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College of Engineering and Computing

  • Alumnus Jake Martin

Multidisciplinary approach drives success for one alumnus

Alumnus Jake Martin is using his talents across multiple fields of study to lead advancement in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). This research will help measure the structural properties of fuel and other materials. 

Martin earned his undergraduate degree in 2021 with double majors in electrical engineering and physics. While he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in physics, he is still connected to the College of Engineering and Computing as a graduate research assistant in the Adaptive Real Time Systems (ARTS) Laboratory under Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Austin Downey. His research, which began during his undergraduate studies, is focused on developing a tabletop NMR system for fuel and environmental analysis. 

“We wanted to use NMR to probe and measure jet fuels for the Army,” Martin says. “They have problems with aerial vehicle combustion systems that cause planes to crash and need a method for monitoring fuel properties to prevent that from happening.” 

Martin and the ARTS Lab team developed a compact NMR system that can be used to analyze fuel and detect its physical properties. The system allows researchers to determine the hydrogen-to-carbon ratio and other structural information about any fuel. 

Martin is now working with undergraduate students to duplicate the NMR system and implement machine learning algorithms for determining other information that can be extracted. The team has explored different applications for the system, including a collaboration with the Arnold School of Public Health to study magnetic particles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and analysis of wildfire ash and runoff to determine cause and severity. 

Martin explains that underlying theories of engineering and physics are involved in designing electrical systems and understanding why NMR phenomena occur. “This intersection is useful because I can use physics knowledge to understand nuclear energy level exchanges and high frequency fields and tie this to my knowledge of electrical systems and design,” Martin says. 

“A key driver in Jake's success is his ability to draw from a number of technical fields to solve problems,” Downey adds. “His multidisciplinary expertise results in excellent contributions to the lab, driving new research thrusts and discussing conceptual ideas from physics into real-world sensing applications.” 

Martin’s pursuit of multiple disciplines stems from his early interest in engineering combined with his introduction to physics through internships with the Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic, Wieland Copper Products and the Joint Warfare Analysis Center. “I knew I liked building things and working with my hands,” he says. “Once I got a taste of physics, I thought it was interesting too. Then I happened to get connected with Downey through a friend, and I’ve been running with it ever since.” 

Last summer, Martin received the Student Paper Award at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Sensors Conference for his research using NMR sensors to detect magnetic particles in wildfire ash and runoff. He was subsequently asked to submit a full-length paper for publication in the journal, Sensors.

“Jake is one of the most successful students in the college, and this Best Paper Award is just another item that demonstrates the impact of his work,” Downey says.  

Martin anticipates completing his master’s degree this fall. He hopes to take a break from school after graduating and work in private industry, with plans to return to research. “I really enjoy research and pushing the boundaries of what we’re working on,” he says. “Through being a peer mentor and tutor, I learned that I also really enjoy helping and teaching. I would like to come back and become a professor. Working with Dr. Downey has been so helpful to me personally, and I think it’s noble work.” 

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