Senior Design Expo Showcases Engineering Design and Innovation

May 14 2015 | By Jesse Adams and Melanie A. Farmer | Video: Jane Nisselson | Photos: Timothy Lee Photographers

Columbia Engineering seniors had the opportunity to showcase their capstone projects at the School’s Senior Design Expo, held May 7 in Lerner Auditorium. Attendees learned about the mechanics, design, and engineering behind a wide range of projects and prototypes from all nine departments, including a mechanical device that mimics the movement of a human hand, a robotic air hockey player, a device that enhances hearing protection for soldiers, and a model for a soccer stadium that can withstand gale force winds and earthquakes.

Watch some of the highlights of this year's student projects.

Students filled Lerner in typical science fair fashion. In her welcome remarks, Dean Mary C. Boyce commended the students’ creativity and collaborative work and the benefits of the senior capstone projects.

“These projects provide the students with the opportunity to go through the entire design cycle. Students learn to work with one another in a team environment, they learn the constraints of time management, the realities of actually trying to build something and make it work and often have an iterative process in doing so and also being responsible for budgeting, designing, fabricating, and testing,” said Boyce. “Whether the project is whimsical or serious, all represent the fundamentals of an engineering approach to problem solving and all represent a solution.”

The expo this year was sponsored by Turner Construction, and in a pre-reception CEO Peter Davoren said the students coming out of Columbia are well rounded and interpersonally skilled—critical qualities needed in qualified engineers. “You can’t just be a scientist,” said Davoren. “The quality of the education here is terrific. We’re going to continue to recruit, and in order to recruit we have to give back too so we want to participate in as many programs as we can in SEAS. It’s a win-win.”

Inspired by Murphy beds and pop-up books, Rambunctious Solutions, a team from mechanical engineering, developed a collapsible table built with a novel material the team synthesized and tested over the past year.

“We started thinking about bringing pop-ups to the human scale for microapartment furniture, and then we went crazy,” said Zachery Wills. “We did our due scientific diligence and worked out the mathematical theory and physics of every component.”

Normcore developed a robotic bass guitar with silicon fingers to pluck strings in carefully calibrated natural fashion, while Saximus created a robotic saxophone player to mimic human performance and Nepollo created an intricate glass harp. A delta robot from Delta Force achieved impressive precision and speed in a series of tasks.

Teams from civil engineering designed resilient and cost-effective structures including novel stadiums, a bridge, and a multipurpose artistic space for dense urban environments.

“Bringing art and innovation to the urban landscape was about a lot more than a building looking pretty,” said Kathilee Kenlock of KNAAK, who designed a three-story building encompassing workspaces for music and visual arts as well as a museum facility. “It took some major calculations.”

Biomedical engineering projects addressed a range of challenges from improving ostomy bags to protecting soldiers’ hearing with noise-dampening headphones to integrating therapy for cerebral palsy into child-friendly video games.

Several chemical engineering teams tackled a challenge to reinvent some of Johnson & Johnson’s popular skin care treatments to address health concerns while preserving viability in the marketplace.

“Our mission was to maintain product efficacy with better marketability and cost effectiveness,” said Andrew Wagner, who worked on an all-natural approach to the Aveeno skin care line.

Other senior projects at the expo included standardizing semiconductor nanoparticles (electrical engineering), exploring the optical properties of graphene for photonic applications (applied physics and applied mathematics), optimizing the delivery schedule of agricultural seed and fertilizer in rural Africa (industrial engineering and operations research), and assessing how best to restore part of the Bronx River for recreational opportunities (earth and environmental engineering).

“My team wanted to create something whimsical that people could play with,” said electrical engineering major Shanny Li, who developed a remotely controlled LED module for turning buildings into interactive art displays. “Engineering is fun, and we want to share that with the rest of campus.”

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