Engineering Professor on Research Sabbatical in Germany

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For Georg Pingen, his sabbatical during this fall semester was an opportunity to go home.

Pingen, originally from Germany, is spending the fall semester doing research at a University in Aachen, Germany — RWTH Aachen. Since most of his time as an associate professor of engineering at Union is spent teaching, the sabbatical is an opportunity for Pingen to devote himself full-time to scholarly projects and research that began during his days as a doctoral student.

The work is technical and complex in nature.

“We try to develop models that help engineers improve their designs so that the engineering design process can be accelerated or enhanced — so that when we’re getting into a new area of engineering, not everything takes us as long as it took us from the Wright Brothers’ first plane to the jet planes that we have today,” Pingen said.

“If we want to build something, let’s say we want to design a small bio-medical sensor, we don’t want to spend 100 years to arrive at a good design,” he explains. “And so coming up with computer models that can help in the design process is the underlying goal of the work that I’m doing.”

The research flowed from Pingen’s doctoral studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  He’s continued working with students and researchers there over the last eight years. Some of the theory they are trying to implement was developed by the applied math department at RWTH Aachen, a prestigious engineering, science and mathematics institution.

Over the years, he has met some of his colleagues from Aachen at different conferences, and Pingen says his time in Germany thus far has been an outstanding opportunity to work with those mathematicians on a day-to-day basis.

“To be honest, we’ve been stuck a little bit with trying to implement the theory that they have developed in Aachen into our computer model,” Pingen says. “And so it has been nice to just get up from my desk, walk over into the next office, and talk to Dr. Torrilhon or one of his graduate students who actually developed the theory.”

Pingen’s research allows him to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the engineering field, but it also gives him an opportunity to include Union students in his work.

“I just exchanged a text message with Gabriel Garneau, who is one of our current seniors in the engineering program,” Pingen says. “He is working on a project with me that’s directly related to the work that I’m doing in Aachen.”

In addition to the professional benefits that Pingen is deriving from his time in Germany, he’s enjoying the personal side of things, too. His wife Betsy and their three sons are with him, and the university in Aachen is only about 30 minutes from Pingen’s parents.

After growing up in Germany, Pingen came to the United States in high school as an exchange student at Jackson Christian School. He met Betsy during his time at JCS and convinced his parents that he needed to go to college where Betsy did. So he followed her to Samford University for his undergraduate work.

The Pingens are looking for a church home in Germany, and although the Christian communities in Germany are smaller than those in the United States, Pingen says there are some vibrant evangelical churches.

He’ll be in Germany until early January and will resume his teaching responsibilities at Union in the spring semester.

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Cell Biology Project Uses Bio-Rad qPCR

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Students in the department of biology have been working throughout the summer on research projects. Many of the projects, including Benton Hurt’s, are focused on the thyroid and thyroid irregularities.

Benton is a senior cell and molecular biology major, and his project is focused specifically on how cells regulate the thyroid under different types of stress.

“We’re looking to see if there is a marked difference in RNA expression in the macrophages, which are immune cells,” Benton said. “The goal ties into broader research going on in the department to better understand hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.”

William Thierfelder, associate professor of biology, has been working on the project with Benton. He said some of the things they are studying are possible because of new equipment provided by donors.

“This machine, the Bio-Rad qPCR, is a complex piece of machinery,” he said. “But it basically allows us to measure gene expression in these cells.”

Thierfelder said the research may help find ways of treating thyroid irregularities that cause metabolism issues and other symptoms. Benton said even though the project does not sound exciting to most people, he has enjoyed the process.

“It’s nice to be able to work on something like this and later be able to see how it ties into the bigger picture,” he said. “We’re not looking for a major discovery, but every part of the research is important.”

Story by Nathan Handley, photos by Kristi Woody

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Students Present Research at Scholarship Symposium

More than 300 students from across Union’s campus presented research Tuesday at the Scholarship Symposium. 

160426_KMW_SymposiumPresentations005Ashley Akerson, art

Ashley presented research on the importance of African-American art. She said African-American art has been seen as insignificant or inferior, but it has had great influence on culture and art.

 “African-Americans began to develop a distinctive voice to tell the story that was different than any other American story.”

160426_KMW_SymposiumPresentations018 Gray Magee, cell and molecular biology

Gray’s research involved a regeneration method for African mahogany, an endangered tree. He researched a process called organogenesis, where hormones are added to mature leaf tissue to create calluses which can produce viable plants.

“If we can come up with a technique of organogenesis, this could have a significant impact on the African economy.”

160426_KMW_SymposiumPresentations011 MiKalla Cotton, Christian ministry and missions

MiKalla presented her research paper titled “Created to Create: Why Do We Create.” She said people create because they are made in the image of a creator, and creativity manifests itself in different ways.

“Men and women reflect the image of the creator through making something of the world they have been given. Not only is creativity a reflection of our creator, but it also allows us to reflect him to the world around us and build up the community of creative minds in our midst.”

Read more about the Scholarship Symposium in our news release.

Story by Nathan Handley, photos by Kristi Woody, Elizabeth Wilson and David Parks.

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