Amanda Weaver, a senior mechanical engineering student at Georgia Southern University, grew up with a desire to understand how things work and a passion to protect the environment. It was these interests that led her to her work with alternative fuels research at GSU.
“I grew up pretty fascinated with mechanical systems,” Weaver said. “In particular with this climate change mitigation research, it grew out of a fondness for the environment. I watched a lot of ‘Planet Earth’ growing up. I just wanted to combine my love of aerospace travel and combustion systems with making sure to keep in mind climate change.”
Weaver has spent her college career working on multiple research projects, including “Hydrogen for aerospace travel, the new climate change mitigation theory.” At the encouragement of Valentin Soloiu, Ph.D., professor of engineering, director of the Automotive and Aerospace Combustion Laboratories and Allen E. Paulson distinguished chair, Weaver submitted her research to the Council for Undergraduate Research’s (CUR) Posters on the Hill competition where undergraduate students present their research at Capitol Hill.
Weaver was one of only 60 individuals selected nationwide to present her research, which focuses on using hydrogen as an alternative fuel source for aerospace travel. She noted that hydrogen is clean-burning and can be compressed considerably making it not only a practical solution, but also significantly cleaner for the environment.
Soloiu, who has more than 30 years of experience in education and more than 35 years of experience in engineering, encourages competition for his students.
“I give my students competition information regularly,” Soloiu said. “I do this to promote their work, to give them a chance to shine on the regional or national stage. This is the first time we have submitted to this competition in roughly 12 years. It is very difficult and competitive. You have to submit your best.”
Soloiu noted that all of their research projects are team efforts. Weaver has not been the sole researcher on this project and she believes that had she not found this team opportunity, she would not have learned nearly as much.
“I found a flyer on a table and it said automotive and aerospace labs recruiting now,” Weaver said. “Both of those things sounded really cool, so I came into the lab and I was incredibly nervous. It was the most out-on-a-limb thing that I’ve ever done in my life, but I feel like it’s been worth it. I’ve gotten so much better at what I do and I would be so much further behind if I had not come here and supplemented my classes with this hands-on research and with learning how to work in a team on projects.”
While Weaver hadn’t thought about the challenges that might come with entering a male-dominated field, her experience has been positive.
“It was very strange at first because my first mechanical engineering class, it was all guys and I was the only girl,” Weaver said. “I didn’t see that coming. I thought I’d get more pushback right off the bat and I was pretty self-conscious about being a girl. But every one of the guys that I’ve worked with has been very supportive, so I haven’t had much issue with just being confident in myself and putting myself out there and doing my best work. It’s been really rewarding.”
Weaver will graduate with a bachelor’s degree this May and plans to continue her education and research at Georgia Southern as a graduate student.
“I want to keep moving forward with this research, developing these climate change mitigation fuels and trying to reduce greenhouse gasses,” she said.
Weaver has even bigger plans for life after college.
“A job in the aerospace field would be incredible,” Weaver said. “I dream big with NASA and SpaceX. I think they’re both cutting edge in space flight and that’s where I want to be.”
The Posters on the Hill competition is an annual, national competition held by CUR in Washington, D.C., that encourages undergraduate students to submit their research for a chance to present it on Capitol Hill. The competition brings attention to the topics of research and to the importance of undergraduate research as a whole.
Presentations take place virtually on April 27 and 28. To learn more about Weaver’s research and that of the other student researchers, visit https://www.cur.org/what/events/students/poh/.