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Students Shine in National Competitions

One Group Designed Artificial Limb for Dogs

UMass Lowell Image

Second from left to right: mechanical engineering seniors Johnathan Lawson, Patrick Semeter, Taylor Breau, Anthony Ferrara and Jonathon Fournier receive their award from SME representatives Carl Dekker and Denis Cormier, far left and right, respectively. Photo courtesy SME.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

UMass Lowell students showcased their ingenuity and intellectual prowess by racking up numerous honors and awards in nationwide competitions this spring and summer. Among them is a team of mechanical engineering students who won the top prize at this year’s Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) direct digital manufacturing design competition in Long Beach, Calif., by creating the “Pawsthetic,” a custom 3D-printed prosthetic leg for dogs.

The university also won high marks in other contests, namely the concrete canoe national competition organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in Clemson, S.C.; the Intel-Cornell Cup embedded design competition presented by Intel and Cornell University in Cape Canaveral, Fla.; the Collegiate Wind Competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Boulder, Colo., and the P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) Phase II student-design competition for sustainability hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Alexandria, Va.

“We are very proud of our students’ achievements,” says Joseph Hartman, Ph.D., P.E., dean of the Francis College of Engineering. “The awards not only recognize the quality of their work but also attest to the uniqueness and originality of their ideas.”

Developing the Canine ‘Pawsthetic’ 

“Winning the SME award was a great honor and an amazing way to end our senior year,” says Taylor Breau. “Being able to go to California to accept the award in front of 3D-printing industry leaders was a surreal experience. It really made the whole project and all its challenges worth it.” 

According to Breau and his teammates — Anthony Ferrara, Jonathon Fournier, Johnathan Lawson and Patrick Semeter — an estimated 2.25 million dogs in the United States are affected by leg amputations, mainly due to traumatic injuries. And unlike human prosthetics, artificial limbs for animals are not readily available. The team hopes that by using 3D-printing technology, it can cut down the canine prosthetic’s manufacturing cost, reduce waste and shorten the turnaround time compared to traditional ways of creating a custom prosthetic. “Our goal is to improve not only the quality of life for pets, but also save the lives of thousands of pets across the country,” says Breau.   

The students credit the education and training they received at UMass Lowell with helping them land jobs after graduation in May.

“I was immediately hired as a project engineer at Micron Products in Fitchburg, working in the medical and defense fields,” says Breau. “I’m applying the skills I acquired from the Pawsthetic project to my everyday work.”  

“The project offered an excellent learning opportunity as all phases of the design cycle were addressed, including research, brainstorming, concept design, prototyping, testing and manufacturing,” says Semeter, who is now a systems engineer at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Tewksbury. “It gave us valuable exposure to the emerging and high-tech field of additive manufacturing.”

Ferrara, who is currently working at Simfer Precision Machine Co. in Billerica as a manufacturing engineer, calls the Pawsthetic “a great real-world learning experience that exemplifies the knowledge we had gained during our time at UMass Lowell.”

“For each of the different job interviews I went to, this project took center stage,” says Fournier, now an R&D test engineer at A. W. Chesterton Co., an international sealing solutions provider based in Groveland. “It was a great tool to showcase my capabilities as an engineer.”

“After taking on the Pawsthetic project, I learned how much I could help everyday lives — in this case, a dog’s life — but possibly people too,” adds Lawson. “Thus, I have taken a job at EMD Millipore, a global life-sciences company headquartered in Billerica, to continue my interest. The project was an excellent learning experience for us all.”

The Pawsthetic team was advised by plastics engineering Assoc. Prof. Stephen Johnston.

ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition

UMass Lowell finished eighth overall in the 28th annual ASCE national concrete canoe competition, placing third in the “final product” category for the design, engineering and construction of its canoe named “Backfire,” and fifth in the women’s slalom/endurance race. Twenty-two teams from universities across the U.S. and Canada participated in the finals, a three-day event held in June at Clemson University. 

