September 27, 2011
Juniors Ruth Steinhour (left) and Benn Snyder were members of one of Wooster's Applied Mathematics Research Experience (AMRE) teams that developed a tool to provide a three-dimensional view of the particles in Goodyear tires.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Scattered throughout the tires manufactured by Goodyear are clusters of tiny particles that determine how well the product will perform on the open road. Trouble is, these particles can only be viewed in two dimensions when cut into micron samples, so the company called on the resources of The College of Wooster’s Applied Mathematics Research Experience (AMRE) for a better view of the situation.
AMRE is an innovative eight-week summer program through which students take on projects that require them to apply their knowledge to a wide range of questions and problems posed by clients in business, industry, education, and government. By serving as paid consultants, these students gain valuable experience in the practical application of their skills in mathematics and computer science that the classroom alone cannot provide.
Goodyear has been a client for almost as long as AMRE has been in existence (17 years), so company officials were quite comfortable coming back again this summer. “Our objective was to build a tool that Goodyear could use to get a three-dimensional view of these particles,” said John David, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science and one of two advisors on the project. “We use mathematics to recover the true size and orientation of the particles in the tire.”
A team of three students assessed the problem and came up with an algorithm that can be applied to help determine with a high level of probability the size and distribution of the particles, according to David. The team then developed a plugin for an existing application in Java that can create rotating three-dimensional images, which would serve as a tool for Goodyear researchers to use on their own.
“They were very impressed from the beginning,” said Denise Byrnes, co-advisor and associate professor of computer science at Wooster, describing the reaction by officials at Goodyear. “We met our major goal and then looked into other open research questions.”
The payoff for the client is noteworthy. Dr. George Papakonstantopoulos, a senior scientist with Goodyear said, "This new tool will be included in our existing library of image analysis tools and provide the Goodyear scientists with the means to characterize and visualize the particles and their distribution in the polymer. As a result, it will definitely help us improve on our knowledge with regard to structure-property relation of the materials used in the tires."
The students also derive enormous benefits. Josh Thomas, a recent graduate from Fombell, Pa., who majored in math and computer science, was back for his third summer. “AMRE has given me a way to expand my skills,” he said. “It has been great to learn new things and apply them in a work-related setting.”
Ruth Steinhour, a junior math major from Mason, Mich., said she wanted to get a better idea about how to use information learned in the classroom and apply it to a research setting. “Before this summer, I wasn’t sure what to do with a math major,” she said. “Dr. (Jennifer) Bowen (assistant professor of mathematics and computer science) said I should take advantage of this opportunity with AMRE.”
Benn Snyder, a junior computer science major from West Salem, Ohio, said his experience with AMRE has also been helpful. “Working as part of a team and writing a (computer) program that someone is actually going to use is pretty cool.”
AMRE provides a bridge from being a student to becoming an employee, said David, who added, “you have to think critically in a project like this; there are no answers in the back of the book.”
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