Class of 2021: Phillip Truppelli designs engineering solutions that uniquely fit nature’s laws
Early on, Phillip Truppelli recognized that he wanted to use his scientific knowledge and keen insights to better not only the scientific community, but ultimately the entire world. Pursuing such goals, Truppelli found no better place than Virginia Tech, a university dedicated to empowering its students, to make his impact on the world.
“My ultimate goal is to work to further human thought and to uphold our society’s compassion for one another through my efforts within the scientific community,” said Truppelli, this year’s outstanding senior for the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. “I believe technology has the power to help me reach these goals and this is the primary reason I came to Virginia Tech.”
Growing up in New Jersey, Truppelli had displayed an early interest in physics. His high school physics teacher, Sean Chappe, used live demos in class, such as dynamos (electrical generators) and Jacob’s ladders, to visualize various concepts. Bringing the subject to life, the class held weekly discussions, highlighting real-world applications of current developments within the physics community. The stories of engineering and science showed Truppelli how this knowledge could be applied to effect real change.
“Engineering science and mechanics is based on the philosophy of teaching first principles,” Truppelli said. “This means that by learning the fundamental laws of nature, you can design engineering solutions that uniquely fit nature’s laws. I came to Tech because of their hands-on approach, and I knew I would be able to grow the most here. I was hooked after my first class in the biomedical engineering and mechanics department and I have thoroughly enjoyed it since.”
Truppelli’s senior design project involved working with a team in the Dynamic Active Materials Lab, alongside biomedical engineering and mechanics assistant professor John Domann. Truppelli and his teammates developed an experimental device to determine how the bubble dynamics in a sonoluminescence experiment are related to and control the creation of a chemical compound. Sonoluminescence — “sono” meaning sound and “lumi” meaning light — is the phenomenon of small gas bubbles emitting short bursts of light when they implode in liquid, after being compressed by sound.
In the fall, the team successfully reproduced sonoluminescence in a full test setup. This spring, they worked to create their experimental device, a sonochemical reactor intended to accurately measure chemical yields for different operating frequencies. They are also performing additional bubble dynamic studies to better understand how different frequencies affect the expanding and contracting radius of a bubble in these experiments. The goal of the studies is to better understand the mechanics behind sonoluminescence and its applications to act as a catalyst in chemical reactions.
“What really sets Phillip apart from other students is that while he's certainly book smart, he also possesses an incredible passion for what he works on, and the initiative to pursue his ideas,” Domann said. “While we can all sit on our couch and come up with great ideas, Phillip isn't content to stop there. He's the type of person that has an idea and actually sets out to make it a reality.
“Additionally, he's humble enough to understand that there are problems he can't tackle on his own. Instead, each time I've worked with Phillip, it's been after he's already assembled an interdisciplinary team of students with the required complimentary skill sets that can allow the team to succeed.”
Dedicated to expanding his skill sets, Truppelli has worked in the Electronic Systems Lab at the Hume Center for National Security and Technology as a research assistant for the past two and a half years. He helped to develop an algorithm intended for use on D-wave quantum annealer. In quantum computing, D-wave systems use quantum annealing to search for solutions to a problem. Truppelli’s work included developing machine learning algorithms, software validation, route finding, and route mapping.
The experience is one of many that have allowed Truppelli to explore his passion for designing something that combines physics and engineering while studying these same subjects at Virginia Tech, he said. It also gave him the opportunity to work with industry professionals. This experience has been one of the most important of his college career, Truppelli said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Truppelli and his roommate came up with an idea to address some of its challenges. They competed in the TECH Together campaign and won first-stage funding for the idea. The team designed and coded the electronics for a fever detection device based on infrared radiation. The goal was to help students assess their well-being and receive information on their body temperature. The experience not only showcased the impact technology could have to combat the pandemic, but allowed Phillip to explore ways he could serve his community.
Having attended Virginia Tech’s Lockheed Martin Day, Truppelli began his professional career through an internship at Lockheed Martin during the summer of 2020. He has since continued working through its co-op opportunity while finishing his senior year at Virginia Tech. Upon graduation, he plans to work at Lockheed Martin as an electronics engineer to pursue his passions of service and to continue to push the boundaries of technological innovation.
“Virginia Tech is a truly magical place that inspires us to be curious, pushes us to be better, and makes us who we are: innovators,” Truppelli said. “I feel ready to take what I’ve learned here and apply it in the world.”
Truppelli has been the recipient of several scholarships based on academic achievement and merit through the College of Engineering and the College of Science, namely the Alice and Dan Pletta Scholarship; the Bruce H. and Dorothy R. Pauly Scholarship; the Loretta and Ken Reifsnider Scholarship; Richardson, Inc. Physics Scholarship; the Provost Achievement Scholarship; and the Engineering Science Mechanics (ESM) Advisory Board Scholarship.
— Written by Laura McWhinney