UM mechanical engineering students are shaping the future with technology

From left, University of Mississippi mechanical engineering students Jose Torrado and John Pierce.  Photo by Sarah Ashley Biedermann.
From left, University of Mississippi mechanical engineering students Jose Torrado and John Pierce. Photo by Sarah Ashley Biedermann.

Sarah Ashley Biedermann
Oxford Stories

Two University of Mississippi mechanical engineering students are shaping the future with technology.

Senior John Pierce has learned to use software that will help in his future career. “We have access to software licenses we wouldn’t otherwise have because of how expensive they are,” said Pierce. “I use software like SOLIDWORKS, which is a computer aided design in solid modeling, and Creo, which is a bunch of computer aided design apps that support product design.”

Solid modeling is the computer modeling of three-dimensional solid objects. Pierce has used the software in school to help with classwork and projects and outside of school. He participated in two summer internships at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory during his freshmen and junior years learning about elite technologies.

“The lab has a multi-billion dollar budget,” Pierce said, “so I had access to some of the largest, most advanced technology. For example, they have the fastest supercomputer in the world.”

While there, he focused on two projects while working on other small tasks. One involved researching what causes a plant’s roots to grow around things in its way.

“I did a bunch of experiments to see which was the best way to test for (a hormone) and to determine what would be the best way to test the plants,” Pierce said. “I 3D-printed different devices to put the plants in and utilize different 3D printing methods.”

Pierce learned more the summer of his junior year, moving from 3D printing devices to researching plants and printing live cells. His main project focused on learning the properties of certain bacteria.

“I would 3D print live bacteria for many different things,” Pierce said. “Whether it was for drug testing, seeing whether the bacteria reacted to different chemicals it was exposed to, or if it mattered where the chemical was distributed in.”

He said the technology is being tested for its ability to sustain life. The trials and research conducted investigate the possibility of using 3D printing to help fight human diseases like cancer.

“One thing the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is trying to use 3D printing for is creating nanobots,” said Pierce. “Nanobots are basically mini-robots that we could surround in cell membranes and put into the human body.”

Researchers in this emerging tech field are working to create tiny machines, or robots, with components that are at or near the scale of a nanometer.

“This means there will be no rejection, because what it is encased in is already known to the human body,” said Pierce. “The human body doesn’t attack the robot, which allows it to potentially target cancer cells.”

Jose Torrado, a senior UM mechanical engineering student, is also researching and using technology in innovate ways. He created the way Williams-Sonoma, a national company that sells kitchenwares and home furnishings, tracks their company’s production of personalized items.

The University of Mississippi School of Engineering building.  Photo by Sarah Ashley Biedermann.

The University of Mississippi School of Engineering building. Photo by Sarah Ashley Biedermann.

“This summer I worked at Williams-Sonoma’s biggest distributing center in the United States located in Olive Branch, Mississippi,” Torrado said. “I was working in the personalization department and dealt with hardline items, which are things like wood, glass, and metal.”

Torrado was tasked with creating the labor standards for a specific process in the personalization department. There was no way to measure how long it would take each employee to personalize an item, so he came up with a solution.

“What I did was create a coding program that keeps track of each employee’s work cycle,” Torrado explained. “They were already scanning the barcodes on the products they work with to see what they had to engrave, so I added another two scanning steps that start and end a work cycle, so you know how long it takes each employee. This data gets added to an excel file, then loaded onto the cloud.

“I created an additional coding  program that combines all of those excel files into one so that data analysis is performed to see how many items per hour each person was making and the amount of each item being produced each day, or per each technique.”

The program he developed will do much more than track data for the company. “I saved the company about $200,000 a year with this program after it was developed,” said Torrado, who said he also received a full-time job offer from Williams-Sonoma.

Several coding languages were used throughout Torrado’s internship, but his favorite technology was working with a Swedish transportation technology called Eton.

“It’s basically a system of hooks and chains that run across the ceiling of the warehouse to carry items in bags to different locations,” he said. “Almost no companies use this because of how complicated it is, but Williams-Sonoma implemented this into the personalization process because of how well it works. It was so cool to learn how each hook knew where to go and to have had the opportunity to learn how it was so efficient for the personalization department.”

Both Pierce and Torrado have learned much about technology during their summer breaks. They credit the university for shaping their knowledge and influencing their passion for the field.

“There is a huge learning curve working with anything so specific, but being a mechanical engineering student at Ole Miss has helped through the courses we take and learning how to apply it to the real world,” Pierce said.

“Ole Miss helped me develop my critical thinking and problem solving skills, which helped me so much during my internship,” said Torrado.

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