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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

July 20, 2006

A 29th R&D 100 Award for Iowa State

by Mike Krapfl

A software tool that helps engineers quickly solve problems and make decisions has won national recognition for a team of Iowa State and Ames Laboratory researchers.

A 2006 R&D 100 Award will be presented to Mark Bryden, associate chair and associate professor of mechanical engineering; Gerrick Bivins, an ISU graduate who manages a software project in Bryden's lab; and Doug McCorkle, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering. Their work has been supported by nearly $1.3 million from the Ames Laboratory.

The R&D 100 Awards are presented annually by R&D magazine. The Chicago Tribune has called them the "Oscars of applied science."

This is the 29th R&D 100 Award won by Iowa State researchers.

"I congratulate the researchers who have won this award, which highlights the power and promise of DOE's investments in science and technology," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman. "Through the efforts of dedicated and innovative scientists and engineers at our national laboratories, DOE is helping to enhance our nation's energy, economic and national security."

How it works

Bryden, Bivins and McCorkle call their invention a texture based engineering tool. It's software that takes large 3-D data sets and quickly converts them into pictures that engineers can analyze and work with. They say there's nothing on the market that can do the job as quickly and intuitively.

McCorkle recently demonstrated the technology by loading data from a fluidized bed combustion chamber onto his laptop computer. The computer converted the data into color, 3-D movie images that showed the flows, bubbles and other characteristics within the combustion chamber. McCorkle could instantly adjust how the data was displayed with a move of a mouse.

He said other software products for engineers take a long time to load data and there are additional delays every time engineers change how the data is displayed.

If that was how video games worked, McCorkle said they wouldn't be much fun and people wouldn't play for very long.

Bryden is quick to point out that the tool is a lot more than colorful graphics. He said all those pictures and colors are based on real physics. And engineers at places such as Deere & Co., Pratt & Whitney and the John Zink Co. are using those pictures to help them make decisions about projects.

Shining a light on virtual engineering

Bivins worked on the software tool for his Iowa State master's degree in mechanical engineering. One of his innovations for the engineering tool was to use a computer's graphics processor instead of its central processing unit to do the computational work. That makes the tool much faster and easier to work with.

"The innovative, pioneering work coming from Mark Bryden and his research group is changing the way industrial engineers can manage huge amounts of interactive data to maximize design and operational efficiency," said Tom Barton, Ames Lab director.

The texture based engineering tool is one part of a virtual engineering software package called VE-Suite developed by Bryden and his research team. Engineers have used the package to study ways to reduce emissions from power plants, decrease pollution from swine confinements and improve vehicle efficiency. The software is available for download at

Bryden said one reason the R&D 100 Award is big news for his research group is that it spreads the word about virtual engineering.

"Not everybody understands what we do," he said. "This will help them understand."

This year's R&D 100 winners will be featured in the September issue of the magazine. The winners will also be honored at an October banquet in Chicago.


The texture based engineering tool is one part of a virtual engineering software package called VE-Suite developed by Mark Bryden and his research team. The software is available for download online.