Colby Bain and Travis Hathcock

COLBY BAIN, left, West Plains, helps fellow student Travis Hathcock in the math tutoring center at Missouri State University-West Plains. Bain, who is a tutor in the lab, has been chosen to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduate students program at the University of Alabama this summer.

How can internal combustion engines be made more eco-friendly? Colby Bain of West Plains hopes to help researchers at the University of Alabama (UA) find an answer to that question this summer.

The freshman pre-engineering student at Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) has been selected to participate in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in fluid mechanics in UA’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics in Tuscaloosa.

Bain will assist researchers in their study of internal combustion engine flows.

“The program is aimed at optimizing exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) tolerances within internal combustion engines,” he said. “We’ll modify intake ports to optimize tumble flow structures within the combustion chamber.”

Results of the research, he said, could lead to better fuel/EGR mixtures resulting in better fuel efficiency and less carbon emissions.

The 10-week experience, which will begin May 20, is significantly different from what he was doing in summer 2018. Bain owned and operated a tree service in Mtn. Home, Ark.

Realizing that was not the career he wanted, he started searching the internet for other options and discovered that MSU-WP offered an associate of science (AS) in pre-engineering degree.

“I’ve always been mechanically inclined. Naturally, when I thought of what I wanted to do, that was a factor,” he said. “Also, I wanted a career that would allow me to live comfortably.”

Bain sold his business and enrolled in the AS in pre-engineering program. He began classes last fall.

He learned of the NSF REU program from Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Joseph “Kip” Rugutt. Bain is enrolled in Rugutt’s general chemistry (CHM 160) class this semester.

“Colby possesses an analytical aptitude for research and the capacity to contribute positively as an individual and also while working as part of a team,” Rugutt said. “He uses a systematic approach to arrive at solutions for all experimental tasks.

“He tackles the most difficult task, delineates plausible solutions, and selects the solution with the highest potential for success. His astute problem-solving skills make him a valued asset to any research program. Colby’s scientific and lab reports have been the best in the entire class.”

With Dr. Rugutt’s encouragement and mentoring, Bain applied for the program at UA. The application process was very rigorous. It included the submission of not only the official application, but also grade point average, transcripts showing classes relevant to the program and a personal statement explaining why he wanted to participate.

Additionally, he had to submit two letters of recommendation and information about any faculty-led research he has conducted.

Bain learned on March 11 he was one of 10 students who had been selected for the UA program this summer. He will receive travel, room and board for his participation, as well as a $5,000 stipend.

Rugutt pointed out REU programs are highly competitive. “About 10 percent of applicants are accepted to participate in the summer REU programs,” he said. The NSF offers programs across the country in a variety of research fields, he added.

Bain is eager to join the researchers at UA. “I’m excited to use the modern instrumentation they have, as well as gain an in-depth understanding of flow structures,” he said. “I’d like to learn as much as I can about how to optimize fuel efficiency.”

Bain will take that knowledge with him to the Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) in Rolla after he graduates from MSU-WP in May 2020. At Missouri S&T, he plans to double major in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

“After completing my bachelors’ degrees, I plan to work at a consulting firm to gain the experience necessary to obtain a professional engineer’s license, then hopefully off to graduate school,” he said.

Bain is not the first MSU-WP student to participate in an NSF REU program. In 2012, Michelle O’Day participated in a highly-competitive REU program in chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

After graduating from MSU-WP, O’Day attended Missouri S&T where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. She’s currently employed as a quality assurance manager at a large heat treater company, Rugutt said.

“Missouri State-West Plains students should be encouraged to emulate Colby Bain and Michelle O’Day by applying for the fully-paid summer research internships,” Rugutt said.

Not only do they improve MSU-WP’s national visibility in the research arena, the professor said, the participants receive high-quality, hands-on training in cutting-edge research. Also, they learn how to interact and network with students from various universities and acquire new multicultural skills.

For more information about the NSF REU programs, visit

For more information about MSU-WP and its academic programs, visit

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