engineering

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

tricities_career_fair_RICHLAND, Wash. – A career fair will be hosted by Washington State University Tri-Cities, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, in the Consolidated Information Center and Student Union Building.

The career fair is free and open to WSU Tri-Cities students, alumni and the public. The event allows organizations to discuss employment opportunities with potential employees. WSU Tri-Cities students are encouraged to connect with industry representatives to learn more about prospective employment and internships.

tricities_career_fair
WSU Tri-Cities Career Development panel discussion begins at 8 a.m., with career fair to follow at 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Beginning at 8 a.m., the WSU Tri-Cities Career Development will host the “State of the Tri-Cities Workforce” panel discussion, a new program to the career fair. The forum enables panelists to provide a strategic and professional analysis of the local workforce. Panelists will present their understanding of the behaviors and resources that help maintain and strengthen the Tri-Cities area economy. Those interested in attending should RSVP at careers@tricity.wsu.edu

The event also will feature a career development student spotlight program that allows students to practice and deliver their one-minute resume pitches to on-site recruiters.

For more information about the WSU Tri-Cities career fair, visit http://tricities.wsu.edu/careerdev/careerfair.

 

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By Adrian Aumen, WSU College of Arts & Sciences

In a cold, dimly blue-lit room, a strange human–animal hybrid paces before the entrance to a fiery red cave. When the “Huminal” senses a viewer approaching, it stops, turns its head to stare at the visitor and emits its own red-hot glow. The viewer must then decide how to respond to the apparent challenge: continue toward the creature or retreat.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the "Huminal," an interactive robot that responds to its environment.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the “Huminal,” an interactive robot that responds to its environment.

The Huminal is an interactive, kinetic sculptural installation featuring an autonomous, mobile robot that senses and responds to changes in its environment. Created by an interdisciplinary team at Washington State University Tri-Cities, it incorporates research and techniques in fine arts, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and robotics to provide a unique platform for exploring the relationship between humans and machines—and, it turns out, between artists and engineers, too.

Two years in the making and nearing completion this month, The Huminal is the third and most complex art-machine designed and built in as many years by fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston in collaboration with WSU engineering students and faculty. It debuted recently to rave reviews at a robotics exposition for employees of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, where Gordan Gavric, a key member of the Huminal development team, is an electrical engineering intern.

“The feedback we’ve gotten so far is really great,” said Gavric, a senior in engineering and president of the WSU Tri-Cities Robotics Club. “People recognize it’s a robot, but at the same time they’re a little creeped out. How do people want to interact with a creepy robot?”

Designed to pique curiosity along with uneasiness, the Huminal is about the size and shape of a large dog and covered with white plastic discs resembling scales or fur. Its four jointed legs give the appearance of walking as it rolls in an elliptical path outside its apparent den.

Multiple internal sensors, a camera and a small Raspberry Pi computer communicate with microcontrollers across two electronic systems to direct the robot’s movements and trigger the pulsing red LED lights in its chest. The steady hum of its heart—two 8.6 volt motors—is interrupted only when a sensor detects nearby movement. At that point, the Huminal is programmed to stop in its tracks, turn its head to face the approaching object and transmit its warning glow.

“I look forward to seeing how more people react to it,” Gavric said. “Is it alive? Is it human? The mystery is unnerving and it’s this uneasiness that Sena is trying to exploit.”

A corporeal experience

new media artist, Creston builds interactive art-machines to create a corporeal experience for viewers. Her artworks invite people to engage with machines and familiar materials in unfamiliar settings and ways. Environmental impact and social consciousness are frequent themes.

Sena Clara Creston and Gordan Gavric work on the Huminal

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the “Huminal” at WSU Tri-Cities.

“Some people get really aggressive with the work and some are really careful with it,” she said.

By enabling viewers to choose their response to her art, she hopes to help them understand other ways they affect the wider world.

From the haunting Huminal to the satirical Machinescape—an immersive environment of post-consumer electronics—to the dreamlike Umbrellaship—a land-roving, steampunk-style sailboat—much of Creston’s art employs fantasy while exploring intersections between the natural and the man-made.

“Part of it is movement, part of it is response, part of it is material and part of it is social engagement,” she said.

She will talk about her innovative artwork at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, as part of TEDxRichland events at Uptown Theatre in Richland, Washington.

