Teams engage in engineering project
Improving air exchange in potato storage, preventing riverbank erosion on the Red Cedar River and creating a sustainable urban Detroit goat farm were a few original ideas presented by student teams at the 2010 Biosystems Engineering Design Project Showcase on Thursday afternoon at Kellogg Center.
Six teams of three to four students each presented an original idea in biosystems engineering, the culmination of two semester’s worth of work. Students began their projects during the fall semester, expanding on project ideas given to them by Steven Safferman, their biosystems design project instructor.
“We try to avoid projects that have been done before,” Safferman said. “They have to be unique problems that require students to use the fundamentals of engineering.”
The student teams worked throughout the year to perfect their ideas, applying principles of engineering and biology to important social problems.
“It was up to us to design the project and see if it was feasible,” biosystems engineering senior Patrick Triscari said. “We’ve all done work that was similar to this, but never on this big a scale.”
Triscari was part of a team that explored the cleaning of bodies of water for pasture-based dairy farms using an anaerobic digester to turn waste into energy.
“Our work was more concerned with the natural systems,” Triscari said. “Our project benefits lakes and other bodies of water and making sure (the waste is) not ending up on your food when it gets irrigated onto crops.”
Each team worked on a regular basis with and was sponsored by a company or organization. After the presentations, industry panel members that supported each project asked the students detailed questions about their projects. The panel members graded the students on how well they did, making up about 8 percent of the teams’ final grade.
Sponsor companies and groups included MSU-WATER Initiative, Urban Agricultural Initiatives of Detroit and Nestlé Nutrition.
“We have a few formal events throughout the fall and spring semesters,” Safferman said. “The representatives come and give the teams comments and suggestions before the final presentation.”
Triscari said he was passionate about his project because it affects almost everyone.
“People don’t really think about it, but pretty much everything you encounter in your daily life was grown somewhere in the world,” Triscari said. “The cotton your shirt is made out of, the grain in your cereal: agriculture has a significant impact on the environment, and it shows how important the water you use to grown these things is uncontaminated.”
Safferman said he expects at least 30 students in next year’s class. Biosystems engineering junior Spencer Beatty said he looks forward to the experience.
“Just getting into the technical aspect of it and really getting to see the corporate business side of it is a different experience,” Beatty said. “All we have ever done is give presentations to our professors and classes, but getting to actually present to a national corporation is an experience that benefits us and prepares us for a career in this field.”
For now, Safferman said he is glad that this year’s presentations are done.
“I think what’s rewarding is when people come up and congratulate the teams on their progress and what they have accomplished,” Safferman said.
“It’s a big sign of relief when the last project is finished.”