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* School of Mechanical Engineering


September 15, 2008

History and research at the Herrick Laboratories

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Much of the research at the Ray W. Herrick Laboratories is interdisciplinary, with collaborations in the various engineering specialties; speech, language and hearing sciences; and psychology. It was Purdue's first lab created specifically for interdisciplinary research.

The labs, which celebrated their 50th anniversary in July, were spawned from the marriage of two distinctly different disciplines.

"Herrick was ahead of its time because it started as an interdisciplinary collaboration when it wasn't fashionable to do so," said Patricia Davies, Herrick director and a professor of mechanical engineering. "An animal sciences professor and a mechanical engineering professor got together to study the effects of climate on animals."

The mechanical engineering professor, William Fontaine, mentioned the concept to Ray Herrick, then CEO of Tecumseh Products Co., in Tecumseh, Mich. Herrick liked the idea and donated enough money to start the labs.

Among the labs' more than 120 past and present sponsors are companies in Canada, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Korea and Denmark. One Indiana company that has taken advantage of Herrick's expertise is Cummins Engine Co. Inc. in Columbus, a leading manufacturer of diesel engines that employs nearly 600 Purdue graduates in Indiana.

"All of our research connects with industry needs," Davies said. "For example, new concepts using theoretical modeling and advanced experimental techniques developed at the laboratories continue to have a great impact on the design of cars and trucks, the design of buildings, and equipment used in heating, ventilating, air conditioning, refrigeration and other systems."

Current research areas include:

* Developing new types of heating and cooling systems that are more environmentally friendly, energy efficient, compact and quiet.

* Creating "smart" equipment for commercial buildings that reduce energy demand when electricity rates are highest, during times of peak demand in summer months.

* Developing a system to monitor and improve indoor air quality using mathematical models and sensors. Such a system could be used in buildings and commercial airliners to detect the release of hazardous materials or pathogens and trace their origin.

* Developing more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines that emit less pollution using a technology called homogeneous charge compression ignition.

* Creating pavements and tires that make less noise, as part of research affiliated with the Institute for Safe, Quiet and Durable Highways, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

* Developing systems that use sensors and computational models for the early detection of damage in automotive and aircraft parts. The systems are designed to avert catastrophic structural failure in military vehicles and aircraft while reducing the need for expensive scheduled maintenance in commercial vehicles.

* Research from a diverse range of disciplines - from mechanical engineering to psychology - aimed at gaining a better understanding of how humans perceive and are affected by machines and engineered systems. The goals include learning how people perform behind the wheel of a car and in the workplace and how perceptions shape consumer attitudes toward products. Researchers are developing models of perceptual and human decision making processes and integrating them with engineering models to help improve product design.

* Using room-size climate control chambers to study heating, ventilation, refrigeration and air conditioning problems.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Source: Patricia Davies, (765) 494-9274,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Historical photos of researchers in the Ray W. Herrick Laboratories are available from Emil Venere, Purdue News Service, at (765) 494-4709,

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