To create the Huminal’s skin, Creston cut up dozens of discarded plastic water bottles—familiar and somewhat controversial objects that connect the organic and inorganic.

“Many people across the world live with an unsafe water supply, yet we think of water as the source of life and the source of health and wellbeing, and water bottles deliver that,” Creston said. “However, the water bottle itself is not biological or biodegradable—it’s inorganic and it’s not going away. So the material itself becomes this questionable component.

“How do we actually feel for the inorganic and how do these things elicit responses?”

Collaborating in uncommon opportunities

Giving form to Creston’s layered ideas and complex inventions often requires more technical skills than she possesses. So for the past 10 years, she has been learning and implementing modest means of physical computing and mechanical engineering.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric observe the Huminal as it interacts with its environment.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric observe the “Huminal” as it interacts with its environment.

“But, as my mentor explained, I didn’t need to learn how to do everything—I needed to learn how to collaborate,” she said.

Fortunately, interdisciplinary collaborations are strongly encouraged and available at WSU. Engineering professors Changki Mo at WSU Tri-Cities and Charles Pezeshki and Jacob Leachman at WSU Pullman recognized the uncommon opportunities Creston’s projects offered their students and wove them into their coursework.

“Her projects presented the perfect combination of an interesting customer, an achievable design and the monetary scope to take some risks in a shared learning experience,” Pezeshki said.

Students in Pezeshki and Leachman’s junior-level design classes worked remotely with Creston to create The Umbrellaship and Machinescape. The installations were designed, like The Huminal, to question the relationship between humans and their perceived environment.

Eric Loeffler, a May graduate in engineering who constructed the Huminal’s aluminum frame, said he and other students on the project gained a variety of valuable hands-on experiences not usually available to undergraduates.

For example, Loeffler learned new design software applications that he can use in his master’s degree program, and he expanded his welding skills to include aluminum materials.

“There were a lot of new things to work with from an engineering standpoint, and getting the chance to interact with Sena as a client was huge, too,” he said. “There’s really not a class that teaches you how to interact with a person who has their own particular wants, ideas and capabilities. That experience will definitely be useful in the future.”

Shared purposes, different approaches

“Some people might think engineering and arts are very different, but artists and engineers kind of have a shared purpose,” Gavric said. “They create things. They bring things into existence, and have ideas and concepts that they want to make. The difference lies in medium and motive. An engineer might design a circuit board to save a life, while an artist might paint a picture to change a life.”

“Working with Sena, I kind of opened up to ‘why are we doing this this?’ Oh, it’s for the aesthetic, or it’s for trying to get the point across.”

Gavric admits, “There’s no way I ever thought I’d be working on a robot for an art project.” But even before Creston finished presenting her concept sketches to the Robotics Club, he was hooked.

“It intrigued me immediately as an interesting concept and totally something new. There was a lot of back and forth on what we could do with the given technology and funding, and a lot of compromises, abstractions and problems that were solved. It was a rare opportunity. I’m glad I did it.”

Loeffler especially appreciated the chance to think outside the box.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate and come up with different ways to solve a problem,” he said. “I think we’re fairly close to what Sena originally envisioned, with the aesthetic and the function she was looking for, and that’s very satisfying.”

The interactive art machine projects encouraged the engineering students to consider their role as engineer, inventor, creator and artist, Creston said. As they grew comfortable working on art projects and expressing their own creative ideas, they sought new collaborations with artists and invited them to participate with the Robotics Club.

Some of the rising engineers began working with fine art students on interactive media projects and even created an interactive art installation of their own, called Lux Flux. The large-scale ceiling installation was designed to sense when a viewer entered a darkened hallway and to send a river of light shooting along the ceiling.

“The project was completely collaborative with a fluid crossover between artists and engineers filling in the rolls of conceptualizers, designers and technicians as needed,” Creston said. “It was beautiful to see.”

Creston is now working with a team of mechanical engineering design students to develop their collective senior year project. Her creative and scholarly work has received financial support from the WSU Office of Academic Affairs, the Department of Fine Arts and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as well as a chancellor’s seed grant to provide tools and materials and a project grant from Artist Trust.

The interdisciplinary projects align with the WSU Grand Challenges goal of improving education. They further the University’s Drive to 25 efforts by delivering innovative teaching, community outreach and transformative student experience.

