Three graduate students honored with Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three Penn State graduate students ─ John Banghoff, Min Liew, and Elena Vazquez ─ have been awarded the Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award. The award recognizes excellence in master’s-level thesis research in any of the disciplinary areas of arts and humanities; social sciences; physical and computational sciences; life and health sciences; and engineering.

Banghoff is a master’s student in meteorology. His research involves a radar-based analysis of structures in the lowest few kilometers of our atmosphere, which is known as the planetary boundary layer, or PBL.

In particular, Banghoff is focusing on features known as horizontal convective rolls, which serve as an engine of heat, moisture, and momentum transport within the lower portion of the atmosphere. They also influence the distribution of turbulence within the PBL and can lead to the initiation of severe storms.

One nominator expressed his belief that Banghoff’s research “will increase research using weather radars and lead to improved weather forecasts.”

Liew, a master’s student in civil engineering, is focused on evaluating the stability of waste coal slurry storage ponds under static conditions, and the impact of local blasting in nearby active surface mines. The project required a field investigation and laboratory testing to analyze geotechnical properties and flow behaviors of this fine coal waste material.

The significance of Liew's project relates to the 200-plus waste coal storage pond dams in the United States that have been classified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hazard rating system as possessing high hazard potential.

Liew’s research is funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Vazquez is a master’s student in architecture. Her research seeks to develop a digital framework for the design of optimized perforated brick walls used for natural ventilation and shading in Paraguay. The optimization is measured according to their performance as environmental control elements, decreasing a building’s energy requirements.

The performance-driven system in Vazquez's research takes into consideration culture, place and the environment. Therefore, the research develops the digital framework based on local design traditions and affordable, low-tech construction methods.

One nominator concluded that Vazquez's research will contribute “directly to her local architectural discourse in Paraguay, as well as to global trends in architectural design.”  More specifically, Vazquez is helping to ensure that the tradition of perforated brick walls in her home country continues to be regarded as both an environmentally meaningful and identity-providing building element.

The three students were honored during the annual Graduate Student Awards Luncheon held on April 25 at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Last Updated April 27, 2018