By Edwin L. Aguirre
A Formula-style race car, a drone-mounted bird tracker, a solar-powered trash collector, a Rubik’s Cube-solving robot and a variety of inventions made with 3-D printing – all designed and built by teams of UMass Lowell students – were among the more than 100 projects and interactive models on display at this year’s “Invitation to Innovation,” or i2i.
The event, which was held May 4 at the Tsongas Center, was attended by more than 2,000 schoolchildren, educators and community and corporate partners. Invitation to Innovation is a celebration of the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and achievement at UMass Lowell, highlighting the creativity and ingenuity that is put to work every day by students in the university’s classrooms, labs and the Lawrence Lin MakerSpace.
More than 400 students from the Francis College of Engineering, Kennedy College of Sciences and Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences participated, many of them seniors who demonstrated the capstone projects they created this year as part of their requirements to graduate. In addition to exhibits on the arena floor, the Solomont School of Nursing mobile simulation lab, parked outside the building, gave visitors a glimpse into the health care profession.
“i2i is an extraordinary showcase of the innovative work of UMass Lowell students. At UMass Lowell, we believe that the best way to solve the world’s problems is to train our students to be solutions-oriented innovators,” says Dean Joseph Hartman of the Francis College of Engineering.
“It’s important for us all to remember that it starts with a simple, but powerful belief on the part of the student. The belief that they can do it. That they can make a difference,” Hartman says.
The event also aims to inspire students in middle and high school to pursue their education in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields. This year’s festivities included the Massachusetts Region IV Middle School Science and Engineering Fair, which was also held at the Tsongas Center.
Some of the UML student projects on display included:
A Telescope for Disabled Stargazers:Electrical engineering (EE) seniors Joshua Cahoon, Parth Patel and Thomas Conley and computer engineering senior Jake Maguy created a wheelchair-mounted telescope system for people with physical disabilities. A small motorized mirror in front of the telescope reflects light from the stars into the telescope, which is mounted on one of the chair’s armrests and remains stationary. Using a joystick, the user can view different parts of the sky by changing the angle of the mirror. The system is connected to Stellarium, a planetarium software that shows where the telescope is pointing in the sky on a tablet computer.
Lowell Canal Trash Collector: In collaboration with capstone partner Enel Power, EE and computer science senior Renan Campos, EE senior Maya Cheriyan and mechanical engineering (ME) seniors Tu Anh Huynh, Willie Ho and Brennden Winton built a floating trash collector for cleaning Lowell’s waterways. The system, which has a framework made of PVC composite, is designed to skim the surface and trap debris into its twin net-lined trash compartments for proper disposal. Two trolling motors powered by 12-volt marine batteries are used to maneuver the collector, which is controlled via Bluetooth using a Nintendo Wii remote.
A Rubik’s Cube-solving Robot: Computer science senior and Honors College scholar Victoria Albanese created an algorithm that teaches Baxter, a two-armed industrial assembly-line robot with an animated face, how to solve the challenging 3-D puzzle. She used centering, edge-detection and computer vision technologies that allowed the robot to grab and twist the edges of the cube precisely and recognize the cube’s color panels.
Analyzing the Chemistry of Emeralds: Using a technique called Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis, Casey Beaudoin, a senior in the Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, analyzed more than 30 crystals of emerald from 11 different countries to understand the geologic processes that produced these highly prized green-colored gemstones. By studying the concentrations of chromium and vanadium as well as other trace elements, Beaudoin was able to determine what geologic settings produced a particular emerald deposit. This can be helpful in forensic investigations of the origin of unknown emerald samples.
Type II Diabetes Prevention: Nursing students Jacqueline Bouley, Molly Bryant, Emily Clifton, Norah Connolly, Brianna Savoie and Amara Sok participated in a community-based health promotion project entitled, “Education and Prevention of Type II Diabetes in the Middle School Population: Lowell, Mass.” At i2i, Clifton and Sok presented the team’s research poster and included a sampling of popular drinks, along with the actual amount of sugar that each one contains. Visitors were shocked to see how much sugar they consume with many of these popular beverages and were taught how to use and understand the nutrition labels found on the products.
Soil-free Farming in Haiti: ME seniors Margaret Davenport, Johnathon Berdos and Lance Harms developed a prototype hydroponic farming system in Les Cayes that could help solve Haiti’s soil problem, which has been damaged from years of monocropping as well as erosion due to deforestation and flooding. The hydroponic system features a bio-sand filter for purifying water and a solar-powered mini-pump that circulates the nutrient solution through PVC pipes where leafy vegetables can be sustainably grown and harvested. The project is being conducted in collaboration with physics Prof. Robert Giles and the Haiti Development Studies Center.
A Camera System for Tracking Endangered Birds: EE seniors Souhail Bouderbala and Trevor Kelly developed a drone-mounted HD camera system to track, study and collect data on endangered bird species without disturbing them or their nests. The camera, which is mounted on a gimbal-stabilized system, can stream live video to an Android phone. The unit is controlled and maneuvered via Wi-Fi using an Android app. This project is a collaboration between the students and the French conservation organization Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux.
Tech companies that sponsored this year’s Invitation to Innovation include Analog Devices, UTC Aerospace, Newark Element 14, Tektronix and Carl Zeiss Microscopy, LLC.
The Industrial Capstone/Senior Design projects were sponsored by Analog Devices, Anokiwave, Axcelis, BAE Systems, Brooks Automation, Dassault Systems, Enel Green Power, General Dynamics, Infineion, LEWA, MACOM, MKS, Raytheon, Rudolph Technologies, Skyworks, Symbotic and UTC Aerospace.