses for the trip, Salmon says.

Although Stockert has not yet decided where she will attend graduate school, she plans to study mechanical engineering. But, despite her disposition and enthusiasm for hands-on research, Stockert says she eventually sees herself teaching some branch of engineering on the college level. That notion originated during college, when her friends and teachers noticed she was good at helping other people and enjoyed assisting students with their studies.

“I’ve always been the helping hand,” Stockert says.

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