Inside USD

USD Students Engineer a More Sustainable World

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A system to make USD’s carpool system more efficient. A “smart shower” that monitors shower times and makes people more mindful of the water they’re using. An engine appropriate for the developing world. These were just a few of the 15 projects demonstrated at this spring’s Engineering Open House on May 6.

Seniors work all year on the capstone projects and this year “there was s a clear sustainability theme across the majority of the projects,” said Kathleen Kramer, professor of electrical engineering and director of USD Engineering Programs. Michael Catanzaro, USD’s director of sustainability, was a key supporter of four of the projects, she added.

“This kind of learning, where they need to come up with their own collaborative solution to an important problem and demonstrate real results, is the most challenging part of their degree,” Kramer said. “I am really thrilled for them as they mature into true engineers by doing work at this level. It was wonderful to see all the members of industry who came out to support and evaluate the students’ work, including engineers from project sponsors like San Diego Gas & Electric and Siemens.”

Several of the projects could benefit USD right here. The “carpool companion” project would make USD’s carpool program more efficient by using sensors to provide kiosk operators with real-time data on the occupancy of carpool spaces to aid them in the distribution of the correct number of carpool passes. Another project, the “smart shower” provides wireless data on water consumption used for showers, allowing administrators to find the most effective shower time settings.

Another project could have applications to the developing world. “We wanted to build an engine that generated mechanical power and was affordable,” noted Noel Aniekan, who along with Pat Castagna, Joseph Emery, Anthony Riesch and Will Hoppe (pictured, left to right, Aniekan second from left) presented their version of a stirling engine that could improve the standard of living for citizens in the developing world by providing power harvested from readily available resources.

Another innovative project, sponsored by SDG&E  and USD’s Office of Sustainability, would help students and others become more aware of just how much power they are using. “Cycle to Sustain” converts the mechanical energy from the wheel of a spin bicycle into electrical energy that powers a display screen. The system promotes energy efficiency and conservation by relating physical work to the amount of power that is used in common electrical devices and appliances, providing students the opportunity to compare their physical work to their daily electricity usage.

Students put in many hours of work into these projects but say the rewards they receive are considerable.

“Senior Design was an experience that truly built upon my education as an engineer at USD,” said Marilyn Smith who worked on the cycle project. “This project taught me what it means to work as a team and gave me skills that I will use well beyond graduation.”

— Liz  Harman

To learn more about USD’s Engineering Programs, click here.

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