Showcasing Engineering Innovation

New facilities, including Donald’s Garage to promote innovation and sustainability, have been open for just a few weeks in the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering. But this spring’s Engineering Showcase, held May 8 on Loma Hall’s first floor, demonstrated that the concepts are already embedded in the school’s DNA.

Projects for in-home desalination, a solar panel cleaner, and a water purifier using plastic beverage bottles were just a few of those presented by seniors.

The need for clean drinking water in developing coastal communities in Costa Rica was the impetus for an in-home desalination system created by a team of mechanical engineering students. But the worsening drought in southern California has prompted interest in the project and students now think there could be demand from consumers in many areas for it. The reverse osmosis system features an energy recovery device and is designed to produce enough water for a family of five each day at an initial cost of $2,500.

“I think if we can prove that a pressure recovery device is practical and useful” it will be marketable, said senior Ryan Salisbury.

As solar energy also takes hold in the residential market, another group of mechanical engineering students presented a solar panel cleaner. Some areas, particularly in the southwest are prone to dry, dusty conditions with little precipitation. Over time, this dust and debris buildup impacts the amount of sunlight reaching the solar cells decreasing power production. Using a motorized wheel system running along the top and bottom edges of the panel array, a motorized rotary brush spanning the length of the panel removes dirt and debris. A water sprayer precedes the rotating brush and a squeegee trails the brush to remove excess water and debris.

Other innovative projects included an arsenic water purifier whose main components are two plastic water or soda bottles that also use iron nails and banana peels to filter the water for a rural Ugandan village being served by an interdisciplinary group of USD faculty and students.

Students in USD’s Department of Environmental and Ocean Sciences will benefit from a remote-operated water vehicle that allows them to interact with the under-sea environment and collect underwater data and samples. The system cost less than $1,700 while purchasing one could would have cost between $20,000 and $30,000, according to Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Daniel Codd, one of the advisors on the project.

Many projects were conducted with industry partners. Alyssa Black and Orlando Crespo were part of a team that worked with Clarity Design Inc. to create an audio speaker that can collapse and extend for maximum audibility. Both students have already been hired by the firm after they graduate later this month.

Other industry partners for this year’s showcase were CareFusion, Cubic, ViaSat, SDG&E, General Atomics. Amor Ministries, Thermo Fisher Scientific, James and Cathy Cefalia, IntroTech, Superior Court of California in San Diego County and Associated Students of USD were also supporters of the capstone projects.

Last month, the engineering school dedicated $4.5 million in new facilities and equipment that includes the Cymer Ideation Space and Donald’s Garage to help students invent and design. Donald’s Garage — featuring an array of design and prototyping machines — is named after the late Donald P. Shiley, inventor of a revolutionary heart valve. His wife, Darlene Marcos Shiley, made the gift to establish the school. An additional gift from Cymer Inc. also helped create the new facilities.

“We’re making good use” of the new equipment, including state-of-the-art 3-D printers and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines to make parts for the various projects, said Professor Codd.

Not all the projects are meant for practical use. A team of electrical engineering students created an exhibit allowing four participants to interact by utilizing their heartbeats to create a musical and visual display. The “Heartmonic Symphony” project “combines the realms of art and engineering” to demonstrate the value of human interaction and collaboration, explained student Hannah Halopoff.

— Liz Harman

Photos courtesy of Cory Immele