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Speed School students, grads help BP sort through ideas to contain, clean oil

Speed School students, grads help BP sort through ideas to contain, clean oil

Kaitlin Smith works from a computer at Ernst Hall.

Reprinted with permission from UofL Today

Several University of Louisville engineering graduate students and alumni are gaining valuable work experience on a high-profile project: assessing the ideas streaming in for containing the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and for cleaning it up.

BP has reported the students "are doing a fantastic job" not only in triaging the ideas but also documenting technical aspects that are useful to the further technical review of these ideas.

They are working through Rich MacInnes, president of Net Results Inc., whose Prospect-based physical asset management company has a BP contract to triage the suggestions for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Students were gathered from a pool of people with graduate-level engineering skills from UofL's Speed School of Engineering to help. The initial 11 engineering students and graduates, as well as one graduate with a master of business administration degree, underwent a rigorous training program in June and are contributing substantially to the overall effort, according to BP. Most of the students have prior industry experience of some kind, particularly through Speed's co-op program.

"It's very fortunate that our recent grads have been able to participate and contribute to the resolution of this problem," said Mark Schreck, career development director at Speed School of Engineering. "Our unique engineering program that includes a year of work experience helped them 'hit the ground running'."

Working from home, UofL or wherever they access the Internet, the triage team members use their professional and technical knowledge to classify the viability of a portion of the more than 120,000 suggestions that have come in globally and enter them into a database for BP to use in analyzing the ideas. The students are part of a larger team that BP assembled, including recognized industry experts. BP officials said they were looking to assemble the best team available — whether part of BP or not.

Kaitlin Smith, a Sonora, Ky., student working toward her master's degree in chemical engineering and a certificate in environmental engineering, works on the project either from her Louisville apartment or from school. Because she did her Speed co-op terms at an oil refinery, Smith said she knew enough about the properties of oil to determine whether some of the spill solutions are feasible.

"This opportunity is really neat for me because I have already spent a year troubleshooting some of the problems of the downstream side of the petroleum business, and now I get to be involved in trying to solve this problem in the upstream side of things," Smith said.

Jake Sunding, a graduate student in mechanical engineering originally from Salisbury, N.C., applies his background to suggestions dealing with the spill's source.

"All of these ideas to stop the flow have to be evaluated from a fluid flow standpoint," he said. "Some of these will really make you think."

People have been submitting the ideas to Horizon eDocs through forms in two categories — ideas for containing the source or spill and one for products, services and equipment to use for the problem.

"The intent has been to pass as many (suggestions) forward as possible," Sunding said.

Watch local news video about this project.

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