Designing a Helical Groove Seal; Origins and Implications of Environmental Justice on Policy Today: Why We Need Strong Activists

Moccia, Kevin, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Watson-Kassa, Cori, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

To bridge the gap between engineering and society, a deeper look was taken into how a highly technical component, groove seals, can relate to a political and societal issue, environmental justice. Groove seals are a special type of sealing technology that take advantage of the fluid mechanical properties involved in rotation to keep lubricant out of unwanted areas, thus avoiding leakage of the fluid. Reducing the leakage can go on to help the overall operational efficiency of the machine, specifically centrifugal pumps, which are the most common turbomachinery component that uses these seals in the United States. Environmental justice focuses on equal treatment for minority groups in terms of residential pollution, and has been a hotly debated issue on the political stage for the past 50 years. Environmental has gone through large periods of growth, but for the most part it is an issue that is ignored time and time again. Groove seals and environmental justice are intertwined with the idea of oil refinery efficiency and reducing the leaking of harmful chemicals into the ground; the groove seals aim to prevent the leakage from the root, and environmental justice aims to protect people from the inevitable side effects of operating oil refineries.
The technical portion of the thesis focused on the results found through computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research and subsequent statistical analysis. After running many simulations on models that were created testing different geometries in ANSYS CFX, the simulation software used in the research, the models with the lowest leakage were examined. An equation to predict the leakage amount for each of four different rotation speeds was found by linear regression methods, and these equations can be used to find optimal seal geometries at those speeds. This is important because it can help guide further research into the best designs for groove seals, and especially important for helical groove seals because it provides guidance for low-leakage designs.
For the STS portion of the research, after a timeline of environmental justice was created and further analyzed with Carolyn Stanforth’s network-analysis model of actor-network theory, important conclusions about the role of activists in the movement were reached. The research started from the first instances of environmental justice efforts during the Civil Rights movement, and went up until 2005 with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, where it seemed as though no progress had been made into the matter whatsoever. It analyzed moments in which progress was made and moments in which rights were actually taken away from people, and attempted to pinpoint specific factors that may have caused certain behaviors in politics and the public opinion. The research concluded that the single most important factor in making progress in the realm of environmental justice was the presence of a strong activist or group of activists that are spearheading the cause. I go on to conclude that these activists are needed today in order to stop the progress from stagnating, and the reason we may not be seeing large efforts today like we may have seen in the past is because politicians will not act on their own without non-governmental entities pushing them.
The STS research into environmental justice worked well in conjunction with the technical research of groove seal technology, because it gave a larger meaning to the otherwise inconsequential increase of efficiency of a machine. Since the technical research was completed slightly before the STS research, it gave me a new perspective on my technical findings that I would not have otherwise had. Instead of just improving a small part of a machine like I had originally thought I was doing, in reality this machine is a part of a much larger problem, and by completing my technical research, as I slowly realized, I was actually helping the cause of environmental justice, ever so slightly. This realization exemplifies the ideas of STS 4500 because it both puts into perspective the roles of every actor in a network, no matter how small, such as how even the sealing technology of a pump can affect the environmental justice political struggle. In terms of STS 4600, I think that the idea of engineering morals came from this self-realization; a sense of helping the larger cause was a driving force in making me feel as though my research was much more meaningful than I originally thought. By seeing that my work could actually help people instead of just machines, it made me see the importance of my work.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
groove seal, fluid dynamics, environmental justice, actor-network theory, ROMAC, fluid mechanics, pumps, timeline, centrifugal, CFD, ANSYS

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: Cori Watson-Kassa
STS Advisor: Kathryn Neeley

Issued Date: