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ORNL Undergraduate Research Profile: Seth Newport

Undergraduate researcher studies methods to improve refrigeration systems


ORNL Intern Seth Newport

In the Higher Education Research Experiences Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, mechanical engineering student Seth Newport is researching methods to increase the efficiency of refrigeration systems.

Mechanical engineering student Seth Newport is no stranger to the U.S. Department of Energy laboratory system. After being introduced to federal research through the Community College Internship Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), he applied to participate in the Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE) program to continue researching while attending the University of Tennessee.

Alongside his mentor, Ayyoub Momen, Ph.D., in the Building Equipment Research Group, Newport is studying methods to increase the efficiency of refrigeration systems. One novel method for fabricating magnetocaloric material (MCM) microchannels involves aligning materials responsible for the cooling of the systems along magnetic fields to create naturally occurring microchannels.

“At first, we tried many methods of forming microchannels with magnetic material,” Newport explained. “We had to find the right balance of solid material to air gap in a tube of particles that would leave room for expansion and microchannel formation.”

After determining the highest-performing particle bed, Newport utilized the properties of the MCMs to contribute to the development of a rotating disk prototype. The prototype functions by using a single permanent magnet, MCMs and warm waste water. Unlike a classic generator, this prototype requires only a low-grade waste heat source for operation.

While magnetocaloric units have received opposition because of the cost of large magnets required for operation, researchers have found cheaper alternatives. Commercialization of the product could have a dramatic impact on energy costs.

“Hopefully, using these active magnetic regenerators will improve efficiency of the refrigeration system by 15 to 20 percent,” Newport said.

Newport approached his project with limited background knowledge of magnetics. However, as he furthers his research, he learns more and more about the many uses for MCMs.

“I think it is very interesting to take much of what we learn as we go through our engineering programs and apply it in a real-world setting,” Newport said. “My favorite part of the program has been meeting new people and learning new techniques from each of them. Everyone who works at ORNL has so much to offer, and I have gained many skills during my participation in the HERE program.”

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Newport plans to continue his studies in a master’s degree program. Eventually, he hopes to return to ORNL to conduct research and provide students the educational opportunities he has received.

The HERE program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy and presents opportunities for students of all academic levels to study real-world energy and environmental problems in a top-tier federal research facility.