Unique research project engrosses and challenges RU Physics student

RU student researcher looks to use dimples on car bodies to improve aerodynamic flow

RU student researcher, Brian Uthe, studies dimple placement on car bodies to improve aerodynamic flow.

From the field to the physics faculty research lab, Brian Uthe is translating his drive for personal bests.

The senior physics major from Frederick, Md., has channeled his competitive drive from one venue to the other and is now embarked on an applied physics project investigating a way to make our vehicles more fuel efficient.

Sidelined by an injury after two years as a member RU's track and field team, Uthe is developing his physics research portfolio with the same drive and determination that enabled him to become Maryland's 4A indoor shot put champion and a top-3 Highlander hammer thrower.

"With both sports and research, you have high level of expectations for yourself and need to do the work to make them real," he said. "In science, you have your hypothesis that deep down you hope will work."

Using the wind tunnel in Curie Hall, Brian Uthe has developed a research project testing the flow dynamics of dimpled car bodies.

Using the wind tunnel in Curie Hall, Brian Uthe is immersed in an undergraduate research project testing the flow dynamics of dimpled car bodies and his own boundaries.

The hypothesis that Uthe is testing under the mentorship of Physics Professor Rhett Herman is that dimples in a vehicle's body - like a golf ball - will cut drag and make it more aerodynamic and fuel efficient. Testing that hypothesis with the physics department's wind tunnel in Curie Hall has been part of a consuming semester for Uthe.

He reflected on the 'ah-ha' moment when he got the sense that his hypothesis that dimpling might indeed make a vehicle flow through the air more efficiently, saying, "I was in the lab at 1 a.m. on a Friday when I saw the significant readings between 45 mph and 90 mph on the two different surfaces and thought 'Well, it worked out. Who would have thought it?'"

Uthe did and he, with Herman's patient encouragement, is now crafting wooden cars with dimpling to see how placement and depth variations on a model car body will affect its flow through the air at different speeds. Uthe's sometimes lonesome quest to build a body of work in physics research has been of great value to him. He said has not only developed an important resume builder for his effort to get into a top-flight graduate school, but he has answered the question about whether he would like the life of a physics researcher.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I am not done learning either and there are so many new and interesting things out there in physics. It is always changing and evolving. That is what is so cool about science."

In hopes to produce and publish an article on the research project, Uthe rattled off the aspects of research to which he has been introduced as an undergraduate researcher: exploring, planning, presenting, preparing, building, learning, checking, pondering, venting and looking for the missing bolt to hold the wind tunnel shield in place that fell under the bench in the lab.

His companion during the process has been Herman. "I feel like more of an equal and we talk about results and what can be done. He has so much more knowledge than I do, but it is nice to see him get as excited as I do when the results come in. I really appreciate his support."

Uthe's fall semester has been challenging with the research project and a pair of independent study classes with other Physics Professors Walter Jaronski and Brett Taylor.

"They have high expectations and have made me grow. I would stay up all night if I could," said Uthe who will earn his physics degree after only three years in May 2014. "I have been able to compete at high levels athletically and academically and opportunities have opened up for me. The supportive atmosphere in both those areas is something that I feel is unique to RU."

View the latest Science In action video featuring Uthe's project below.

Science In Action

Science In Action featuring Brian Uthe's Wind Tunnel Research

Dec 9, 2013