Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee conjures up images of historic research that led to the development of nuclear weapons. But today the lab has a facility that is at the forefront of new manufacturing technologies.
Rachel Evans, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Wright State University, played a part in that research with a summer undergraduate internship at Oak Ridge that focused on additive manufacturing.
“I 3D-printed these specimens out of carbon fiber and I tested them,” said Evans. “And I actually had to go to the University of Tennessee and use one of their pieces of equipment to test the different properties of the material.”
Additive manufacturing is the use of a computer and 3D modeling to build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of plastic, metal, concrete or other material in order to customize the objects and reduce costs. It is used to fabricate products for aircraft, dental restorations, medical implants, automobiles and in other areas.
“We were really just trying to test to see what the material properties are,” she said. “They were planning on using my research to go large-scale. They have 3D printers to build really big things.”
Evans also co-authored a paper that was presented in August at the 2018 Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium, an international additive manufacturing conference that was held in Austin, Texas. Her mentor at Oak Ridge delivered the presentation.
Evans grew up just outside Urbana, Ohio, where she was active in 4-H. Her father is a mechanical engineer and her mother is a nurse.
After graduating from Graham High School in 2015, Evans enrolled at Wright State, attracted by its affordability and the fact that she could commute from home.
Last year, she applied for the Ohio Space Grant Consortium Scholarship and through that participated in an additive manufacturing project with Joy Gockel, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering.
That project led to Evans applying for and receiving the summer internship at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.
The facility, the first of its kind established by the U.S. Department of Energy, helps industry adopt new manufacturing technologies to reduce life-cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions, lower production costs and create new products and opportunities for high-paying jobs.
“I would definitely say that the scholarship I got opened doors for me,” said Evans. “And all the classes I’ve taken — I mean I used everything I learned in my classes in my internship.”
Evans also took some time to soak up the history of Oak Ridge.
The town of Oak Ridge was established by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 on isolated farmland as part of the Manhattan Project, a research and development undertaking during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons. The site was used to show that plutonium can be created from enriched uranium.
“They had a science museum that I toured,” said Evans. “Oak Ridge played such a big role in the Manhattan Project. They couldn’t have done it without them.”
After graduation, Evans plans to continue pursuing her master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
“I know I want to work in design or research,” she said. “And I really do like the field of additive manufacturing.”