Innovation on Display at Senior Design Day

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Chris Vandevoordt, Lauren Varona, Tim Cieslak, Christine Reinders and Cameron Hurst (L to R) display their fence post removal prototype at AME's Senior Design Day.
Chris Vandevoordt, Lauren Varona, Tim Cieslak, Christine Reinders and Cameron Hurst (L to R) display their fence post removal prototype at AME's Senior Design Day.

“We sit on the edge of new ideas and exciting opportunities, so let the day begin,” said Professor Tom Szabo, as he opened the Biomedical Engineering Department’s 23rd annual section of Senior Project Day. On May 2, seniors from all departments presented the results of months of work to audiences of classmates, professors and industry representatives. Throughout the day, students delivered more than 100 presentations, representing the culmination of their undergraduate engineering education at Boston University. 

Kelli Bechly (BME) had the third presentation of the morning. She spoke about her project to help cochlear implant users better locate sounds in noisy situations. She used a technique called high-pass filtering to help eliminate some extraneous noises.  

“At first, this was all theory. Then when I realized the high pass filtering would actually help people, it made me more eager to say, ‘Okay, what’s next? How are we going to implement this?’ It’s very exciting,” she said.

AME students Stuart Calder, Steven Chen, David Christman, Katie Fenyak and Jonathan Shipp aided Omri Geva, a 2010 Israeli Olympic hopeful in the skeleton, a sport in which racers navigate an icy downhill track while laying head-first and stomach-down on a sled. Geva was looking to optimize his skeleton sled’s runner profile – cylinder rods that guide the sled on the track’s ice.

Using a half-scale of an Olympic-regulation skeleton sled, the group was able to achieve its goal of determining the coefficient of kinetic friction between three different prototype runners on an icy surface. They provided Geva with an accurate assessment of which runner is most suited to achieving the fastest race times in Olympic competition.

“At the Olympic level, skeleton races are literally decided by hundredths of a second,” Calder said. “We initially weren’t sure what we were going to get. It was interesting to transition from the initial idea to theory to research to design and see gratification in the successful results.”

Stephen Farawell, Matthew Krill and Jordan Steinhart (all MFG) presented the results of their semester working with Abe Schneider of NatEl, a California start-up company that produces a hydroengine that generates electricity from water in a more environmentally friendly way than rotors, which can harm fish. The team talked regularly with Schneider via Internet video meetings, and prototyped and priced parts of the hydroengine, saving NatEl 83 percent by making welding improvements and soliciting competitive bids on the job.

“This is a one-of-a-kind proprietary technology,” said Krill. “We learned new things about this device every day.”

AME seniors Cameron Hurst, Christine Reinders, Timothy Cieslak, Chris Vandevoordt and Lauren Varona tackled a problem that was both mechanically involved and fairly common – fence post removal. The group designed a full-scale prototype able to lift fence posts up to 1,000 pounds, and successfully implemented material yield strength, durability, manufacturing cost variables and safety features in designing and creating the device. During testing, the team removed four full-sized fence posts from the yard of a Tyngsboro, Mass. home.

“The project definitely encompassed our four years here,” Vandevoordt said. “Senior design is completely different from a classroom environment. We had to expect the unexpected, and there was always a surprise in our research or design.”

Despite the diverse projects and varied results, each senior design team learned valuable lessons that will prepare them for their future careers.

“At a big company, there might be 500 people who could do the job you’re doing,” said Steinhart, “but here – if you’re wrong, it’s all on you.”

Abe Schneider of NatEl, Stephen Farawell, Matthew Krill and Jordan Steinhart hold a blade assembly for the Schneider Lindear Hydroengine.
Abe Schneider of NatEl, Stephen Farawell, Matthew Krill and Jordan Steinhart hold a blade assembly for the Schneider Lindear Hydroengine.

Katie Fenyak, Jonathan Shipp, Steve Chen, Stuart Calder and David Christman with their skeleton sled protoype made for Olympic hopeful Omri Geva.
Katie Fenyak, Jonathan Shipp, Steve Chen, Stuart Calder and David Christman with their skeleton sled protoype made for Olympic hopeful Omri Geva.