Biernacki and Matthews win Tech’s 2022 annual scholastic research awards

Cookeville – Joseph J. Biernacki, professor of chemical engineering, and Mary Matthews, assistant professor of flute at Tennessee Tech University, have been named the winners of the university’s 2022 Annual Scholastic Research Award. The award is given for “significant and innovative work” by Tech faculty.

Biernacki’s award honors his work on creating printable cement pastes. Current construction methods rely on expensive materials and labor-intensive practices, however using a printable cement paste would be one way of not only reducing cost of construction projects but also minimizing waste, decreasing construction injuries and improving architecture in general. Because traditional cement does not work well with printing technologies, Biernacki and his students and colleagues have been working together to create a new type of paste.

“Traditional construction practices generally pour concrete (the paste) into a mold,” said Biernacki. “That type of paste flows too much for printing. A printing paste must retain its shape under the load of layers successively printed one on-top of the other. Our pastes exhibit this type of characteristic.”

He worked with fellow Tech faculty members: Lenly Weathers, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Indranil Bhattacharya, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Twanelle Majors, lecturer in the chemistry department and Stephanie Wendt, associate professor in the college of education. He also worked with students Hajar Taheri Afarani, Abdul Salam Mohammad and Babajide Onanuga.

The team has developed a strategy for formulating and scaling printable cement pastes and have been able to do small, laboratory-scale testing. Their research was also previously awarded a competitive $157,992 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Hajar explored various alternative materials as paste additives to change the flow behavior while Babajide studied the dynamic flow characteristics of pastes and Abdul found ways to use math models to predict printing outcomes and scale paste properties,” said Biernacki. “The collective body of work should enable others to advance the application of cement-based printing technology.”

Matthews was honored for her book, “Beatboxing & Beyond: An Essential Method of the 21st-century Flutist,” written along with composer and flutist Nicole Chamberlain whom Matthews met while having students perform Chamberlain’s music at a concert in Arizona. Their book covers extended flute techniques.

“An extended technique is any note or sound played on an instrument other than the traditional method, or in other words, they extend the capabilities of the instrument,” Matthews explained. “In the case of a flute, the traditional method of playing is to blow a steady stream of air over the tone hole. Therefore, techniques such as jet whistles which completely seal the tone hole with the lips, flutter tonguing which uses a different articulation method, and beatboxing which uses hard syllables over the open tone hole are considered extended techniques.”

In the past, extended techniques were only used by a small number of players who considered them “party tricks.” They are now standard in literature, however very few resources exist to help students learn the techniques, and those that do exist are aimed at advanced players.

As Matthews got better acquainted with Chamberlain they discussed writing a book together to give students a better resource. When the 2020 pandemic slowed both of their schedules, they decided to tackle the project. The resulting book explains 14 of the most common extended flute techniques.

All of the instructional material was written by Matthews, while Chamberlin provided the musical exercises to accompany each explanation. The book not only gives descriptions of each technique, but also provides photos and diagrams to make the explanation as clear as possible to the reader.

“Our hope, and something we have already seen in the past year since the book was released, is that high school and college-aged students will feel prepared to take on the wide range of works that utilize extended techniques after studying this method,” Matthews said.

The book is also useful for musical educators to help explain the techniques to their students, as well as for musicians who are interested in using the practice to enhance their traditional flute playing.

“Therefore, even if a flutist has no interest in studying or performing contemporary music, they can still improve tone, technique, ear training, and performance skills through the practice of extended techniques,” Matthews said. “There can be a lot of fear or hesitation in tackling new, non-standard music, and ultimately, we hope this method book helps to eliminate that fear.”

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