WMU seniors to showcase capstone projects

Contact: Cindy Wagner

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Student innovation will be on display at Western Michigan University as graduating seniors showcase their engineering and applied sciences skills in capstone projects on Tuesday, April 16. This semester’s line-up includes an effort improve access to water for people in West Africa and development of a low-cost, do-it-yourself electrometer that is a key piece of equipment in neuron stimulation studies.

Nearly 250 engineering and applied sciences students were able to put their academic knowledge to work for the 74th Senior Engineering Design Conference, with presentations begining at 8 a.m. and continuing throughout the day in Floyd Hall, home of WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Graduating students put their knowledge and skills into practice in real-world settings. Students complete projects in collaboration with industry sponsors, the regional community and our own campus.

The team of Liz Alfaro-Mendoza, Eric Hausermann and Edoardo Marchetti, all engineering design technology students, partnered with Tillers International to design a scalable, low-cost water pump for crop irrigation and livestock hydration in West Africa. The students have designed a pump system that can be built from common materials in Burkina Faso and Senegal which transports over 1000 gallons per week without electricity. A working model of the team's design will be on display during the conference.

"By taking on this job, we are looking at a system that is either hazardous or inefficient in doing the activity needed. It refers to the target area's present water transportation infrastructure. This is like looking at a manufacturing process and determining ways to improve or make it safer. No matter how difficult the problem, it can always be broken down into smaller parts, which is something we discovered throughout this project,” says Alfaro-Mendoza. The team’s work was supervised by Michael Konkel, master faculty specialist in engineering design, manufacturing and management systems.

Another team is reducing the cost of neuron electrophysiology education by developing a “do-it-yourself” electrometer. As one component of electrophysiology testing, this instrument measures the voltage response of a neuron to injected nanoamp-level currents. Such experiments support research in neuron function. The new design costs just $600 and is intended to reduce financial barriers for setting up educational electrophysiology laboratories.

Garrett Russell, Leanne Marie Tuuk and Connor Villanueva, all electrical engineering majors, partnered with researchers at the WMU Neurobiology Engineering Laboratory on the project titled “DIY Electrometer for Neural Electrophysiology.” Their work was supervised by Dr. Damon Miller, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“There were two main things that we learned about from this project: application of circuit design and printed circuit board creation,” explains Villanueva. “Many aspects relate directly to things learned in our classes. The work of graduate student Lucas Essenburg and previous senior design groups has been instrumental in the completion of this project.” Essenburg earned a B.S.E. in 2018 and an M.S.E. in 2019 from WMU.

Participants in the Senior Engineering Design Conference hail from each of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ seven departments and 14 undergraduate majors. The event is held twice each year, in April and December, and allows students to showcase their work, provide fresh perspectives and demonstrate new systems for their projects.

Read about this semester’s projects

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