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Ocean of Ideas

Several UofL engineering graduate students and alumni gained valuable work experience on a high-profile project—assessing the ideas streaming in for containing the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout and for cleaning it up.

By Judy Hughes

Engineering students, grads help BP assess

Several UofL engineering graduate students and alumni gained valuable work experience on a high-profile project—assessing the ideas streaming in for containing the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout and for cleaning it up.

impact-ocean.jpgBP reported that the students did 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 were 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 contributed 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,” says 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 used their technical knowledge to classify the viability of a portion of the more than 120,000 suggestions that came in globally and entered them into a database for BP to use in analyzing the ideas. The students were 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, worked on the project either from her Louisville apartment or from school. Because she did her Speed co-op terms at an oil refinery, Smith says she knew enough about the properties of oil to determine whether some of the spill solutions were feasible.

“This opportunity was really neat for me because I had already spent a year troubleshooting some of the problems of the downstream side of the petroleum business, and now I got to be involved in trying to solve this problem in the upstream side of things,” Smith says.

Jake Sunding, a graduate student in mechanical engineering originally from Salisbury, N.C., applied his background to suggestions dealing with the spill’s source. “All of these ideas to stop the flow had to be evaluated from a fluid flow standpoint,” he says.

“Some of these really make you think,” he says. People submitted the ideas to www.horizonedocs.com 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 was to pass as many (suggestions) forward as possible,” Sunding says.

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