“Creativity, Originality, Innovation, and Imagination”

Highlights from the 2019 Senior Design Expo

Jun 04 2019 | By Jesse Adams | Video Credit: Jane Nisselson | Photo Credit: Timothy Lee Photographers

Teams spanning the School and beyond presented their far-reaching innovations and research at a bustling showcase on May 9 to an enthusiastic crowd of peers, professors, alumni, and the public.

From streamlining food prep in low resource countries to fashioning textiles out of a kombucha byproduct, the class of 2019 brought fresh thinking to complex challenges at Columbia Engineering’s sixth annual Senior Design Expo. Overall, nearly 60 teams spanning the School and beyond presented their far-reaching innovations and research at a bustling showcase on May 9 to an enthusiastic crowd of peers, professors, alumni, and the public.

The biomedical engineers behind Hera, a smart bra and mobile app for rapidly detecting inflammation of breastfeeding mothers’ mammary tissues, initially envisioned their system last fall for Columbia’s annual Fast Pitch competition. After winning first place and $1,200 in seed funding, they spent the next six months miniaturizing and streamlining their system into a wireless wearable nursing mothers could readily use.

“We really wanted to come up with a useful product for women’s health,” explained Stephanie Rager, who engineered Hera alongside Rachel Mintz, Kelly Ryu, and Mia Saade. “Our smart bra has multiple sensors mapping temperature abnormalities in the breasts and a wireless transmitter in back to send data to our mobile app in real time and alert mothers before their symptoms progress.”

All four team members will attend medical school next year and are seeking licensing partners to bring their technology to market.

Inspired by an injury, a trio of electrical engineers developed the Smart Walker, a networked walker and boot equipped with sensors and feedback mechanisms that encourage users to correct their gait and distribute weight properly.

“Our professor’s wife had broken her foot,” said Shamirah Tillman, who collaborated on the project with Ryan Davies and Mohammad Khojah. “Thinking about her situation, we came up with the idea of a fracture boot that would buzz when you put too much weight on it, and then started incorporating embedded elements to collect data that can help patients recover.”

Materials scientist Christian Joseph brought a different sensibility to fashion, applying traditional Native American tanning techniques to the bacterial cellulose that forms naturally on top of kombucha to create a striking leather-like fabric. The resulting textile is water-resistant, flame retardant, and suitable for many different purposes. A longtime superuser at the Columbia Makerspace, he’s part of a wave of engineers collaborating with designers to create more sustainable and ethical approaches to clothing.

Nearly 60 teams showcased their capstone projects at the 2019 Senior Design Expo, including a high-rise tailored for the tech sector, which uses renewables to set off its carbon footprint.

Sustainability was a common priority across disciplines: in designing a new high-rise tailored for the tech sector, civil engineers Katherine Burt, Lin Ge, Min Hwang, Isabel Neiva, and Eleanor Rasbach emphasized energy efficiency and incorporated renewable materials to offset their 540-foot structure’s carbon footprint. Environmental engineers Rachel Berkowitz, Daniel Dray, Lillianne Farih, and Heather Morriss investigated methods for better regulating the temperature of the Delaware River in order to protect vulnerable cold-water trout. Hoping to help farmers grow more food with less water on less land, industrial engineers and operations researchers Alysha Hudson, Joshua Lederer, Ara Peterson, and David Reiss-Mello analyzed crop yields of experimental hybrid corns, using multiple regression modeling to explore which strains are most resilient to stressors like inclement weather and insect damage.

Other projects ranged from the whimsical—like the Card Dealer 3000 from mechanical engineers Andrew DePerro, Connor Finn, John Michael Long, and Brian Nicholas—to the potentially life-sustaining, like Instasorg, an inexpensive modular device that renders the tough but highly nutritious sorghum grains that feed much of the developing world faster and easier to prepare from Quincy Delp, Chengke Fan, Jason Fan, Yifei Tian, and Victoria Wang.

“For our seniors, today is the culmination of many hours of hard work and collaboration,” said Dean Mary C. Boyce, kicking off the afternoon. “And for the rest of our students and guests, today is an opportunity to be inspired and energized by the vast display of creativity, originality, innovation, and imagination.”

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