Monthly Archives: April 2020

Unable to gather in groups or use on-campus resources for their projects, students and sponsoring companies are finding creative ways to complete senior design projects.

Units across campus have shifted from in-person interactions to virtual meetings, and Interdisciplinary Capstone is no exception. But, since engineering design projects are centered around construction, collaboration and other hands-on work, many teams have had to apply their engineering know-how and problem-solving skills to adapt their projects to new circumstances.

Ultrasonic CPR

Team 19088, sponsored by the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation, is developing a mixed-reality system that provides real-time feedback to people practicing CPR. The deliverable consists of a virtual reality headset and an elastic glove equipped with sensors that can monitor a user’s movements on a dummy.

“I was interested in applying new technologies, like augmented reality, to potentially life-saving and real-world scenarios,” said electrical and computer engineering team member Minh Nguyen.

One of the team’s biggest challenges was finding a method sensitive enough to determine the correct distance the chest should be pushed down in a CPR chest compression. When the accelerometer they tried at first proved to be an ineffective method for measuring depth, they did some out-of-the-box thinking and chose ultrasonic sensors instead.

“They’re used in many automated factories, process plants, robots and even cars,” said team lead Nadine Najdawi, an electrical and computer engineering student. “With some research, we found that the ultrasonic sensor can provide the distance between objects with little error.”

Before the outbreak, the team met two to three times a week at the Bioscience Research Labs, but then they began having meetings less frequently, and with no more than four people. Now, they’ve shifted to meeting only virtually.

“Due to the stay-at-home order, we are unable to 3D-print some of our parts,” Najdawi said. “However, these are mainly design and aesthetic issues. The functionality of our project remains intact.”

Epileptic Seizure Detection

Team 19063 is creating an epileptic seizure detection device for sponsor Intel. Team lead and biomedical engineering student Alejandro Ortega said the opportunity to build a device that could meaningfully impact people’s lives made this project his number one choice.

Their original task was to build an open source system that could detect when a seizure is occurring and notify a person’s caregiver. The team planned a series of clinical trials in Colombia to collect data with their optical sensors and train an artificial intelligence model to recognize seizures, but they had to cancel the trials due to the outbreak.

They’ve shifted gears to focus on creating an easy-to-use data collection system that will train an artificial intelligence model. Any caregiver can operate the system to gather and tag seizure information, helping teach the model how to recognize a seizure. By sharing their results and documentation with the open source community, the team hopes the system can eventually be expanded into a device that warns caregivers when a seizure is occurring.

“This way, our analysis and efforts are not wasted. The original intent of helping people is preserved and will hopefully grow in the open source community with proper documentation,” Ortega explained. “I’ve gained skills that will help me thrive in my career, because I was not afraid of taking on a task that was outside of my discipline. And that challenged me to learn and create something absolutely new.”

3D-Printing Drones… at Home

Team 19079 is developing a system to create low-cost, 3D-printable and easily assembled remote-operated vehicles for Raytheon Missile Systems. This will provide operators a way to create several types of vehicles without needing an expensive supply chain.

But when campus labs and vendors throughout Tucson shut down, the team was left without access to a 3D printer on which they could create the parts for their project. They decided to buy a build-it-yourself printer so they could produce the parts themselves, but a problem with the machine left them stumped.

Their mentors said if worse came to worst, the company could print the team’s parts for them. But they offered something even more helpful first: a Raytheon engineer who walked the students through how to fix the problem. Now, the team is on track to deliver a tangible product.

The project’s sponsors, Jim Bakarich and Rene Van Alstine, are both alumni of the College of Engineering – Bakarich in mechanical engineering and Val Alstine in electrical and computer engineering.

“The students are doing well, applying solid product development strategies and tackling the problems as a team,” said Bakarich, an engineering fellow at Raytheon and product development lead at the Raytheon Bike Shop. “We appreciate the opportunity to help shape these student engineers, who are critical to the future of our industry.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona in 1982, Claude Merrill spent 32 years working for Raytheon. He worked on a number of technologies, but his favorite job was setting up the test and integration portion of a major factory, taking it from a bare-walled building to a fully functioning facility.

His last position was senior department manager in charge of the Presidio Factory of the Future, a showcase factory located in Tucson. Becoming a capstone project mentor in 2017 gave him an opportunity to share his expertise on technologies ranging from low-voltage power supplies to laser receivers.


What inspired you to become a mentor?
My wife, who has a physics degree with a master’s in optics, was hired as a mentor and recommended me for the job. Luckily, the administration thought I would be a good fit. I have spent my career teaching young engineers how to do my job so that I could move on to another. I thought that this job would be a great place to continue that lifelong process.

I really enjoy working with the students and sponsors. I believe that the multidisciplinary team approach to engineering projects is exactly what happens in industry, so this process prepares the students for life as an engineer.

What is your personal experience of having a mentor? How did it help you?
I never really had a mentor. After graduation, I was thrown into the work pond. It was sink or swim. It took me two to three years to reach the level of experience that the Interdisciplinary Capstone 498 students graduate with.

