Ask a student of Associate Professor of mechanical engineering Dr. Thomas Zolper about their research, and the answers will be quite varied. Some have worked side-by-side with scientists from the USGS to combat invasive aquatic species. Others are helping to examine the resilience of the Wisconsin energy and information infrastructure against natural or man-made failures. And a few are getting a taste of a different kind of research, as they attempt to scientifically measure what makes people like ice cream.
Zolper’s commitment to creating these hands-on opportunities for students – a hallmark of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s engineering education – is in part why he is being honored with this year’s Dale Dixon Professor of Engineering Award. The award provides a total of $15,000 over a three-year period to be used for summer salary, professional development, research and/or student salaries.
Zolper plans to use the funds to assist in creating and continuing more research opportunities. This includes fitting universal thermodynamic models to diverse polymers; continued invasive species mitigation research with the USGS; and measurements of rheological properties of dairy products with the Dairy Innovation Hub. These opportunities enhance the student experience, he said, and will help give them an edge when they enter the workforce.
“As part of our general education, we have introductory classes – like Introduction to Fluid Mechanics – and some students may surmise that’s really all there is to fluids,” he said. “But these three separate topics [that the award funding will support] show how those introductory topics can be expanded into advanced topics like non-Newtonian fluids and two-phase flow. They all have very valuable applications. For example, the USGS project benefits the environment, the polymer research advances important equations of state, and the Dairy Innovation Hub project benefits the Wisconsin dairy economy. The research takes introductory material and carries it into advanced applications that students may encounter in their careers.”
Zolper, who joined the UW-Platteville faculty in 2014, said it’s a privilege to receive the award, which was established by Dr. Dale Dixon, a former engineering department chair in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, to celebrate engineering faculty excellence.
“I truly appreciate the generosity of the Dixon family in providing this award, and I am grateful to work for a university that supports and encourages my lifelong interests in the flow of material and energy,” said Zolper.