2013-14 AggiE_Challenge Project Descriptions

1. Nuclear Spring System: Scalable Clean Water
Dr. M. Holtzapple, Dr. M. El-Halwagi (CHEN) Dr. P. Tsvetkov (NUEN)

A multidisciplinary team of undergraduate and graduate students from Chemical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering Departments is developing a viable nuclear-driven desalination plant which can serve as a scalable clean solution meeting potable water supply demands. Today, one of the largest challenges faced by humankind is the general availability of reliable sources of clean water. The problem is particularly acute in developing countries located in geographical regions with limited water supply. The student team is expecting to provide both in-depth technical evaluations and economic viability studies assessing the proposed system and its chance for being commercially successful. As envisioned by students, the proposed plant will take advantage of established and new developments in nuclear technologies and in desalination technologies assuring both reliability and economical viability of the “nuclear spring system”. The design objectives include efficiency, reliability, operational autonomy, and no environmental impact. To meet those objectives, the novel plant is envisioned to have only one moving part: a small liquid pump. The high-pressure steam produced by the nuclear sub-system powers a jet ejector that compresses incoming low-pressure (e.g., 1.00-atm) salt-free steam to become outgoing moderate-pressure (e.g., 1.04-atm) steam that enters the evaporator.  Because the moderate-pressure side of the evaporator has a higher temperature (e.g., 101oC) than the low-pressure side (e.g., 100oC), heat flows causing the moderate-pressure steam to condense and form distilled water. The heat of condensation on the moderate-pressure side provides the heat of evaporation on the low-pressure side.  In essence, the jet ejector functions as a heat pump that recycles the heat of evaporation.  Depending upon the salinity of the water, one kilogram of high-pressure steam produces 80 to 180 kg of distilled water.

Fall 2013 Final Report

2. Universal Surgery Light Bulb Replacement; Spectrophotometer; Inexpensive Multi-Parameter Tester
Dr. K. Maitland, (BMEN) 

Universal Surgery Light Bulb Replacement

Surgical lamps are often unavailable in developing countries. Furthermore, donated lamps can be rendered useless by power failures or the inability to access and purchase expensive replacement bulbs. A stand-alone surgical lamp designed to provide sufficient light for a surgical setting, be dependable in a wide range of environmental conditions, and have a long lifetime would have a significant impact on surgical practice in the developing world. Students will design a low-cost lamp with simple construction that provides focused and adjustable light. Mobility and the implementation of a back-up battery would allow the lamp to be moved between departments and remain useful during power outages, greatly increasing the effectiveness of the device.   

Fall 2013 Universal Surgery Light Bulb Replacement Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report


A spectrophotometer is a clinical laboratory device that uses multi-wavelength light to analyze a clinical sample. They are expensive, fragile, use complex optics that are easily misaligned and lack adequate power sources. Any of these aspects can render a spectrophotometer useless, leaving clinicians in the developing world unable to run necessary laboratory tests. A basic spectrophotometer designed with a simplified light source and optics may be sufficient for diagnosing high incidence diseases, such as anemia, diabetes and hyperbilirubinemia. The student team will design and develop a robust, low-cost spectrophotometer capable of withstanding the conditions of a developing world hospital. Reliability of the instrument to provide timely and accurate diagnoses, regardless of environmental or power mains conditions, is a critical aspect of the design. 

Fall 2013 Spectrophotometer Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

Inexpensive Multi-Parameter Tester

Biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) frequently need to measure instrument parameters to calibrate and test the functionality of hospital equipment. Commercial devices used for this purpose can cost over $2000 dollars and are out of the budget range of developing world technicians.  An inexpensive calibration unit designed to test for a variety of parameters would significantly impact the work of BMETs in the developing world. Students will design a low-cost, robust device that measures temperature (high for incubators and low for refrigerators), water purity, centrifuge speed, and air pressure. These four parameters were determined to be most useful by students with technical experience in developing hospitals. The device must also be simple and intuitive to use. 

Fall 2013 Inexpensive Multi-Parameter Tester
Fall 2013 Final Report

3. Developing Next-Generation Wastewater Treatment Technologies
Dr. K. Chu (CVEN)

Developing next-generation wastewater treatment technologies - The students involved in this research project will explore and develop novel engineering technologies to improving nitrogen removal and to recovery energy from wastewater. The research is related to two Grand Challenges: Manage of nitrogen cycle identified by the National Academy of Engineering and Create the next generation of sanitation technologies articulated by the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation. 

