Projects for PHYS 331/580

 Spring 2013 Semester

Robert Ehrlich


Last Modified 12/17/12


Funding of projects:  A budget is available to pay for projects costing less than $200 for supplies and materials, which you can purchase on your own.  Be sure to save original receipts for all purchases.  A number of identified projects listed below will require considerably more funds, and the items needed for them will be mostly purchased in advance by me, Mr. Cadien  or Dr. Mose. 


Suggested projects: The sooner you contact me with your 1st and 2nd choices of projects the more likely it will be that you get them, since I want to avoid more than two students working on the same project.


Solar powered illuminated traffic signs (Work with Dr. Ehrlich) Mason has received a donation from a Korean Company, KSI Signs, of two large LED-illuminated traffic signs to warn drivers to be careful of pedestrians.  These signs are likely to be more visible to drivers at night than traditional reflecting traffic signs.  It is proposed to install the signs and power them using solar power to charge batteries during daytime hours.  Note that the power required by the signs is 39 W, and a typical solar panel generates 200 W, so that the power generated during daytime hours should be quite sufficient.  The project will also evaluate the success of this alternative to traditional reflecting signs, and determine the merits of solar versus standard grid-based power for this purpose.


Self Sustaining Automated Garden (Work with Mr. Adam Cadien,  It is proposed to develop a self sustaining and highly automated small scale garden.  The garden is to be built using the 'aquaponic' method, using the processed waste from a small group of fish to provide nutrients for plants.  When coupled with solar power the aquaponic garden will be self sustaining meaning it requires no external power source.  This project will include the use of open source software and hardware combined and insights from novice gardeners (GMU undergraduate students) to help improve the ease of use and development of automated gardens. 


Modeling wind turbine performance using fluid dynamics simulation software (Work with Dr. Fernando Camelli,

The project’s first stage includes literature review in how the actual rotor of a wind turbine is modeled using an actuator disk model [2]. In the second phase, a simple wind turbine case will be modeled using the software to allow the students to gain experience with simulation tools. During the last stage of the project, students will characterize a single wind turbine wake in flat terrain.  Student should have knowledge of  Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations. Some knowledge of Fluid Dynamics is preferable, but not mandatory. Some knowledge in programming techniques is also preferable. Languages: C, Fortran, or Python.  Some funding is available to pay for hourly wages for a closely related project involving fluid dynamics.


Developing a sophisticated online computer game (Work with Dr. Len Annetta, or Dr. Patricia Boudinot,  It is proposed to develop a sophisticated computer game to be posted online to teach about some specific aspects of renewable energy.  Some knowledge of JAVA coding is essential

Upgrading an existing solar & wind facility in Culpeper (Work with Dr. Douglas Mose,

Project will involve enhancing the current installation at a Culpeper farm (75 min West of Mason), and taking data to evaluate performance, including comparing actual and advertised performance.  Evaluate the effect of latitude of N VA, inclination of the sun, loss via the system electronics,  and the effect of varying the load.


Make a video relating to energy to be posted on youtube, on such topics as:

·        Interviews with random Mason students to see what they know about renewable energy

·        How to prepare for a career in renewable energy (interviews with experts in industry & government)

·        Explain with the aid of animations some difficult-to-understand concept in the course.

·        Make a recruiting video that might attract prospective students to come to Mason to study renewable energy


Some suggested guidelines if the video involves interviews

·        Consult with a Mason expert on how to conduct interviews & structure questions, such as Gary Kreps, Melinda Villagran, Jim McAuley, Carl Botan, Xiaomei Cai, and Tim Gibson in the Communication Department.

·        Carefully prepare a list of interview questions (with ideas for follow-up questions), and a subject release form, and let me see them.

·        Prepare a list of people to interview unless they are randomly selected students.

·        Practice the taping with stand-ins just to see how it looks.

For other specific ideas on “do it yourself” projects, see Project/search/energy