Photos and video by Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities marketing and communications

RICHLAND, Wash. – Five local freshman at Washington State University Tri-Cities are among the university’s latest class of STEM Scholars.

As part of earning the distinction, where STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the students are honored with a $8,400 per year scholarship and will join the university’s STEM Learning Community. The community consists of a cohort of students that pursue a range of extracurricular opportunities and activities in the STEM fields.

WSU Tri-Cities STEM Scholars – (from left) Louis Theriault, Aaron Engebretson, Jared Johnson, Destiny Ledesma and Diamond Madden

The students awarded include:

  • Aaron Engebretson – Liberty Christian High School
  • Jared Johnson – Richland High School
  • Destiny Ledesma – Hanford High School
  • Diamond Madden – Southridge High School
  • Louis Theriault – Mid-Columbia Partnership

In order to be eligible for the program, students must have a minimum high school grade-point average of 3.75 based on a 4.0-scale, officially pursue a STEM-based major available at WSU Tri-Cities, be enrolled as a full-time student at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as actively participate in STEM Learning Community activities offered through the campus. Undergraduate majors eligible include: civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental sciences, general biological science, general mathematics and general physical sciences.

“The students selected display an incredible work-ethic and strong potential for careers in the STEM fields,” WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young said. “We’re excited to offer them a variety of resources to propel them into their respective STEM majors, which will encourage them to lead their fellow students within those majors, pursue prominent research at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as inspire future students to follow in their footsteps.”

Kate McAteer, WSU Tri-Cities assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, said the research component of the experience will provide the students with a solid foundation for their academic futures.

“These STEM Scholars have the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research right from the beginning of their academic careers,” she said. “It provides them with an early start on building a solid foundation of skills required to be successful scientists and engineers.”

Aaron Engebretson

Aaron Engebretson

Engebretson

Engebretson plans to major in engineering. In high school, he served as class president during his senior year and was his class valedictorian. He was a member of Key Club where he served as the vice president of the club. He received the Northwest Nazarene Bridge Academy Scholar Award for taking 15 or more college credits while in high school and maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA. He also received the Essence of Liberty Scholarship from Liberty Christian School. He hopes to one-day join Engineers Without Borders, which works with developing countries to find solutions for water supply, sanitation, agriculture and civil works. He also hopes to explore research in nuclear science while attending WSU Tri-Cities.

“The STEM Scholars program is very important to me,” he said. “It will surround me with fellow students that are driven, intelligent and interested in STEM … STEM careers are on the forefront of modern-day advancements and research. From the future of cars, to the future of modern medicine, STEM Careers provide solutions to a variety of different problems and challenges.”

Johnson

Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson

Johnson plans to major in electrical engineering. He is currently finishing his associate’s degree through Columbia Basin College’s running start program where he continues to receive high honors and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. At Richland High School, he earned Summa Cum Laude. Additionally, Johnson gives back to the community through his role with the National Honor Society, as well as helping with Second Harvest food distribution, tutoring high school math and assisting with various elementary school functions. He said he is looking forward to exploring the variety of research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities.

“With a STEM education, there will be many job opportunities and career advancements,” he said. “STEM subjects have always been interesting to me in school. WSU Tri-Cities provides a wonderful university experience, while still having small classrooms for personalized education. WSU Tri-Cities is also a high-ranking STEM university.”

Destiny Ledesma

Destiny Ledesma

Ledesma

Ledesma plans to major in biology. In high school, she participated in the running start program at WSU Tri-Cities, in addition to serving as her class senator during her junior and senior years. It is with that role that she and her fellow peers brought back the “Every 15 Minutes Program,” a two-day event that sheds light on drinking and driving. Ledesma also gives back to the community by volunteering every year with the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission where she makes dinner boxes for the homeless with her family. She also volunteers at the Tri-Cities Water Follies, where she has served in various roles throughout the last few years. She hopes to attend medical school and pursue either a career as a reconstructive surgeon or dermatologist. She looks forward to pursuing research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as getting involved with campus student government.

“It’s been such an honor and a blessing to have been able to receive such a prestigious scholarship,” she said. “I have been truly blessed with this opportunity to further my education … It will help prepare me to take on professional life after college and into the workforce. This program has truly changed my life.”

