EPICS in IEEE Student Teams Tackling Environmental Sustainability Challenges

Project DIANA

Every region of the world faces opportunities to improve environmental sustainability such as integrating renewable energy sources, creating potable water, reducing waste streams, and minimizing resource consumption. Given the importance of these challenges and the need for innovative solutions, EPICS in IEEE has successfully launched the EPICS in IEEE Environmental Competition thanks to the support of the United Engineering Foundation (UEF).

Since the competition launch, the EPICS in IEEE has approved and funded ten team-based service learning projects from eight different US-based Institutions. From a litter-collecting robot for a local lake to nitrogen-sensing drones for understanding air quality, these projects provide hands-on learning and community engagement experiences crucial for professional skills development for secondary and university students. 

All the projects are well underway and the students are learning and problem-solving as they advance their projects. EPICS in IEEE checked in with some of the teams to see what progress they are making. 

Hydration Station Project (Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA)

The Hydration Station project is expected to provide up to 2,050 homeless people with clean drinking water each month while eliminating as many as 1,000 plastic water bottles a week at the Human Services Campus, a non-profit serving adults experiencing homelessness  in Phoenix, AZ, USA.  The Station will contain two major components: A sanitation system that will clean the bottles with soap and a refilling system that will provide filtered water. 

“The ability for the clients of the Human Services Campus to have their own reusable bottles not only helps the environment – it also helps give clients a sense of ownership and belonging,”  said Krickette Wetherington, Project Manager at the Action Nexus at Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service & Community Solutions, who serves as a liaison between the EPICS in IEEE team and the Human Services Campus. “It also allows for a level of independence and brings dignity to those who use their bottle versus having to ask each time they need water.”

The city’s homeless are far from the only ones benefiting from the EPICS in IEEE funded project. Storino, a Chemical engineering student and member of the Hydration Station Project team, said the project is helping his team develop vital skills beyond the classroom. “Communication and collaboration are the two main things that I’ve learned throughout EPICS,” he said. “It has an engineering component to it and also an interpersonal component that involves interacting with stakeholders, your teammates – a whole network.”Spatial Extent Monitoring of Coastal Sunny-day Flooding Project (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA)
This project includes six students from North Carolina State University (NCSU), along with 2 volunteers, who are tackling the tidal flooding challenges in their local community. Their solution focuses on providing the public with needed information, such as the spatial and potential impacts of tidal flooding, through further research and a self-powered camera. 

On May 14th, the student team took a trip to Carolina Beach to deploy the first camera module prototype. On the way to the deployment site, the team had to take a detour as parts of Canal Drive were closed due to sunny day flooding. This unexpected opportunity allowed the team to see the phenomenon in person and how it impacts day-to-day life in the area. 

Through this hands-on experience, the student team is learning invaluable lessons about negotiating product requirements, as well as the value of field testing on both small and large scales. With the results from this field trip, the project team will continue to refine their prototype to best meet the needs of the local community. 

Project DIANA (Ohlone College, Newark, CA, USA)

Seven students of IEEE STEAM Club at Ohlone College have taken on the wide-scale goal of reducing harmful gasses to preserve both native and endangered species while improving biodiversity in the surrounding area. Project DIANA is in Phase One of a three-phase plan to battle this problem. Phase One includes research and data acquisition.

The Project DIANA student team is composed of computer science, robotics, and engineering students. “Working with a diverse team is beneficial because everyone is bringing in their different perspectives, it’s been constrictive and informative,” says Preyasi Shah, Co-manager of Project DIANA.

In the coming months, the team plans on switching focus to Phase Two. The goals are to launch the drone on a practice flight, successfully calibrate its sensors, and prepare the collected sensor data for future use and analysis.

The EPICS in IEEE Environmental competition will wrap up during the fourth quarter of 2022 and the committee is excited to see not only the results of the projects in the local communities but the impact on the engineering students. “The preliminary impact from the student teams already demonstrates an enriched student experience and the possibility for significant community impact,” said Dr. Stephanie Gillespie, the 2022 EPICS in IEEE Chair. EPICS in IEEE would like to especially thank the UEF and the IEEE Foundation for supporting such a worthwhile competition. 

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