As a first-generation undergraduate senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, Jennifer Clayton wants to explore all her options for the future and is taking on new experiences to pinpoint her niche within the scope of engineering. Her desire to think creatively to solve unique and challenging world problems has led to her deep interest in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). And the relationships she’s built during her time at the University have also contributed to this passion.
“Currently I am interested in pursuing robotics, as I am fascinated by the creation of machines that interact with people and the world around them,” said the College of Engineering student. “I am excited to join NCAR in their research of autonomous robotics and someday hope to create an autonomous robot of my own design.”
For her senior year, Clayton is currently assisting Nevada Center for Applied Research’s (NCAR) Digital Twin Project, alongside the Washoe Country Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), to build 3D maps of the City of Reno and create AI that these agencies may use to check for structures that require maintenance or human attention.
This summer, Clayton began working with Richard Kelly, NCAR senior engineer. She is not only learning the basics such as taking inventory of laboratory equipment but also being trained in all areas of study related to all of NCAR’s current projects. This experience gives her a full understanding of the research on autonomous robotics being conducted by Kelly’s team. It is also preparing her to one day create autonomous robots of her own.
Along with Kelly and others with the University’s Nevada Autonomous team, Clayton attended a Censys Technologies and Iris Automation drone demonstration this summer to witness the real-life application of robotics technology and how other businesses are using these technologies.
“My experiences this summer have opened my eyes to the true scope of possibilities for this technology. I believe autonomous robotics have limitless applications in research, health, safety, entertainment, everyday life, and so on,” said Clayton. “The future is bright for autonomous robotics, and I look forward to seeing where our research takes us.”
Staying connected with the University community and developing personal projects keep Clayton’s passion for engineering, robotics and teamwork alive as well as enable her to grow her skill set.
“Being able to take something from your imagination to reality feels almost like magic, and I like to reflect that in the things I create. This also makes learning additional skills needed to complete the project more fun,” said Clayton. “For example, the Pepper’s Ghost Aquarium I recently created utilized my learned knowledge of 3D modeling and design, but also pushed me to learn more about the illusion itself, how 3D printers work, the properties of the materials I was working with, and the use of various hand and power tools.”
Clayton’s work with Undergraduate Research, part of Research & Innovation, and its award programs began during the 2021-2022 school year when received a Nevada Undergraduate Research Award (NURA). She worked alongside Jun Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, in his Smart Robotics Lab to assist in the development of a soft robotic glove used for rehabilitation and training purposes.
Clayton’s fruitful partnership with her mentors and her relationship with the University display the importance of guidance and encouragement in the journey of undergraduate students. Clayton also notes that being a member of the University Swing Dance Club has been a great way to meet new people and make friends while being an undergraduate researcher.
As a first-generation student, Clayton stresses the major role others have played in helping her become adjusted to her academic path at the University and being prepared for what to expect.
“I would consider myself a deeply curious person with a fascination for learning. I truly believe that you can learn something from everyone, and I consider myself very lucky to have been able to experience this on such a large scale at the University,” she said. “I have had the opportunity to meet students and mentors from all different backgrounds and gained a greater appreciation and understanding of the work done by students of all majors and the world outside of the University.”