From left to right, Cleopatra Saira, Victor Montano, Christopher Dawson and Allesha Seenauth of Mechanical Engineering work on their senior design project in the Fab Studio at Rettner Hall.
Many of the capstone projects that Hajim School engineering students completed this year could have applications not only here but abroad – for example, more efficient cooking stoves in Kenya, and a compact device to spin scaffolds of cassava starch for tissue engineering in Ghana.
Others could have an impact right on campus – for example, the new computer and writing desks that students designed that could be fitted together as workstations in Rettner Hall. Or a new valve one team designed to regulate helium used in fusion reaction experiments at the University’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics.
They are among more than 70 projects that seniors in five engineering departments and the Department of Computer Science -- as well as students in the Medical Technology & Innovation Masters Degree Program -- showcased with posters and prototypes on April 28 at the annual Design Day of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
(Click here to see descriptions of the projects and their team members.)
Senior design projects give Hajim School students an opportunity to truly be engineers – working in teams to translate the knowledge and skills they’ve gained through classwork and lab exercises into functional prototypes that address specific challenges. Many of the teams are sponsored by outside companies, giving students an opportunity to experience “real world” timetables and expectations. Sean Reid, an optical engineering student who worked on not one, but TWO senior design projects this semester, can attest to that. (Read more . . . )
Design Day itself gives students a chance to hone their communications skills as they explain their projects to visitors.
Converting cassava roots to submicron fibers
Each Wednesday, Christopher Dawson, Victor Montano, Cleopatra Saira and Allesha Seenauth of Mechanical Engineering went on Skype to give a progress report to Elsie Kaufmann, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Ghana.
Kaufmann, who is interested in tissue engineering, asked the team to come up with a way to convert the starch of cassava root, which is commonly found in Kenya, into submicron fibers that could serve as scaffolds – or temporary supports – for cell attachment and tissue growth. The collaboration grew out of a visit by a delegation of University of Rochester faculty members and administrators to the University of Ghana last year. The delegation included Prof. Paul Funkenbusch of Mechanical Engineering, who helped to supervise this project.
The challenge for this project was not coming up with a new technology – a spare electrospinning device and power source were found gathering dust in a MechE lab. Instead, the students had to figure out how to assemble these and other components so they:
• Would fit under a fume hood
• Have a maximum weight of 25 kg
• Could be disassembled for shipping to Ghana, then easily reassembled
• Would be equipped with automatic cutoffs to prevent electric shock
• Would have sufficient backup power to withstand daily blackouts in Ghana that can last several hours at a time
“One of the biggest challenges was that the DC power supply was purchased from a Chinese supplier,” Dawson explained. None of the original documents could be found. He spent a lot of time on email and Skype with salesmen in China trying to pin down safety precautions and power levels. “We didn’t want to just flip a switch and hope for the best.”
Seenauth said this was her first opportunity to pursue her interest in nanoscale research. As part of the project, team members examined the fibers they produce with an electron microscope.
The use of cassava also intrigued her; her parents are from Guyana, where cassava is also an important part of the culture. “I was really interested in how (Prof. Kaufmann) is going to implement this.”
“This is taking a technology and packaging it to create an opportunity that wasn’t there before,” added Chris Muir, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who teaches the senior design course. “That’s the great thing about engineering – that ability to take a technology and bring it into a situation where it otherwise wouldn’t be available.”
More efficient cooking stoves for Sub-Saharan Africa
Seniors Jessica He, YeJin Jeong, Adam Langenbucher, and Nikki Sroka of Biomedical Engineering developed an adjustable “skirt” to fit around any size pot used atop the portable cooking stoves that the BURN company produces in Kenya.
The stoves consist of a combustion chamber for burning wood or charcoal. The skirts help concentrate the rising heat immediately around the walls of the cooking pot sitting on top of the chamber. This increases fuel efficiency, meaning families have to spend less time or money cutting or buying fuel, which lessens deforestation. It also means less time spent standing over the stove, reducing exposure to emissions.
The skirts currently come in fixed sizes. “Research has shown there is an ideal distance between the skirt and the wall of the pot at which efficiency is highest, and that’s about 10 mm,” Sroka explained --hence the need for a skirt that could be adjusted to that ideal distance with any of several different sized pots a family might have in it’s possession. “It would be cost effective and make life so much easier,” Sroka said.
The project originated when BME alumnus Boston Nyer ’08, General Manager and Co-founder of BURN Manufacturing Co., came to the Hajim School last fall to give a talk.
Working with Paul Means, Research and Testing Manager at BURN, the team developed an aluminum prototype that was on display during Design Day.
“What I really enjoy about this project is that it is very realistic,” said He. “There are a lot of constraints we had to consider that we don’t normally have to consider in a classroom setting. . . . We wanted to use relatively inexpensive materials, so it will be affordable enough for a lot of people to use, but we also want to make sure it is a quality product, that is durable enough so that if people drop it, they can use it again.”
From left to right, YeJin Jeong, Nikki Sroka, Jessica He, and Adam Langenbucher. (Photo by J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester.)