Student teams from 215 universities entered the competition at its start. UMass Lowell was the only institution from New England and Northeast Canada to reach the championships, having earned the right to compete after besting teams from 10 schools in their regional round in April.   

The competition — dubbed the “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering” — requires both academic and athletic skills. Students must formulate and mix the concrete from which the canoes are molded, construct and decorate the vessel, race it and make sure it does not break during transport to the competition or when it is raced on the water.

This is the second time in three years UMass Lowell has qualified for the nationals and has placed among the contest’s top 10, this year finishing ahead of peers from 14 universities across the country.

Intel-Cornell Cup

UMass Lowell’s “Team NetLane” — consisting of computer engineering seniors John DiZoglio, Anthony Joubert and Bryan Nguon and graduate student Biju Talukdar and civil engineering junior Gabriel Rojas — earned a second-place award at the fourth annual Intel-Cornell Cup expo held at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando in May.

The competition challenges undergraduate and graduate students in computer science and engineering to use embedded design and technology based on the latest Intel Atom processor to envision a better world. Team NetLane’s entry involved observing historical trends in traffic data to help mitigate the adverse effects of traffic congestion by improving the infrastructure for highways, subways and other forms of public transportation.

On average, American drivers waste 40 hours and $818 in fuel a year due to traffic congestion. Collectively, they spend around $121 billion annually on fuel consumption due to high-density traffic. The team’s goal was to use wi-fi sensors to collect traffic data. NetLane targeted buses to determine the volume of passengers at each stop as well as their origins and destinations. This provided a scalable, non-intrusive method of gathering data that transportation engineers and city planners could use and analyze.

Michael Geiger, Ph.D., a lecturer in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, served as the team’s adviser, with significant help from civil and environmental engineering Asst. Prof. Yuanchang Xie.

DOE Collegiate Wind Competition

UMass Lowell’s wind team took fourth place at the second annual DOE Collegiate Wind Competition held in May at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center in Boulder. UMass Lowell has been selected to participate in next year’s competition, to be held May 23 to 26 in New Orleans.

The contest challenges undergraduate students to design scale models of wind turbines, assemble them on-site, test the models in a wind tunnel and present their results to a panel of wind-technology experts. This year, the goal was to design a wind turbine and power electronics that would most efficiently charge a 5-volt battery.

“It involved designing a fly-back circuit and a maximum power-point tracker,” says Frank Tredeau, Ph.D., a lecturer in the ECE Department who is the team’s faculty adviser. “Our students built it using a totally analog circuit made from scratch, as well as custom circuits. For this, the group was awarded a special prize for ‘Most Ambitious Team.’ ” 

The team members included electrical engineering seniors Jonathan Nufio, Guilheme Martins and Kristi Rrapo.

EPA P3 Competition 

Finally, a UMass Lowell team of chemical engineering students received an honorable mention during the EPA’s P3 Phase II competition for the “quality of their design and proposal.” The team’s project — “Green Nanosolder Paste for Next-Generation Electronics Assembly and Manufacturing” — focused on developing an eco-friendly nanosolder paste that is free from lead and halogens for use in soldering connections in micro-electronic circuits.

Old, discarded electronics are accumulating in landfills where acid rain can corrode the aging solder connections. The rain can then run off into the soil, potentially contaminating the groundwater. Lead, a toxic heavy metal, can accumulate in the human body, especially in children, and can cause neurological effects.

The new paste, which contains tin, silver and copper nanoparticles, is designed to replace the conventional solder paste. The lead-free solder nanoparticles also have lower melting temperature, which can make the soldering process more energy-efficient.

The team members include graduate student Evan Wernicki, senior student Edward Fratto and Ph.D. students Yang Shu and Jirui Wang. Chemical engineering Assoc. Prof. Zhiyong Gu is the project’s principal investigator and the team’s main adviser while adjunct faculty member Fan Gao, Ph.D., is co-PI and co-adviser.