Grasshoppers are 12 times more efficient at converting grass to energy than cows, and could become a major source of protein for humans

Senior engineering students and representatives from local and international companies and departments across the University of Arizona met among greenhouses, grasshoppers and drone ground control systems at the UA Engineering Design Program’s annual open house on Aug. 23, 2018.

Students and sponsors were there for the same reason: to meet their match. While 463 College of Engineering seniors came armed with elevator pitches to impress potential mentors, the companies and organizations — sponsoring 85 projects among them — brought informational material and displays of past projects to attract the college’s top talent.

The Paragon 28-sponsored laser-guided system for ankle replacement surgery won the top prize at Engineering Design Day 2018.

Not Their First Rodeo

Many of the attendees at this year’s open house are returning to the program after commissioning projects in years past.

Paragon 28 sponsored a laser-guided system for ankle replacement surgery, which won the top prize at Engineering Design Day 2018 and left the company pleased as well. Company project engineer Frank Barmes said while he was representing at open house, other Paragon 28 employees were showing the apparatus to a surgeon.

This year, Paragon 28’s project — a device to prepare the ankle joint for ankle fusion surgery — attracted a long line of students.

“We are looking at implementing this project internally as soon as the students are done with it,” Barmes said. “The feasibility the students attained on last year’s project made it apparent to us that we should continue participating in the program.”

Johnny Lyons Baral, a senior applications engineer at Hexagon Mining and 2014 graduate of the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, said Hexagon was happy to come back for its second year.

“We see the value in this for our company when we have projects that maybe we don’t have the time or resources for, but it’s something students can do for us,” he said. “It’s a good support for our company to try something out that we might not do otherwise.”

Staunch Engineering Design Day partner Honeywell is sponsoring a dozen projects for 2019.

Loyal partner Honeywell is sponsoring a dozen projects — an all-time high for any company in the program’s history. They range from a device that recycles exhaled carbon dioxide for spacecraft to a method for reducing leaks in gas turbines.

First Timers

Some project representatives — ranging from pharmaceutical and life sciences company Bayer, sponsoring a greenhouse smart watering system, to PayPal, sponsoring a one-click food bank — were dipping their toes into the waters of the Engineering Design Program for the first time.

Goggy Davidowitz, an associate professor of entomology at the UA, invited students to step inside a large mesh structure to hang out with some grasshoppers. Davidowitz is on a mission to make grasshoppers — which are 12 times more efficient at converting grass to energy than cows — a major source of protein for humans. When he approached biosystems engineering faculty about designing a grasshopper harvester to pull grasshoppers from farmers’ fields for processing into protein, they suggested the Engineering Design Program.

“The initial idea was to get investors and have them put in a million dollars, and hire engineers,” he said. “But this seemed like a lot more fun. We’re using student creativity and talent to try to develop it.”

Alumni Come Home

Some UA alumni who presented at Engineering Design Day themselves just a few years ago are now on the other side of the table, representing companies as sponsor mentors.

Mechanical engineer Timur Taljanovic completed his capstone design project in 2017 through Ventana Medical Systems, a business he’d always dreamed of working for. At this year’s open house, he represented Ventana, which is supporting three projects, as an employee. He remembers his time in the Engineering Design Program fondly.

“This is one of the most developmental things a student can ever do,” he said. “It’s the first time that you apply the theory that you’re learning to a real-world application.”

Brandon Hellman, a PhD student in optical sciences, is sponsoring a hyperspectral imaging smartphone attachment, which can be used to detect fake currency, spot photo fraud and investigate chemical composition.

“The goal is to show we can make a small attachment to detect stuff that was previously hard to detect,” said Hellman, who said his time as an undergraduate in the program in 2015 showed him what UA engineers were capable of. “Students put in a lot of time and effort — and were quite often able to produce amazing results.”

After meeting face-to-face, seniors and sponsoring organizations all ranked their preferences on who they want to work with, and an algorithm assigned groups of students to each project. Now, the teams begin work, to be showcased on April 29 at Engineering Design Day 2019.