Data Analysis Helps Form Big Picture View for Michael Manning ’17

Perseverance: Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

When Michael Manning ’17 lays out the story of his four years at Brown, this is the word that comes to mind. It was the fall of his first year, while sitting in ENGN 3, when Professor Kenny Breuer showed the class some preliminary animations that would ultimately become the Leading Edge Hydrokinetics project.

“I thought ‘This is the coolest thing!’,” Manning said. “When they were looking for people to be part of the project, a year and a half later, I was quick to apply to be part of the team.” However, his application was not chosen.

“But from that, I later got the opportunity to work on a different project with Professor Breuer and Biology Professor Sharon Swartz.” This was a summer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award that involved bio-inspired flight research and the mechanics of electrostatically actuated membranes. Working under the supervision of a graduate student, he helped acquire and analyze high speed video of membrane strain after being subjected to large electric fields, and the end result was a published paper in which he was the second of four authors.

Prior to the summer of 2016, Manning sat down with Breuer to see what opportunities were available to him before he entered his final undergraduate year. “We had talked about some industry internships and other things,” Manning remembered. “He mentioned an opening with Leading Edge, and I decided to jump on that.” The Brown-centered research project developing a hydrokinetic energy harvesting device employs a large undergraduate team for testing the 2kW field device in the Cape Cod Canal. Manning’s primary duties included the development and fabrication of a waterproof data acquisition and device control system. A Neal Mitchell-Systems Thinking Project Award helped afford him the summer opportunity, and from there, the idea for his senior thesis was born.

The mechanical engineering concentrator with a focus on biomechanics turned his focus to the structure of an unsteady wake behind an oscillating hydrofoil. Working in a more controlled, experimental setting in Breuer’s lab, Manning was awarded the 2017 Doris M. and Norman T. Halpin Prize from the School of Engineering to provide seed money for his innovative and interdisciplinary senior capstone project. He used the funds to purchase a digital converter, enabling the direct measurement of digital data signal from the acoustic Doppler velocimeter. This allowed for rapid measurement of the velocities over a wide parameter range, making the analysis of data much quicker for more complex scenarios.

“I wanted to keep working on this project,” he said. “And doing a thesis seemed like a good way to do that.” He is taking the experiments done before by Yunxing Su, a graduate student in Breuer’s lab, and with data from the digital converter as well as the analog findings, built on those computations and analysis. “It’s important to get nice, clean data, so that we confidently say ‘this is what we got’ and it will be useful,” he said. Specifically, his thesis surveyed the wake structure of flapping foils in water at medium to high Reynolds numbers with applications in hydrokinetic energy harvesting, propulsion, and fish motility.

The way (John Dabiri) re-framed science, and the geopolitical context it plays, gave me hope in what I’m doing. If we can give more people access to affordable energy, we’ll have more stability worldwide economically and politically.

Michael Manning '17

This eye on the bigger picture is something which Manning has given much thought. He was especially stirred by a visit from John Dabiri to Providence last fall. Dabiri is a Stanford professor who presented the 2016 Dourdeville Lecture on Engineering in Service to Society on Brown’s campus, where he spoke on the topic of opportunities and challenges for wind energy.

“The way he re-framed science, and the geopolitical context it plays, gave me hope in what I’m doing. If we can give more people access to affordable energy, we’ll have more stability worldwide economically and politically.

“In order to have a thesis that matters,” he said, “the reality is that someone needs to help fund it. And then you have to have faculty willing to devote the cognitive labor to it. If your project falls in line with your professor, then you have a faculty member who is inherently interested. And I cannot thank the Halpins enough for making it possible to fund equipment that will give us accurate, precise research and allowed me to have a high-caliber project.”