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Department of Mechanical Engineering alumna Zahra Ahmed (’18) was selected to receive a University Co-op George Mitchell Undergraduate Student Award for Academic Excellence. There were five awards given this year, and she received the grand prize of $12,000 for her research project “Negative Stiffness Elements for Helmet Padding Application.”

The project is the culmination of years of research Zahra has been performing with Mechanical Engineering Professor Carolyn Conner Seepersad, who developed the impact-absorbing structures known as negative stiffness honeycombs.  The goal is to create a kind of tile-work of small versions of the structures to form a helmet padding that, when impacted, would compress and absorb energy to protect against head injury.

Zahra joined the department after attending an admitted student reception for women in mechanical engineering held in Dallas, Texas, where she met Professor Seepersad and former department chair Jayathi Murthy.  Her participation in the department has extended to the Undergraduate Advisory Board, and she also was active with the Texas Spirit organization at the University level. She now joins Boeing in Seattle, Washington.

The University of Texas at Austin Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost provides a concurrent award of half the value of each student’s award to the academic department in which the scholarly work was supervised.  The $6,000 given concurrent with Zahra’s award will support the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Freshman Introduction to Research in Engineering program (FIRE).

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