Rao and Cupp

Engineering Student Wins Award

Owen Cupp Measures Up Better Than Anyone Else This Time

February 12. 2007

By Russ Hudson

The Excellence in Measurement Science Engineering Scholarship Award has been brought to California State University, Fullerton by senior electrical engineering student Owen Cupp.

The award is given each year by the Measurement Science Conference, which helps to set consistent, worldwide standards of measurement, such as volts and meters.

Cupp won the award this year in large part for the research he has done with Mallela S. Prasada Rao, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

For two years, Cupp and Rao have been working on a water hazard mitigation project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and prompted by Hometown Security efforts, an adjunct to Homeland Security.

The purpose of the water hazard mitigation project is to develop methods and devices to quickly detect harmful substances in drinking water delivery systems and to automatically shut down pipes if contaminants are discovered. Currently, it can take hours or days to confirm that toxic substances at harmful levels are in the drinking water, then more time to shut down the system, said Cupp and Rao.

Using algorithms, or computational problem-solving procedures, they developed, substances that previously were detectable in parts per million are now detectable in parts per billion, and detected in seconds.

The goal, said Rao, is to detect them in parts per trillion “or, at least, in only a few parts per billion.”

In addition, the algorithms screen out the “background noise” of chemicals such as chlorine and sodium, which are always found in treated drinking water “so that we don’t have any false alarms.”

Used in the project for experimental purposes are arsenic, cyanide, benzene and common herbicides and pesticides. Once the algorithms have been refined, they can be used as models for algorithms to detect any substance from which drinking water should be guarded.

Also contributing to winning the award was Cupp’s geophysical studies with torsion pendulums. Torsion pendulums are highly sensitive devices that have been used to measure such phenomena as microseismic, or very small tremor, events.

“This award is very exciting,” Cupp said. “The scholarship will certainly help, of course, but this is also good for all forthcoming students at Cal State Fullerton. It is a confirmation of the internationally competitive program the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Cal State Fullerton offers students.”

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