How does being on a mentored design team help students in the professional world?
First and foremost, the course teaches a structured approach to design: proposal > concept of operation > functional requirements > system requirements > system architecture > preliminary design review > critical design review > procurement > integration & test > system verification > final acceptance by customer.

The second major thing that the students learn is how to work in a multidisciplinary-team environment, where they don’t know their team members, and they didn’t necessarily get their first choice of project – exactly like real life.

What’s your favorite team or project you have mentored, and why?
It is very difficult to pick any one team or project as my favorite of all time. I have worked with some exceptional students, with some very successful teams and some not-so-successful teams, on some really interesting projects and some not-so-exciting projects. All of them, in their own way, are my favorite.

Describe an aha! moment you experienced while mentoring a design team, when you saw clearly how students benefit from mentorship.
During my career, I have made or been involved in almost every mistake that you can possibly make in design, integration and testing. I often point out to the students that something won’t end well if they continue on their current technical path. Most of the time they listen, but sometimes they don’t. I think that my best moments come from the teams that never tell me, “Everything that you said would go wrong did!”

What advice would you offer to others considering mentoring a design team?
Don’t do the design work for the team. They’re smart – let them figure it out. Point out the pitfalls they may encounter on the way. And help them figure out how to fully use all members of the team.

How do employers benefit when they hire students who have been on a mentored senior design team?
The employers that hire a student from our capstone program get an employee that understands the full engineering process. They know how to procure parts, how to plan work, how to work with a diverse team, and why configuration management and project planning are important. They understand designing to the requirements rather than designing for perfection. They understand design margin and scope creep. Our graduates can hit the ground running in their new jobs. Without this program, they could spend months to years learning what we teach.

Tell us something fun, impressive or unique about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.
Weird factoid #43: Since January 2005, I have spent 3,252 hours riding 50,028 miles on a bicycle. The vertical component of that is 298.9 miles.

When the campus closure foiled this team’s senior project plans, students turned their focus to creating face shields to protect health care workers from COVID-19.

This year’s students have learned better than most how to adapt to life’s curve balls. Less than two months before Craig M. Berge Design Day, the university shut down facilities in response to COVID-19, and seniors found themselves scrambling to complete yearlong projects.

One Interdisciplinary Capstone team didn’t have access to equipment necessary for wrapping up development of an automated 3D-printing process. But sponsor company Micro FDM enlisted the students help on a new project that built on much of the work they’d already done.

“Hey, since you’re not able to finish the project, how about we change gears and build a printer, at lightning speed, that can print face shields?” asked Erik Orwoll, co-founder of Micro FDM and industry mentor for the project.

A face shield is a thin sheet of clear plastic, attached to a headband, that acts as an extra layer of protection for health care workers by covering the wearer’s face and neck.

Miranda Albo and Scott Bankofier, mechanical engineering; Shawn Dhani, systems engineering; Harsha Dhanraj, industrial engineering; Alex Doumas, biosystems engineering, and Abdi Tasir, electrical and computer engineering all jumped at the chance to help.

“Our team recognized the magnitude of this issue and decided that any footprint we could leave on the road to decreasing the number of COVID-19 cases, we were willing to do it,” said team leader Bankofier.

Crisis Response Design

The six students had spent most of the year developing a way to automate the 3D-printing process for Micro FDM. When a 3D printer finishes printing an object, a person typically needs to move the object aside so another item can be printed, meaning it’s not possible to do round-the-clock 3D-printing without oversight from personnel.

Automating the 3D-printing process means a machine can print one item after another without personnel needing to move the objects aside. Here, four shields are nested together after being consecutively printed.

Tasir, the team’s only electrical and computer engineering student, is developing a feed system driver, or FSD, that integrates with Micro FDM’s existing 3D printer to automate this process.

“The FSD will communicate with the 3D printer’s firmware to load and unload cartridges, or print platforms, so that it can print multiple face shields in one print session,” he said. “This will limit the human interaction with the printer and make the process a lot faster.”

The team also helped design a shield that’s easier to 3D-print, enabling the setup to 3D-print four shields at a time. The first time Micro FDM printed a face shield, it took about an hour and 40 minutes, but within two weeks, the company decreased the printing time to 27 minutes. Now Micro FDM is producing 20 face shields a day and aims to increase production to 50 per day. The goal is to ultimately ship out 5,000 shields every 10 days to health care facilities.

Hands-on Health Care Experience

Interdisciplinary Capstone is a part of the college’s Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Program, which provides undergraduate students at all levels with hands-on design experience. Orwoll turned to the team because he wanted them to get just that, and to have a physical, finished product to show prospective employers. Plus, the company needed extra hands for the project.

“It’s exciting because we’ve got this team of engineers whose expertise we can draw on,” said Orwoll, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the UA in 1989. “This is similar to the project they were already working on, so we thought, ‘Let’s take advantage of that with an effort that can help society.’”

The students have become invaluable to Micro FDM’s shield-making taskforce. Some team members are investigating health care specifications for face masks, and others are working on designing a box for shipping the unassembled face shields to hospitals. They’ve spent the last few weeks in Zoom meetings and sending photos of prototypes back and forth.