Madden

Diamond Madden

Diamond Madden

Madden plans to major in the physical sciences, with possibly an emphasis in chemistry. She earned 38 credits from Central Washington University’s running start program while she played softball, basketball and track and field for Southridge High School. Additionally, she played cello, violin and piano with the school’s orchestra, served in the school debate club, worked part-time for Tropical Sno and participated in the school’s Ignite program, which helps incoming freshmen transition to high school. She also volunteers occasionally with a local food bank. She hopes to pursue a career as a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has been a dream of hers for years.

“Words can’t even describe how much the STEM Scholars program means to me and my family,” she said. “Being the second youngest of seven children in a single-income family, this gives me the assurance that I can continue and complete my education for a degree in the sciences … I believe WSU is a remarkable college, with Tri-Cities being the perfect location for me and given the fact that the university partners with PNNL.”

Louis Theriault

Louis Theriault

Theriault

Theriault plans to major in civil engineering. In high school, as a home-schooled student, he participated in the WSU Tri-Cities running start program, which is what helped him decide on attending WSU Tri-Cities for his undergraduate degree. Over the years, he volunteered to help the Academy of Children’s theater put on its summer camps, helped at his home school program’s “Camp Invention” and continues to serve as a camp counselor for numerous camps, including for the upcoming STEM Camps at WSU Tri-Cities this July. He hopes to participate in WSU’s engineering study abroad opportunity at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences while earning his undergraduate degree at WSU Tri-Cities. After graduation, he hopes to serve as a civil engineer, working possibly around the United States or for an international engineering firm.

“The STEM Scholars Award means the world to me,” he said. “I didn’t believe that I would be one of the chosen people when I signed up. It is going to help me pay for almost all of my college and help me save money for my future … I want to pursue a career in the STEM fields because I want to be able to make a difference in the world.”

RICHLAND, Wash – WSU Tri-Cities is launching a series of workshops to prepare engineers for the professional engineering exam.

Participants choose their engineering discipline – chemical, civil, electrical or mechanical. They then receive 42 hours of classroom-based exam review focused on solving theory and high-probability practice problems. Participants also learn exam day techniques, strategies and complete a simulated practice exam.

The first two workshops are:

  • Civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, June 22-Oct. 19
  • Chemical engineering, Oct. 12 – Feb. 16

The workshop costs $975. To register and for more information, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/pdce/peprepworkshop. Individuals can also contact the Professional Development and Community Education office at 509-372-7174 or pdce@tricity.wsu.edu.

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

The United States power grid is connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines to provide electricity to more than 300 million people. But as the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Yousu Chen – PNNL

With the increase of renewable energy sources, the growth of the increasingly complex system and increases in terrorist threats, engineers have to come up with new methods to protect the power grid.

Yousu Chen (WSU Tri-Cities MS, environmental engineering), staff research engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is using high-performance computing techniques to safeguard the electrical grid against potential threats and outages.

“The power grid is the largest man-made machine in the world,” he said. “It is the most important infrastructure, and we need it daily for almost all of our daily activities. I’m always eager to know what I can do in this fast-growing area to solve new problems.”

During his time as a student at WSU Tri-Cities, Chen got his first internship at PNNL. He also learned skills in simulation and modeling that have proven invaluable to his career.

He has been involved in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, increasing opportunities for current students.

Solving problems before they happen

Chen‘s work focuses primarily on modern computing techniques that both simulate potential hazards and provide ways for monitoring information within the grid. Through the advancement of high-performing computing techniques, he and his team at PNNL are developing simulations to predict and combat problems before they occur.

Chen’s computing systems utilize complex algorithms to measure power flow, identify potential problem areas, simulate possible outcomes if there were to be an outage or a catastrophic event, as well as provide solutions in how to deal with those potential problem areas.Power pole

“For example, if we want to evaluate the impact of newer smart grid technologies on the power grid, we use our simulation techniques to prepare for the event before we apply those new technologies to the grid,” he said. “Using our simulation, we could determine how that issue would impact the grid, and as a result, how we can prevent that from occurring.”

Chen said he and his team are always developing newer computing techniques to run simulations at a faster rate, which will be crucial in the event of a major outage or disruption.

“Some systems will take minutes, depending on the system, to run a limited number of contingencies,” he said. “My code is able to run 1 million contingencies in less than 30 seconds. That is a major achievement.”

With all of the data generated through advanced computing methods, Chen and his team are also always looking take the massive data caches and efficiently turn them into something usable and visual.

