Bright Ideas: Highlights from the 2018 Senior Design Expo

May 31 2018 | By Jesse Adams

The challenges were as diverse as preventing blindness and protecting coastal lands. But each of the projects at this year’s Columbia Engineering Senior Design Expo exhibited one thing in common: the kind of big picture thinking that’s come to typify the annual event.

In a memorable fifth installment, more than three dozen interdisciplinary teams showcased their capstone projects at Lerner Hall on May 3, where numerous fresh approaches to clinical needs emerged among the innovations.

Columbia Engineering Senior Design Expo 2018

Some groups, like MoLab (Azraf Anwar, Meghana Noonavath, Jason Patterson, and Darnel Theagene), focused on bringing quick and inexpensive solutions to patients in low-resource settings. That group devised a handy smartphone camera attachment equipped with a machine learning algorithm to automatically diagnose diabetic retinopathy, a disease that can cause blindness if not treated early. The team previously took first place at Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship’s Fast Pitch Competition for their efficient design, which they’ve continued to refine. 

“The goal is to make screening possible in low-resource settings without specialists,” Anwar said. “We have a partnership with ophthalmologists at a hospital in India to help develop our software.”

Similarly inspired were LumiChem (Stephanie Michaels, Hanna Navarro, Rhiana Rivas, Alessandra Schaszberger, and Jingwei Xiao), who made a sterilization device for surgical equipment that uses ultraviolet light and a proprietary chemical wash to achieve comparable results to conventional equipment at a fraction of the cost and energy usage, and Project Nate (Sarah Chiang, Christiana Choi, Madison Cox, and Adriana Echevarria), who developed means for offering personalized oxygen therapy for infants at neonatal intensive care units without access to electricity.

Other engineers took on widespread challenges in cancer and physical therapy. PolypSense (Agustin Acosta-Ghioldi, Drew Afromsky, Julia Joern, Jacob Nye, and Seth Shoap) applies depth-sensing technology and a 3D polyp detection algorithm to help gastroenterologists find colorectal cancer earlier, while PreciPoint (Thomas Bernhardt, Kaiyan Cai, Nicholas Cho, Gabriella Ramil, and Alexander Shields) built an external needle guidance system for better bone biopsies.

The mechanical engineers of A.E.G.I.S. (Arm Exoskeleton Generating Improved Strength) (Xiaotong Geng, Carlos Romero, and Edgar Vanoye) invented a customizable exoskeleton arm to help rehabilitate patients who have undergone bicep or tricep surgery.

“We’d thought about doing a sort of Iron Man arm for strength training, but it was too heavy.” Romero said. “So we started working with soft materials that are lightweight and can work on anybody and any body type.”

All manner of robots also made their debut, from a six-legged All-Terrain Robot (Mark Cartolano, Kevin Dean, Alice Dagle, Erika Soto, and Sarah Wang) that walks in an alternating tripod gait to miniature Swarmbots (Alexander Colton, Julia Di, Bailey Fryer, Chuck Poklikuha, and Connie Zhang) geared to work together on tasks like exploration and moving objects. MAG (Alex Gutierrez, Arjun Gupta, Jared Hanley, George Ko, and Scout Pepper) is an app-controlled robot that autonomously cleans wall-mounted whiteboards, while the PotBot (Kieran Birch-Desai, Steven Cardenas, Xuelong Mu, Luke Pelessone, and Nicholas Villalobos) is an integrated system for producing machine-made pottery.

Groups of civil engineers shared ambitious plans for building impressive structures like The Bayonne Stacks (Serra Akyuz, Stephanie Berrios, Charlotte Broadbent, Alice Boutant, Somto Uyanna, and Sophia Yamas), a modular community to be located on Staten Island’s North Shore, and a major expansion of LaGuardia Airport (Aaron Appelle, John D’Andrea, Anne Gergen, Rebecca Peet, and Joanna Zou) utilizing land on nearby Riker’s Island that may soon become available. Inspired by large-scale floodwalls in Russia and the Netherlands, the NYC Harbor Flood Barrier group (Bhumipak Auewarakul, Zachary Dansby, Bryan Fay, Kevin Obey, and Saurabh Runwal) designed an enormous flood barrier, levee, and gate system to help protect the city from catastrophic storm surges.

Additionally, earth and environmental engineers created projects to help Puerto Rico improve its water infrastructure (Serena Kumalmaz and Alexis Woodhouse) and identify optimal ways to filter New York City’s water supply (Nicole Babendreier, Luke Cook-Griffin, Jamie Feldman, Julia Lee, and David Kim). Computer scientists, applied mathematicians, and industrial engineers also presented research on topics like batteries and cryptocurrencies.

“You see how our students bring together ideas not only from their own majors but across different fields,” said Dean Mary C. Boyce. “That highlights how engineering is not narrowly focused. They’re really thinking outside the box.”

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