Mechanical engineering undergraduate researcher, Adam Bradshaw.
The ME SPUR Program, modeled after CU Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, enabled undergraduate students to work with mechanical engineering faculty during summer 2020 on research that could be conducted remotely. As a participant, Adam Bradshaw worked with Professor Shelly Miller to set up a citizen science research effort to connect with households who have electrified and would be interested in connecting this effort to their overall health, wellbeing and indoor air quality. His summer research project was titled, Energy Transition in Homes and Indoor Air Quality.
Bradshaw is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering with a minor in biomedical engineering. He is interested in understanding the intersection between engineering and the human body and would love to work on studying biomechanics or developing prosthetics. Outside of engineering, Adam is the vice president of the CU triathlon team, a BOLD tutor, and is involved with other on-campus organizations like Leeds Consulting Group and the Peer Mentor Program. His insights below provide a window into his research experience with ME SPUR.
Describe your summer research.
This summer, I joined Dr. Miller’s environmental and mechanical engineering lab to work on a project studying indoor air quality (IAQ) in single-family homes using low-cost IAQ sensors, called ETHIQ. The Boulder-based pilot study which wrapped up its data collection stage right as I joined in June involved about 15 homes in and around Boulder. The goal of the study is to understand the relationship between electrification in homes and occupants' health and well-being, comparing the sensor data with surveys that were sent out periodically to participants over eight months. Traditional homes in Boulder operate on natural gas appliances, and the transition to electrical appliances is a new area that requires research.
I’ve been working with MATLAB and Microsoft Excel a lot to process and analyze the air quality data, writing scripts to extract months of data from our sensors and various EPA databases. I also built a dashboard on MATLAB that easily shows all sorts of graphs and figures with just a couple of clicks, my way of making sure my work was easily accessible to someone who wasn’t familiar with the code I had written.
Using the pilot study as our blueprint, we’ve been able to come up with changes, both big and small, that need to be made in order to make it a more effective large-scale study, from changing the wording of survey questions to deciding to switch to an entirely new IAQ sensor. We’ve also been working on a partnership with researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health which could be a really cool way to make the study even more impactful. So, along with analyzing data and wrapping up the pilot study, I was also able to work on planning for something much bigger!
What about this project was rewarding?
I’d say the most rewarding part of the project came from jumping into a research topic that was completely brand new to me. Reading so many research papers and articles about the sensors we were using and similar studies that had been done meant that I learned a lot this summer. It was really interesting to dive into a whole new world of engineering, especially knowing that I was working with experts at the forefront of studies on indoor air quality.
Did you have any research experience prior to ME SPUR?
I did have a little bit of research experience prior to this. Last summer, I had the chance to spend some time in the Applied Biomechanics Lab in the integrated physiology department, collecting and processing data for a study that was looking at the biomechanics of running prostheses. This summer’s project looked a little different since the data had mostly already been collected, and I spent most of my time processing and then analyzing it. In a sense, I was able to see a little further along in the research process this summer, joining in on the analysis side and working to understand the data rather than just collecting it.
As for the tools I used, I leaned heavily on MATLAB and Excel for working with the data, two tools that I already had a ton of background in from my mechanical engineering coursework. Knowing these two so well certainly made jumping into a new project a lot easier.
What advice would you share with other students considering getting involved in research?
I would definitely recommend that every engineering student at CU gets at least a taste of research. There’s a ton of ways to do it, whether it’s through independent study, a program like SPUR or Discovery Learning Apprenticeship (DLA), or even just an informal agreement with a professor or graduate student to come help out in their lab. It’s a great chance to apply some of the things we learn in our engineering coursework but also a way to branch out from our core classes and work on something completely new and different.
If you’re looking for labs to work in, you could start by talking to your own professors; they’re usually very engaged in the research going on at CU and might have a connection to something you’re really interested in. You can also reach out directly to the professors you want to work with; I’ve found that a good strategy is asking to meet with one of their graduate students, because they’re usually much less busy and available to answer questions.