“Because high-performance computing systems can create a lot of data, it is challenging to digest that data in the short-term,” he said. “We develop advanced visualization tools, which allow us to view that data in real time and provide a quick response for potential events.”

Giving back to the future of engineering

Even though Chen has achieved much in his career as an engineer, he has used his position to increase opportunities for disseminating knowledge of his field into the community, as well as create pathways for other students to follow in his footsteps.

Chen realized early in his higher education career just how valuable mentorship and extracurricular learning experiences could be to his own growth as an engineer. In addition to utilizing university resources to connect him with an internship at PNNL, he also sought advice for how to improve his resume, his interview skills and more through the university’s career development center. After landing a full-time position of his own at PNNL, he wanted to keep paying forward what he learned, using his connections in engineering and computer science to provide resources and mentoring to aspiring engineering students.

Chen has since volunteered his time through a variety of capacities for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He serves as chair for the IEEE’s distinguished lecture program and formerly served as the regional representative of the IEEE Power & Energy Society and the regional chair for the IEEE Power Energy Society’s scholarship plus program. He also serves as the editor for two professional journals where he helps edit and review articles for publication pertaining to the smart grid.

As a result of his efforts, Chen was recently awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Leadership Award for the contributions he has made to IEEE activities and the leadership he’s displayed through IEEE at the local, regional and national levels. In a congratulatory letter, Wai-Choong Wong, vice president of the member and geographic activities at IEEE, stated that Chen has set a great example in carrying forward the goals and objectives of the IEEE MGA board.

Chen said he is grateful for all he learned in his education at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as what he has been able to accomplish since then by means of his work at PNNL, as well as through his involvement with the IEEE.

“These opportunities changed my life,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to accomplish a lot in my career as an engineer and I believe it is my responsibility to not only increase the capabilities of the power grid, but to also increase the potential for the world’s future engineers who will solve many of these energy-related problems.”

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities took home the Wells Fargo “CleanTech” Big Picture prize during the University of Washington’s Business Plan Competition this week.

With the award, the team, which includes Libing Zhang, a recent doctoral alumna, and Manuel Seubert and Taylor Pate, who are master’s in business administration students, was presented with a $5,000 check.

UW Business Plan Competition – May 2017

“We believe that we performed very well,” Zhang said. “We received extremely positive feedback regarding our business plan and presentation. Each team had a great product and were very convincing. We felt fortunate to be a part of it all.”

The UW Business Plan Competition has awarded more than $1.3 million dollars in seed funding to more than 165 student teams in its 20-year history. The competition started with 82 teams, which was then reduced to 36 teams for the investment round. The teams were then narrowed to the “sweet 16,” which competed this week in Seattle.

The WSU Tri-Cities team presented the process of taking lignin — a waste product in the cellulosic ethanol biorefineries and the pulping process — one of the most abundant renewable carbon sources on earth, and turning it into an environmentally friendly, cheap jet fuel. The process could potentially reduce the carbon emissions for commercial airlines. The technology was developed by professor Bin Yang’s lab in the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory.

The competition featured a 15-minute presentation by each team to judges including University of Washington faculty, investors and local business owners and leaders. The teams then participated in a question and answer session with the panel of professionals.

“It is a great accomplishment and is really a tribute to the research that made it all possible,” Seubert said about the team’s success in the competition. “Our goal as a company is to implement this technology within the aviation industry and reduce global carbon emissions.”

The team has been accepted into the Cascadia CleanTech accelerator program, which is a 14-week program that delivers mentorship, curriculum, connections and funding opportunities designed specifically for early-stage cleantech startups. The goal of the program is to accelerate startup businesses.

“We are optimistic that we can finalize a partnership with Washington State University for this technology,” Pate said. “There is a significant amount of momentum behind Lignin Biojet and we hope to carry that forward as we move into the next phase of the company’s growth.”

Technologies to be implemented in Uganda this June

RICHLAND, Wash. – Three teams of engineering students at Washington State University Tri-Cities designed technological advancements that will address challenges pertaining to farming, education and agricultural business in rural communities in Uganda.

The projects were part of the students’ capstone engineering courses at WSU Tri-Cities where students are tasked with completing a year-long project that integrates many of the components of the students’ foundational engineering and related courses to solve either a real-world or simulated problem.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - solar lighting

Scott Hudson, WSU Tri-Cities professor of electrical engineering (left), helps his students solder a wire to a strip of solar-powered lights that the students designed for a remote community in Uganda. The lights will be implemented in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda this June.

