Research

My research interests include controls, signal processing, and engineering education. Specific areas of controls and signal processing research include the design and modeling of intelligent controls, Kalman filters, and automation.  Engineering education research includes curriculum and laboratory development for these concepts.

Controls Course Laboratory Equipment Development

Affordable Lab Kit for Control Systems

My dissertation research has been inspired by the lack of hands-on laboratory experiments in my online master’s program.  As small, portable, and affordable computers and 3-D printing become readily available, I thought there was a unique opportunity to bring the laboratory into the homes of students in online courses in the form of a laboratory kit.  I have started to review the literature in this area and have found that there are also ways to integrate these types of kits into traditional on-campus programs as well.

The objective of my research is to replicate the educational functionality of a laboratory bench for an introductory control systems course with a kit that can be assembled for around $100. The basic components of my laboratory kit are a Raspberry Pi and a DC motor.

As I progress with this research I will post updates on my blog.

Previous Research

Engineering Education Pioneers Project

I am part of a team that is working on an NSF-funded project led by the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT) at the University of Washington.  We set out to document the history and development of engineering education as an academic field. This study investigated the history through interviews of early leaders, or “pioneers.” The project paired engineering education pioneers with graduate students who conducted interviews about the pioneers’ paths. Our goal was to compile a pool of interview candidates who represent the diverse population of engineering education pioneers.  I interviewed Dr. Denny Davis, Professor Emeritus and Director of the Engineering Education Research Center at Washington State University.  He is well known for his innovations in engineering design education.  His full profile is available in the project website with all of the other pioneers included in this project.

Regional Jet Automatic Throttle Systems

In this research, I modified a control law that I worked on at Rockwell Collins—designed to automatically move the throttles to control the airspeed of a jet—so that it would regulate the aircraft’s speed more loosely.  This change was inspired by a quirk I noticed in the response of my car’s cruise control as I followed a friend down the interstate.  While one car of our cars made many adjustments to maintain speed at the precise cruise setting, the other—a hybrid model designed for fuel efficiency—allowed the speed to drift. That got me thinking about ways to optimize an airplane's cruise control, which is one of the features of an autothrottle.  I wondered if similar fuel-saving concepts could be applied to aircraft, so I made it the starting point of my master’s research.

Using a generic aircraft simulation in Simulink, I measured the fuel flow in various flight conditions, and compared my modified control law to other proposed techniques to save fuel during the longest phase of flight. Then I analyzed the data from my simulation to determine the most effective method for fuel saving, which has the potential to improve the environment for everyone by reducing harmful emissions. My research was presented at the 2010 AIAA InfoTech@Aerospace conference and the paper published in the proceedings.

R. M. Johnson, "Using an Autothrottle to Compare Techniques for Saving Fuel on a Regional Jet," AIAA Infotech@Aerospace 2010, Atlanta, Georgia, Apr. 20-22, 2010, AIAA-2010-3495 

Service and Outreach

Over the years, I have been involved with the community through professional service and outreach.  I became an ABET program evaluator for IEEE because I wanted to contribute to the quality and continuous improvement of engineering programs.  Additionally, I wanted to learn more about the accreditation process and learn from innovative ideas at other campuses.  I recently joined American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) to contribute and learn with a community of professionals interested in advancing engineering education.

I have been a member and volunteer in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for over five years because I agree with the Society’s mission to support and encourage underrepresented groups in STEM fields and it provides several opportunities for professional development, networking, and outreach.  I have participated in several outreach events including judging for FIRST Robotics and Future Cities, planning and helping with a day-long workshop for Girl Scouts, and sat on panels for high school and college women interested in STEM careers.  I continue to build a network of diverse, inspiring, and encouraging individuals throughout the organization.  I have also served in leadership positions at the local and regional levels, where I have refined my leadership and teamwork skills.

For more detailed information about my responsibilities in these organizations, please see my curriculum vitae.

Education

Graduation photo by Daniel M. Reck

I just completed my Ph.D. in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  My coursework included control systems, system modeling, college teaching, project management, and creativity.  My research focused on applications of experiential learning in control systems and project management.  My completed dissertation can be found in the University of Illinois archives.  

Prior to that, I completed a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering at Iowa State University in 2010.  My coursework was focused on controls and systems and my thesis research centered on applications of optimal control in avionics. 

In 2005, I graduated with cum laude honors from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering.  My major coursework was in controls, signal processing, and communications.  I also earned a minor in mathematics.