Sustainability, medical, mechanical engineering and military problems don’t have to be solved solely by private corporations or government agencies.
Instead, private companies and local municipalities are turning to a place that has always been known as a source of innovation — the university.
Only this university isn’t tackling these issues through professors with high degrees or post-graduate students working on their doctoral dissertation. Instead, these problem-solvers are undergraduate students at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa finishing their final, capstone project.
“The things they’re doing are absolutely amazing,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of the College of Technology and Innovation. “This is a fantastic display of creativity.”
One team of students created a device to let soldiers scale buildings like Spiderman, another found a way to turn dog waste at a park into a sustainable practice and another identified a less expensive way to ensure that events at Tempe Town Lake aren’t cancelled due to pH levels.
These and many more of the nearly 60 projects were funded by grants from outside sources such as Tempe, Gilbert, Honeywell, and the United States Air Force, to name a few.
This hands-on experience is exactly what sets the ASU College of Technology and Innovation apart from programs at other universities, Montoya said.
“This should be a model for higher ed,” Montoya said. “It is an applied, engaged learning experience and it also allows students to become engaged in industry.”
Learning how to collaborate with industry leaders and team members, cut through the bureaucracy and apply knowledge to solve a problem, teaches students more than what they can learn in a class, Montoya said.
As part of a military challenge to university students, the Air Force Research Laboratory granted $20,000 to more than a dozen colleges to come up with an innovative way to scale a 90-foot obstacle and demonstrate the prototype, said Scott Goodin, one of seven ASU students who created the “Spiderman” technology.
“We saw a lot of nail guns and adhesives from other schools,” Goodin said about when the team went to the national competition last week. “But we decided to use vacuum pressure.”
That’s something that hasn’t been done before, Goodin said.
“It’s not overly complex; it’s just no one put them together,” Goodin said.
The project created four suction cup devices to hold a solider to the wall, one cup for each extremity. Using a small vacuum integrated into the design of each foot device and one held in a backpack for the handheld ones, and alternating suction and air, a soldier could climb up a wall like James Bond, without the need for rope, hook or ascender.
“It could be used by the military, rescue or a number of industry applications, like construction,” Goodin said. “The vacuums run continuously for three or four hours.”
Dog Park Waste Digester
E-TURD started out as a humorous play on words, but energy-Transformation Using Reactive Digestion is solving a significant waste problem at the Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert.
The dog park was creating about 8 cubic yards of waste a week, said Sean Burris, a team member. Because of the large amount of waste, Gilbert officials began looking into ways to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.
“The parks board was having trouble with dog waste at the park,” said Louis Anderson, Gilbert’s solid waste division manager. “It stemmed from an idea at MIT, which was actually an art project, but it used anaerobic digestion to create methane (gas).”
By using a modified septic system, the team created a tangible way for patrons to see what happens to the waste, Burris said. People can push a button on a light pole connected to the system, which will burn the methane gas created by anaerobic digestion, or the oxygen-free digestion by bacteria, in the septic system.
The resulting environmental impact is two-fold, Burris said.
“It burns methane gas, instead of releasing it into the air,” Burris said. “It also reduces the amount of waste that goes to the landfill.”
Gilbert plans to finish installation of the project by mid-May, Anderson said.
Tempe Town Lake
A few triathlons in Tempe have been threatened over the years by low acidity in Town Lake, but one ASU team looked to discover the cause and propose a cost-efficient solution. High pH, or low acidity, can cause skin irritations.
“They assumed the high pH was caused by algae that grew off of the rain water runoff,” said Jed Young.
However, the team found that the high pH was caused upstream in the Salt River, Young said. How far upstream is questionable, he said.
“We had to obtain so many permits,” Young said. And without the cooperation of a number of different agencies and private businesses, they were unable to test all the necessary locations.
“I don’t think any of us thought there would be this much red tape,” said Kiril Hristovski, the group’s faculty mentor.
So while the students were unable to determine a cause, they were able to propose using pipes along the bottom of the lake as an alternative to running the expensive diesel pumps the city uses to raise the acidity, Young said.
Kyle Barrette, Scott Goodin, Robert Morales, Christopher Scott, Zachary Wilson and Johnathon Wright make up the AFRL Spiderman team. Team members for e-TURD include Sean Burris, Aaron Nelson, Jesus Vasquez, Ryan Williams, Bryan Bowles, and Natalie Buck (grad student). Team members for the Tempe Town Lake project are Martijn Gresko, Lynne Stocker and Jed Young.
For more information or to learn how your organization can become a sponsor, contact Lauren Wiley at (480) 727-1464 or iProjects@asu.edu.
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