The projects for the Ugandan communities include:

  • An aquaponic system that incorporates minimal water, fish and a growing medium to produce a recyclable and sustainable agriculture system
  • A solar-powered lighting system that will allow for additional educational instruction time in the evening and during other minimal daylight hours
  • A solar-powered mushroom dryer that preserves a local mushroom crop that will increase economic opportunity for the local community

Scott Hudson, WSU Tri-Cities professor of electrical engineering, and Messiha Saad, clinical assistant professor of mechanical engineering, serve as faculty mentors and advisors for the three projects, which were funded by Hudson on behalf of The Giving Circle. The Giving Circle is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which provides services and builds schools, sanitary facilities and more, to help disadvantaged communities around the world.

Hudson will also accompany a Giving Circle team to Uganda this June to help implement the new technologies to ensure their longevity and success.

The students spent their first semester predominantly coming up with a design for their projects and their second semester physically building the structures.

“What is great about these projects is that they will be directly implemented into communities that have a dire need for these technologies,” Hudson said. “Students are using their skill in engineering to design products that will serve an immediate need for a deserving community across the world. They’re solving real-world problems that will have a lasting impact.”

Aquaponic system for food sustainability

The Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda is located far from urban areas and utilities and is considered largely “off the grid,” Hudson said. Many people in the community don’t have access to their own farmland or can’t afford it, and water is in limited supply. An aquaponic system, which recycles water and fish waste to fertilize growing plants in the system, while allowing the fish to breed and then act as an additional food source, is a crucial technology that will do a lot of good, Hudson said.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - aquaponics

The WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team poses with their aquaponics project that will be implemented this June in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda.

The WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team, composed of students Amjad Al-Shakarji, Gabriel Fuentes, Trevin Schafer and Daniel Cain, had a lot of obstacles to overcome with their design, as many of the materials had to be inexpensive and either available in Uganda or easily shippable to the site. The team also had to conduct a tremendous amount of research, considering their backgrounds were limited in botany, hydrology, etc.

“It was an incredible learning process,” Schafer said. “We’re obviously not hydrologists or mechanical engineers, but we made it all work. A ton of our decisions in the design and construction were based off of research and collaborative ideas. It also helped that we worked really well together.”

The team’s design required the use of solar panels and battery storage, which is where the students’ skills in electrical engineering came to play. The students also developed an electronic system that allows them to monitor the effectiveness of the system remotely and track their data.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - aquaponics

The WSU Tri-Cities students’ aquaponics system utilizes a solar-powered pump to pump tilapia fish waste and recycled to plants that are planted in an above bin. The student’s design will be implemented in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda this June.

The way the team’s design works is as follows:

  1. Plants are planted in clay pellets atop the apparatus, where water is circulated to the plants via a solar-powered pump
  2. Tilapia fish live in a water tank and their waste is distributed to fertilize the plants growing at the top of the apparatus
  3. The fish then double as a food supply source, as they are native to Uganda and are easy to breed

Schafer said overall, the system uses far less water than that of traditional farming methods.

“The main reason we chose this project as our final engineering capstone project is that it truly provides one of the best resources for the people of Uganda,” he said. “It may not be as heavy in electrical engineering as some of the other student projects, but this project will certainly do a lot of good.”

Al-Shakarji said the project has presented the team with significant challenges, but great rewards.

“It’s been challenging to add the component of having to keep something alive, but it’s something that the people in Uganda will find of real value,” he said. “It’s also something that can be easily expanded. Using a manual that is provided by our team and components that may be easily shipped to the country or purchased locally, anyone can recreate this system. The sky is the limit for expansion.”

Solar lighting for additional educational hours

The Kagoma Gate Village has no access to electricity, which limits the number of hours that are available to provide educational instruction, activities and more. That is why a WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team has partnered to create a solar lighting system that will provide more educational hours to the villagers’ days.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - solar lighting

The WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team poses with their solar lighting system (above) that will be implemented in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda this June.

The team, composed of students Pierce Jones, Daniel Deaton, Steven Goulet and Richard Dempsey, are creating a lighting system that will provide the same level of light as a standard U.S. office building and has the capability to store enough energy for at least two hours of light per night.

