Anna Valdez

About Me: 

I am Duxbury Middle School’s STEM Teacher. I teach grades 6-8 courses in which students will participate in challenges combining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills. Students will use the Engineering Design Process to solve problems related to real-world local and global situations. It is essential for students to work in teams to complete projects. 

The reason I applied to WPI RET was to gain experience in a topic that I was less familiar in. I have a background is in Environmental Engineering and Environmental Science. However, physics, specifically areas of light and waves, is an area I would like to grow in. The RET program gives me not only the opportunity to learn more about a specific topic and use that knowledge but also the opportunity to bring that topic into my classroom.

To learn more about my classes and about me please visit my website linked HERE. 

About the Lab: 

This summer I will be working in Dr. Doug Petkie’s lab. Professor Petkie’s lab works on a multitude of projects including fiber optics and terahertz sensors. Jacob Bouchard is the phd who is over seeing the research being done in the lab. Michelle Vanadia and Cecilia Dean are two undergraduate students who are working in the lab for the summer.  For the WPI RET, Simon Rees, a pre-service high school physics teacher, and I were paired. He is currently getting his undergraduate degree at WPI in physics. 


A priority of The United States of America – Department of Energy (DOE) is to reduce the country’s harmful impacts on climate change. Building and investing in renewable energy will decrease the country’s carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels. At the same time, there is a need to reduce the nation’s energy consumption. The industrial sector is inefficient and wastes energy that goes into drying materials—everything from paper, pulp, cardboard, and food. There is a need for intelligent dryers, systems that can collect information to improve drying efficiency. 

We seek to design and implement a sensor capable of communicating moisture levels in paper and paper products from a sensor to the drying system. The goal is to reduce the amount of energy used to manufacture a piece of paper. The method employed is terahertz (0.076 to 0.081 THz) wave sensors since the frequency of radiation is absorbed by water but passes through paper. However, these sensors can be expensive, so the specific research that this project is concerned with is with Texas Instrument’s IWR1642 Single Chip 76- to 81-GHz mmWave Sensor. We are interested in using this relatively inexpensive radar unit for moisture sensing. During our research, we will investigate how the unit transmits, collects, and displays data, what sort of information it returns, and how much of that information is useful. We can then use the unit to experiment with sensing moisture levels in the paper. The findings will be shared with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Center for Advanced Drying DOE funded project research team, whose results will impact moisture sensing for industrial drying (paper, cardboard, and food). This research can also impact the viability of soil moisture data collection and the effects on the agricultural sector.

Relevance to UN Sustainability Goals: 

The U.S. DOE is funding the research for our project and many others to promote innovation in reducing energy consumption in the private sector. The funding of research on this topic directly connects with Goal 9 for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (U.N. SDGs), “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.” The WPI Center for Advanced Drying project is working on this research to reduce energy consumption in the drying industry by finding energy-efficient technology. WPI is teamed up with researchers from other universities and private industries to find answers and new technology to solve the problem. An indicator of a successful solution is reducing CO2 emissions in the drying industry sector.

In addition to our primary goal of improving the efficiency of industrial drying, our research also has the potential to touch upon many other U.N. SDGs. If we apply our research to other industries, we could see many companies being more responsible with their energy consumption as they shift to intelligent drying technologies. This is precisely one of the targets of SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) to see improvement in energy efficiency. If moisture sensors are implemented quickly, this could also lead to lower carbon emissions as companies become more conservative with their energy budget, which is part of SDG 13 (climate action). Moisture sensing also has implications for agriculture. If soil moisture data can be collected quickly and efficiently, farmers can irrigate crops more efficiently, thus leading to better yield while conserving fresh water. Therefore, this research could impact SDG 2 (zero hunger) as agricultural productivity is improved and 6 (clean water and sanitation) as food producers substantially increase water-use efficiency. 

Weekly Updates:

Week 1: During week 1, Simon and I  met with our faculty advisor, Professor Doug Petkie to discuss the scope of the project. This was helpful when creating our Research Proposal. He also supplied us with literature on the project and around the topic. We were able to read and discuss these these papers and their importance to the project. Finally, we worked on setting up and testing our terahertz sensor. We were about to collect information but need to work on downloading it in a useable form for analyzing later on.


Week 2: In week 2, Simon and I read multiple articles to learn more about terahertz frequencies and their applications. This helped us better understand the scope of the project and the practical uses of the sensor outside of the drying industries. As a RET group, we were able to view other labs and working spaces. We visited the three-story chemical engineering lab in Goddard Hall. They have distillation towers and VR lab instructions in the lab, which WPI developed during COVID. We also visited Practice Point, a medical device test lab. Start-up companies have access to equipment to test their medical instruments. For example, a group is working on building a robot to perform brain surgery inside an MRI machine. This technology is not currently available since any metal can not be near an MRI while in use since MRI uses magnets to create images of the human body.


Week 3: Starting this week, we were working through the problem of how to view our data and understanding what numbers we were receiving from the sensor. We reached out to Texas Instruments to ask our questions. Fortunately, we found a link that allows us to log data to a CSV file. We can log our data for over an hour and a half. This new mmWave visualizer site saved us from buying an additional board which cost several hundred dollars. We were able to run some tests and be able to look at the data. The goal is to dig more into the data in week four and set up additional ways to run our tests. 


Week 4: This week was a lot of data collection. We understood the set-up better but ran into the problem of the sensor turning off. We connected with a WPI ECE/CS student using a similar Texas Instruments mmWave sensor for his project. He showed us a reset button and that the sensor would overheat if used for a while. The information helped us fix the problem. We were able to continue collecting data. We see similar trends in our data. We are excited to continue testing next week.
We also started to work on our lesson plan for our classrooms. It will be challenging for me to ensure I feel confident in teaching this subject and that the students grasp the topic.


Week 5: We tested with a vertical sensor set up as our final experiment this week. This is the most realistic of the paper drying process. We completed several tests, but the sensor overheated a couple of times. Jacob gave us a heat sink which allowed the sensor to dispose of heat more quickly, thus allowing the sensor not to overheat. We also worked on our poster and were ready for outside comments. Simon and I also worked on our lesson plan outlines. We were able to connect our lessons to the UN sustainability goals and complete our project rubric. 


Poster and Lesson Plan:

RET Lesson Plan Handout

RET Poster