Successful Implementation of SLS Design Projects in the GWW ME Curriculum

June 26, 2017

In the past academic year, students in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering were able to collaborate with the Center for Serve-Learn- Sustain on a number of technically challenging projects that spanned a wide variety of engineering fields and engaged a number of community partners.

Freshmen in Dr. Raghu Pucha’s ‘Introduction to Engineering Graphics’ course were given the opportunity to design a solution for a real life problem close to campus: the furious rate of mold and mildew growth in homes surrounding the Proctor Creek watershed. Community leaders suggested that installing low-cost dehumidifiers in these homes might reduce the wide range of public health risks.  Students in this course teamed up to tackle this challenge, and developed numerous in-home dehumidifier designs that were low-cost, safe, and environmentally sustainable.  

Juniors and seniors in Ms. Allison Mahvi’s ‘Renewable Energy Systems’ class were asked to define a project that addressed pressing community issues concerning sustainable and equitable approaches to food, energy, and water. The wide span of student interests and creativity can be seen in the projects they developed: a concentrated solar power plant for the Southwest and the Southeast, a tidal system for rural Alaska, a wind driven water harvesting system for Afghanistan, and a bioenergy system for central Florida. Students completed a detailed system design, evaluated the economic merit of their solution, and did a lifecycle analysis to understand the implications on the environment, air quality, and food and water supplies.  Figure 1: GWW ME students presenting their energy systems on the last day of class in Renewable Energy Systems

GWW ME Seniors in capstone design undertook a wide variety of SLS sponsored projects that focused on sustainable communities development as well as improving food, energy, and water systems. Working with Dr. Stephen Sprigle, one student team designed a set of portable parallel bars that will improve early in-home diagnosis and intervention for children in need of occupational and physical therapy. Another team focused on developing a device assisting mobility-impaired community members to easily enter and exit their vehicle, increasing their independence. Yet another student team chose to develop a novel, low energy, low water solar driven fertilizer production device. To fully understand the customer needs, students reached out and interviewed local farmers. They then worked with Dr. Marta Hatzell to design a reactor that was able to minimize percentage of the solar spectrum scattered by water, thus increasing the rate of ammonia production.  Figure 2: Left: Portable pediatric parallel bars designed by Dr. Stephen Sprigle's capstone team. Right: Principles of photocatalytic nitrogen fixation utilized in Dr. Marta Hatzell’s capstone team design of a reactor.

Graduate students in Dr. Cassandra Telenko’s ‘Sustainable Systems Design’ course acted locally, and mapped out the extensive network of food waste and material waste systems on the Georgia Institute of Technology campus. After completing multiple stakeholder visits, ethnographic studies, and data analysis, teams created detailed causal maps and system dynamics models of the food and material waste systems on campus. Student findings were shared with Georgia Tech’s food and material management community.

Together, GWW ME and SLS were able to provide students with a number of active, open-ended learning activities that allowed students to apply their engineering skills to real-life problems in both local and global settings. Students were exposed to the interdependent nature of variables in these complex systems, and learned the importance of developing an in-depth understanding of the problem before entering the design phase. GWW ME looks forward to collaborating with SLS on more of these projects in the future!

Dr. Kathryn Wingate is an Academic Professional in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech where she teaches Machine Design.  She also serves as the SLS College Liaison for the School of Mechanical Engineering.