“Right now, the villagers are using kerosene lanterns, which are not only very dangerous, but also very expensive,” Hudson said. “When you think about the fact that these people are making an average of $1 a day, that can eat significantly into the family’s budget.”

Deaton said one of their main challenges was finding components that met their design requirements, allowing the lights to shine bright enough, while not making the system too expensive for the village. The batteries and

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - solar lighting

The student’s solar lighting system uses a strip of LED lights powered by a solar energy system. The system will provide the same level of light as a standard U.S. office building and has the capability to store enough energy for at least two hours of light per night.

the solar panels, specifically, can be very expensive, he said. The system also had to be simple enough so that it could be recreated by other people in the region.

“Ideally, when this is all done, we want to have it where other villages can reproduce it at a low cost,” Dempsey said. “These are very hard working people that deserve to have a few hours of additional light that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”

Dempsey said their design, including the solar power components, can be reproduced for about $500.

“Our system is all very scalable and very linear,” Deaton said. “When it does get reproduced, we hope that the village won’t have to learn anything beyond that initial installation. We are creating a manual that provides all of the instructions for the installation.”

Mushroom dyer for economic growth

While Uganda has made great strides toward reducing the level of extreme poverty within the country, economic development remains a significant challenge due to lack of infrastructure and access to larger markets.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - mushroom dryer

The WSU Tri-Cities mechanical engineering team builds the frame for their mushroom dryer, which will be implemented this June in the Wakiso District of Uganda.

The Panache Cooperative in the Wakiso District of Uganda has been successfully growing oyster mushrooms, which are considered a delicacy in Africa. Preserving the mushroom’s shelf life, however, has posed a problem. Without extended preservation, exporting the crop to larger markets is impossible. That is why a WSU Tri-Cities student mechanical engineering team is constructing a mushroom drying device that uses minimal power.

The team, composed of students Sam Sparks, Rachel Estes, Keenan Moll, Ian Pierce, Lorraine Seymour and Joel Larson, was tasked with reinventing traditional commercially available dehydrators. Even the modest-sized versions, Pierce said, require significant electrical power, which is not available in the Wakiso District.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had to deal with is getting a mushroom, which consists of 90 percent water, down to 20 percent while dealing with the Ugandan climate that consists of about 70 percent humidity year-round,” Pierce said.

To combat that issue, the team created a device that utilizes a Lexan polycarbonate top that allows for the air to absorb solar energy and be superheated within the system. The system then uses solar components to promote air flow to help regulate the temperature, which ensures that the mushrooms don’t cook, and in turn, lose nutrients.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - mushroom dryer

The WSU Tri-Cities mechanical engineering team constructs piping for their mushroom dryer that will be implemented this June in Uganda. The team’s goal was to be able to dry approximately 25 kilograms of mushrooms per day with their design.

“The design has to be simple so that they can build it there,” Seymour said. “It all has to be simple parts with simple assembly, which we were able to accomplish.”

Moll said their design should increase the standard shelf life of the mushrooms from 24 hours, which is standard for unrefrigerated fresh mushrooms, to several weeks or more for the dried product. The team’s goal was to be able to dry approximately 25 kilograms of mushrooms per day. The team’s modular design is scalable to accomplish that feat.

“The people in the Wakiso District will be able to use the dryers to dry their mushrooms and sell them as a local product to restaurants and other businesses, which will help them earn a greater living,” Seymour said. “I feel very rewarded to have participated on this project, because we’re creating something that will have a lasting value.”

Saad said the projects provided his students a tremendous opportunity to utilize their skills in engineering to provide solutions to issues across the world.

“These humanitarian projects provided unique opportunities for my students and gave them greater confidence and the skills to work in unfamiliar environments and across cultural differences,” he said.

Beyond implementation

In addition to installing the different devices within their respective communities this June, Hudson said his goal will be to meet with representatives of the Ugandan government, representatives from the universities, as well as other influential figures to see how they can spread their work to other regions and villages.

“These villages are at a zero level for technology,” he said. “Anything we can do to help is a big improvement, and by empowering Ugandans with technology that they can fix, adapt and implement themselves, it will have a lasting impact that will benefit individuals for generations to come.”

Hudson said The Giving Circle has been a tremendous partner. He said he plans to continue the partnership for future student engineering projects.

“The Giving Circle is in it for the long-term and it makes a lot of sense for us to make this an ongoing development project from WSU Tri-Cities,” he said. “This is hopefully just the beginning of a larger effort and partnership.”