“I’ve always wanted the work I do as an engineer to make a difference, to make people’s lives better and easier,” Tasir said. “What I’ve learned from the challenging projects throughout my college career is to not count myself out. They have made me more flexible and made me think more critically to find a solution for every problem thrown my way.”

In a true show of Wildcat spirit, students working on senior design projects decide the show must go on.

Physical distancing guidelines mandated by the university and state and local governments mean that Craig M. Berge Design Day 2020, traditionally a large campus gathering of students, judges, sponsors and visitors, will not take place as originally scheduled. However, engineering seniors in Interdisciplinary Capstone and major-specific capstone courses are keeping the tradition alive in a reimagined, virtual Design Day.

“This Design Day is certainly unlike any other,” said Ara Arabyan, director of the Interdisciplinary Capstone course. “Both project sponsors and student teams have demonstrated exceptional flexibility, creativity and resilience to solve unforeseen problems in extremely unusual circumstances.”

Due to restrictions on physical group meetings and the closure of all on-campus fabrication and testing facilities, many teams are unable to complete their projects as originally planned. Thus, capstone staff and student teams have worked diligently with project sponsors and mentors to create new parameters and expectations for final projects.

“Rather than present to judges in person, senior design teams are recording video presentations about their projects for Design Day judges,” said Don Newman, Design Day coordinator. “After the judging is complete and $45,250 in cash prizes awarded, the videos will be available on YouTube for the public to view.”

Students have switched gears from meeting in laboratories and machine shops to collaborating over Zoom and other online meeting software. Teams with international students who have returned to their home countries are scheduling meetings across the world’s time zones. Sponsors such as Raytheon have stepped up to fabricate parts for teams that have lost access to crucial campus facilities. The members of Team 19101 are helping their sponsor, Micro FDM, 3D-print face shields for health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.

While this is the college’s 18th annual Design Day, it is the first Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Day. In 2019, a generous gift from the Berge family led to the formation of the Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Program, which provides students with opportunities to gain hands-on experience throughout their undergraduate years. In recognition of the gift and the new program, the college has also renamed Design Day.

“Though it’s different than what we initially envisioned, the college is extremely proud to present the inaugural Craig M. Berge Design Day,” said David W. Hahn, Craig M. Berge dean. “We are grateful for the hard work and adaptability of our students, staff, faculty and industry partners. It was a team effort.”

Virtual Design Day will take place on May 5, after which project video presentations can be viewed at

Team 19094

Team 19094 at the Biosphere 2 in January, 2020: Gabriel Prado, Abdullah Al-Battash, Edgar Gomez, Lia Crocker and Tru Quach.

Project Title: Biosphere 2 Controlled Systems Monitors

Team 19094 Members:
Abdullah Al-Battashi, industrial engineering
Lia Crocker, biosystems engineering
Edgar Gomez, electrical and computer engineering
Clayton Matheson, electrical and computer engineering (not pictured)
Gabriel Prado, biosystems engineering
Tru Quach, electrical and computer engineering

Sponsor: Biosphere 2

Team Contributes to Climate-Resistant Coral Development

Biosystems engineering student Lia Crocker came to Tucson from Pittsburgh, PA because of Biosphere 2, the University of Arizona facility where scientists conduct large-scale experiments on seven model ecosystems.

“These contained ecosystems are the perfect place to do research on things like climate change, because if you want to do an experiment about how weather affects ecosystems in the actual rainforest, you’re putting the rainforest at risk,” she said.

After interning at Biosphere 2 in the summer of 2019, Crocker wanted to continue her involvement through a capstone project and asked her home department to sponsor it. Now, her team is developing a controlled monitor system for coral raceways, in which scientists are working to develop new species of the marine invertebrates.

A coral reef raceway at the Biosphere 2

“They’re trying to find a species of coral resistant to conditions caused by climate change, such as rising temperature and changing pH in the ocean,” Crocker said. “It’s important to have really accurate monitoring of what those conditions are.”

Though coral reefs cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, scientists estimate that up to one-quarter of all ocean species depend on the reefs for shelter. They also create billions of dollars in annual economic impact, providing food, tourism jobs and even medicines.

After taking a class where she learned how to use microcontrollers and monitor air quality in the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, Crocker realized she could set up a similar system at Biosphere 2, using a Raspberry Pi. Fortunately, the facility happened to have a couple of the computers on hand already.

The team found open source plans that use Raspberry Pis to monitor home coral reef tanks. Their goal is to scale up the designs for use on larger raceways in controlled environments.

“There’s a place in the Florida Keys where they have 40 of these raceways, with no monitoring system,” Crocker said. “If we built a unit that can be replicated and attach one to each of these systems, that’s important for coral research.”

Due to new social distancing guidelines in response to COVID-19, the team isn’t able to conduct their final acceptance tests at the facility. But they’re not letting that stop them.

“We are doing our best to complete the project with our personal tools and online collaboration,” Crocker said. “Since I am personally involved in this project, I will continue to work on whatever is not completed by the end of the semester.”