Gail Riese 2016-08-24 04:17:13
In Brief: A multidisciplinary team of undergraduate students from Auburn University’s department of biosystems engineering and department of industrial and systems engineering showcased their senior work—a biofilter media design aimed to improve water treatment systems— during the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., in April. A national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics event, the USA Science and Engineering Festival gave the seven-member undergraduate team a large venue for sharing their research and interacting with thousands of attendees, including officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The work and travel of Auburn’s student team was funded by a Phase 1 award from the EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet program, also known as P3. During the P3 event, the team competed against 50 universities for a Phase 2 award, which provides for the development and commercialization of the project. ASABE member David Blersch, assistant professor in Auburn’s department of biosystems engineering, and Andres Carrano, Philpott-WestPoint Stevens associate professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering, collaborated on the Phase 1 proposal, which developed the concept, and mentored the cross-curricular student team. Following the Phase 1 award announcement in October 2015, Blersch and Carrano recruited students from their respective departments and streamlined the deliverables so that the project could also serve as the students’ senior Capstone project. “A combined senior design team from two engineering departments is a unique model for Auburn, and it made for an excellent learning experience for the students, as demonstrated by their exemplary performance at the P3 expo,” Blersch said. “The cross-seeding of ideas from this collaboration enriched their educational experience as they developed expertise in another academic field through interactions with their peers.” At the P3 expo, the team’s booth featured a display of 3D printed spherical objects and a large glass cylinder filled with bubbling green gooey water, which was a hit with the curious youngsters who came by. “Although they couldn’t compete with the penguins from SeaWorld or the rockets from NASA, their booth was one of the most popular university exhibits,” Carrano said. “I was amazed at the innovation from this undergraduate team. Their work has clearly expanded the technical and functional limits of biofiltration.” Stephanie Gray, industrial and systems engineering team leader, explained the project to a group of small children this way: “We use super cool shapes to filter water. We place the shapes into a bioreactor that contains a bunch of dirty water. Bacteria in the water attach to the super cool surfaces of the shapes and start to live and grow there. The super cool shapes are like fancy houses. As the bacteria live there, they get hungry and eat the pollution in the water.” Having learned about 3D printing in her industrial and systems engineering courses, Gray was excited to share her knowledge with the team and happy that her cohorts in biosystems engineering did the same, introducing her to nitrification, bioreactors, and fisheries. “I didn’t know anything about 3D printing until this project, but we taught them about biology,” said ASABE member Eric Vogt, biosystems engineering senior, who designed and fabricated the bioreactor. “Our team had a lot of fun throughout the semester and at the expo. We educated many people about our project.” In addition to Vogt and Gray, team members included ASABE member Ann Nunnelley and Olivia Elliot from biosystems engineering and Zane Trott Jr., Michael McClay, and Bakr Nassief from industrial and systems engineering. The outcome of the project was a biofiltration system that uses more efficient media capable of treating 50% more water than the current product on the market. “I would not be surprised if some of the students’ ideas are commercialized in the near future,” Carrano said. Blersch, sponsor of the 3D printed biofilter media project commented, “The capstone project was a tremendously valuable experience for the students. The project was to design new media shapes for increasing the performance of mixed bed bioreactors for wastewater treatment using 3D printing. The project moved easily to the P3 student design competition in technologies and strategies for sustainability. The multidisciplinary team provided adequate depth of expertise in the broad areas of the topic, namely, bioreactor design and 3D printed manufacturing. “The Capstone design experience was valuable to the students, as the process of designing the media as well as the equipment and procedures to test it was a simulation of realworld experiences that these students will face in their careers. The deadline for presentation of their work was rigid, as they were required to have full development and preliminary testing complete for presentation at the national competition in the middle of the semester. “The interdisciplinarity of the team was a critical component to the student learning, as it again simulated real-world consulting experience in which a group with broad expertise is formed to address a problem. Student learning was heightened by this interdisciplinarity, as students from each department developed expertise in another field to be able to accomplish the work. Most of the learning was done through peer-to-peer instruction, encouraged and supported by regular meetings of the entire team, and through collaborative planning of the objectives and tasks. Overall, the students successfully developed a design and presented their design at a national competition that was highly competitive with the potential for patentable technology.” For more information, contact Gail Riese, Communications and Marketing Specialist, Auburn University, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, email@example.com.
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