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Inside a Ho Science Center physics lab, student-researcher Amanda Zranchev ’12 is taking on the role of inventor this summer as she conducts experiments on a plywood structure that resembles a closet on wheels.

“What we are doing in this lab will hopefully be valuable to homeowners one day,” said Beth Parks, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

Parks and Zranchev are developing an inexpensive handheld device homeowners could use to determine the quality of their homes’ insulation.

“I plan on owning a home one day,” said Zranchev, “so it’s incredible to think that I might be helping to create something I’ll benefit from.”

“Most of us know if our heating bills are high,” noted Parks, “but we don’t know whether they’re high because we need to replace windows, fix leaks, or add insulation.

Instead of having to hire a contractor to perform a costly energy audit on your house, homeowners could utilize the device to determine if insulation is in fact the problem.

While the tool is years away from being on hardware store shelves, Colgate has supported Parks in an application to patent the invention. If approved, it would be the first patent Colgate has owned.

Zranchev’s research to further develop the device, explained Parks, is a necessary step in attracting a potential partner in licensing the technology to produce a commercial product.

To simulate a heated house, Zranchev places a space heater inside the plywood closet.

She then uses a thermocouple — two pieces of metal that come together and develop voltage proportional to temperature differences — to measure the temperature difference between the surface of the wall and the interior air.

The measurement, which will be displayed on the final device, makes it possible to determine the effectiveness of insulation in the walls.

“It’s been a phenomenal opportunity to spend summer on campus doing something that you really love with a professor you really admire.”

Zranchev is one of about 100 students who receive paid summer research fellowships each year, allowing them to work closely with faculty for eight to ten weeks on projects of common interest.

To learn more about Colgate’s vibrant summer research program, visit here.

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