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities will confer 372 degrees during its commencement ceremony beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at the Toyota Center, 7000 W. Grandridge Blvd. in Kennewick, Wash.

WSU Tri-Cities commencementDoors open at noon. The event is free to the public and tickets are not required.

Among those graduating, 313 students are earning their bachelor’s degrees, 46 master’s and 13 doctoral degrees.

Chancellor Keith Moo-Young will present the welcome address, the Chancellor’s Excellence Award for faculty and staff and will confer degrees. He will also present the Distinguished Alumnus Award to Gesa Credit Union CEO Don Miller. Michele Acker-Hocevar, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, will present introductions and recognitions.

Israa Alshaikhli, Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities president, will give the graduate greeting, which will be followed by the student address by valedictorian Kylie Chiesa.

Six students were selected to carry gonfalons, which are colorful banners that represent the colleges, based on their academic excellence. Those students include:

• Dennis Bonilla, agricultural, human and natural resource sciences
• Ana Isabel Sandoval Zazueta, arts and sciences
• David Law, business
• Jasmine Gonzalez, education
• Lorraine Seymour, engineering and architecture
• Mercedez Gomez, nursing

WSU Tri-Cities graduating student Kayla Stark will sing the national anthem.

For more information, visit http://tricities.wsu.edu/commencement.

 

Media Contacts:

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333, Maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

RICHLAND, Wash. – Students will deliver presentations on their research, classroom projects and art noon-1 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, May 2-4, as part of the Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

WSU Tri-Cities Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition

WSU Tri-Cities Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition

The public is invited to hear presentations, explore topics, ask questions and give feedback.

“Our undergraduates have opportunities to engage in hands-on experiences with research, scholarship and creative works throughout their undergraduate careers, starting with freshman survey courses through senior capstone projects,” said Allison Matthews, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of psychology. “The Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition highlights their accomplishments in discovery and advancing knowledge.”

Some of the projects that will be featured include:

  • Nondestructive nuclear inspection robot
  • SAE Aero Design – electric airplane
  • Solar Mushroom Dryer – one of three projects that will be implemented in Uganda
  • Social Problems and Service Learning
  • Freshwater Invertebrates from the Columbia Basin
  • Bioinformatic Approaches Further Research for Ovarian Cancer
  • Cinema Verite
  • Digital imaging

The sessions will be in Consolidated Information Center, Room 120, with Thursday’s presentations also in the Art Gallery. 

Disciplines covered will include the sciences, digital technology and culture, fine arts, English, history, political science, engineering, psychology, statistics and exploration and leadership.

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities whose business plan is to commercialize a WSU-patented jet fuel technology developed by WSU Tri-Cities professor Bin Yang’s lab has advanced to the University of Washington Business Plan Competition’s “sweet 16” round.

Libing Zhang presents during the UW Business Plan Competition

WSU Tri-Cities’ Libing Zhang presents during the UW Business Plan Competition

According to the university website, the goal of the UW Business Plan Competition is to promote student ideas and new venture creation and provide an opportunity for business and science students to present new business plans to Seattle-area venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and investors.

The team, composed of Libing Zhang, a recent doctoral alumna, and master’s in business administration students Manuel Seubert and Taylor Pate, presented the process of taking lignin, a waste product in the cellulosic ethanol biorefineries and pulping process that is considered one of the most abundant renewable carbon sources on Earth, and turning it into an environmentally-friendly, cheap jet fuel that can potentially reduce the carbon emissions for commercial airlines.

The WSU Tri-Cities team advanced from an initial pool of 82 teams in the screening round of the competition, which was then narrowed to a pool of 36 teams in the investment round before the team advanced to the sweet 16. During the investment round, each team had approximately four hours of face time with entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists and competition alumni from the Seattle area.

Last month, the same WSU Tri-Cities team placed third at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. Zhang is also the entrepreneurial lead on a National Science Foundation I-Corps lignin-to-biojetfuel project, which was awarded to Yang and his team.

Paul Skilton, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of management, and Yang are advisers for the WSU Tri-Cities team.

The sweet 16 round of the UW Business Plan Competition kicks off May 25, followed by the final round that afternoon. The final round is open to the public. Prizes will be awarded later that evening at the competition dinner at MOHAI in South Lake Union.