UC Merced Connect: Capstone team’s designs could win DARPA competition

Improvements for a ubiquitous device that cools high-powered electronics aboard military aircraft could do more than just earn a group of engineering students their senior capstone design credits.

It could also win a competition funded and hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research.

Led by Professor Yanbao Ma, the six-member Team TEC – thermally efficient connector – started out answering a call from DARPA and the ONR to develop novel field-reversible, low-resistance thermal connectors that improve on the design being used.

Ma thought the work would also make a good senior capstone project, so he collaborated with the School of Engineering’s Dean Dan Hirleman to incorporate his team into this year’s capstone groups.

Team TEC had won the first phase of the annual Field-Reversible Thermal Connector (RevCon) Challenge, which invites teams from all over the world to participate.

The thermal connectors are ubiquitous and critical components in military electronic modules, where they transfer heat from the edge of a printed circuit board to the water- or air-cooled wall of an electronic module, according to DARPA’s website.

High-powered electronics produce a lot of heat and wear out quickly, leading to expensive and potentially dangerous equipment failure.

“There is always room to improve a design, and that is what our team is doing,” Ma said.

TEC has to have a working prototype before the end of the semester, and by the end of May will know if it is among the final four teams that will go to University of Missouri, Columbia, for on-site testing and judging. They also get to interact with government and industry experts who will provide feedback on the designs.

“Our designs focus on copper, which is more conductive than off-the-shelf aluminum products,” said team Leader Jose Guadarrama.

Ma said the most commonly used wedgelock design looks simple, but is actually intricate and leaves gaps for cooling air to escape, and also doesn’t clamp the expensive and critical electronics tight enough for use aboard aircraft.

“Now that we have seen the problems, we can design the solution,” he said. “We’ll optimize our design to meet DARPA’s requirements.”

The team has been busy fabricating parts, coming up with backup design plans, writing proposals and conducting research.

Ma said Team TEC members are also helping him with a research project on electric vehicles, and the experience in his research lab will help the students as they take their next steps – to graduate school or go out into the working world.

Film chronicles tension

in Cambodia’s growth

UC Merced will have a public screening of “A River Changes Course,” which tells the story of three families living in contemporary Cambodia as they face hard choices forced by rapid development and struggle to maintain their traditional ways of life.

The film will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Classroom and Office Building, Room 120. It is co-sponsored by Core 1 and ENVE 10, Environment in Crisis.

Premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the film explores the damage rapid development has wrought in Cambodia on both a human and environmental level.

Cambodia is in the midst of a major economic land concessions crisis, resulting in land being reallocated from farmers and villagers to private firms on a large scale, according to the filmmaker.

Since 2003, more than 40,000 Cambodians have been affected by these large-scale land grabs.

As companies push in to clear forests for timber and land to grow major industrial agricultural crops such as rubber, sugar cane, soy and cassava, villagers are forced off their farmland.