Fall 2013 Poster Team 1
Fall 2013 Final Report Team 1

Fall 2013 Poster Team 2
Fall 2013 Final Report Team 2

4. Smart Systems for Smarter Infrastructure
Dr. J. Chamberland-Tremblay, Dr. G. Huff (ELEN)

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) have proved to be a vital tool for gathering oceanographic data such as temperature and salinity readings. Recently, the potential implementations of AUVs have expanded to include subseapipeline inspections, min detection and surveying. Some of the new uses though, such as vessel inspection within a harbor, would be better completed using AUVs smaller than any currently fabricated. The size of an AUV is constrained in part by its source of power.

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report 

5. Low Cost Solar Concentrator with Energy Storage
Dr. C. Madsen (ELEC)

The purpose of this project was to develop a prototype solar monitoring system that could be used to monitor a photovoltaic system. When implementing the use of a photovoltaic system, it is imperative to have the ability to monitor the system and its components. By monitoring the system, one can detect any faults that may arise and work to eliminate the cause of any deficiencies in order to optimize overall performance and system output. These monitoring systems are often too expensive to purchase and the cost may not be feasible for a system only made up of one or a few panels. In this project we worked towards developing a low cost photovoltaic system monitor that would monitor solar intensity, temperature, and photovoltaic system output. For this semester of the project, the focus was on monitoring solar irradiance as well as system output. The system output specifically regarded the battery which would be used for energy storage. 

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

6. Preventing Nuclear Terror
Dr. J. Yates (ISEN) 

Team 1: Decision Support Tools for Strategic Fiscal Analysis [DST]

 DST will provide a complete strategic planning tool for short, mid and long-range decision-making in matters of nuclear security. This project will require students to understand concepts embedded within Industrial and Systems Engineering (economic analysis, project management, systems engineering), Nuclear Engineering (radiological safety, nuclear engineering systems and design, nuclear detection), Computer Programming (visual basic for applications, java, human-computer display) and Business (accounting, finance). The final outcome of this project will be a fully functional decision support tool with graphical user interface run on multiple platforms (Microsoft Excel using VBA, Java Applet). 

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

Team 2: Nuclear Material Storage Site Selection Using Geo-Cyber Analysis [LOC]

LOC will combine facility location and site selection methods to analyze appropriate locations for the storage of nuclear materials, including spent fuel and radioactive waste, under multiple criteria. This project will combine traditional techniques in facility location (mathematical modeling, network optimization) with spatial analysis tools and Geographic Information Science (GIS). New nuclear material storage facility locations must balance the location’s potential for cyber exposure with its physical (geographic, environmental) vulnerabilities. Students on this project will work to develop measures for site suitability and facility vulnerability as well as mathematical models for the location of a single nuclear materials storage facility and a set of nuclear materials storage facilities.

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

7. Developing a MOOCS Platform for Online Personalized Learning Allowing Sketch Input
Dr. T. Hammond (CSCE)

The objective of the project is to develop a platform that can be used across several courses, enabling instructors to draw their ‘key’ solutions, and have their students’ solutions compared with the key. Secondly, we will establish both high- and low-level feedback to give the students incrementally based on their drawings. To ensure that the platform is flexible across domains, it will be initially tested and made to work with Japanese/Chinese language learning, chemistry diagrams, and statics diagrams.

8. Designing Transparent Energy Storage Devices
Dr. P. Mukherjee, Dr. H. Liang (MEEN)

The overarching goal of this project is to explore the design and fabrication of transparent batteries building on the principles of nanomaterials for solar cells and 3-D electrode architectures for lithium-ion batteries. Typical materials used in lithium-ion battery electrodes, e.g. LiCoO2 and graphite, are good absorbers below a typical length scale (e.g. 1 micron). However, energy storage and power capability of LIBs is a complex design optimization problem depending on the thickness and areal footprint of the electrodes, which make the battery materials non-transparent. The apparent dichotomy, emanating from the length-scale dependence of material transparency and energy storage capacity, can be resolved by incorporating the concepts from nanomaterials with improved optical properties for solar cells and innovative 3-D electrode architecture design with optimum feature size and footprint area within the absorption limit. The proposed research aims to expose the students to the grand challenge of solar energy exploitation and effective energy storage strategies, as articulated by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), through a multidisciplinary approach encompassing nanomaterials synthesis, fabrication and design building on the sound fundamentals of solar energy physics and physicochemical principles of energy storage. 

The team published a paper on 'A silver-nanoparticle-catalyzed graphite composite for electrochemical energy storage' in Journal of Power Sources. You can read the paper here

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

9. Automated Building Energy Efficiency Analysis
Dr. B. Rasmussen (MEEN)

Team 1: We are engaged with the problem of constructing a portable device that is capable of performing an autonomous energy audit of a building and reduce the amount of time and personnel required to collect data for an energy audit. We are working to develop a sensor system for a UAV capable of conducting the energy assessment of a generalized commercial building envelope, including fenestration, rooftop, insulation, etc., and to obtain the operational baseline of the building (i.e. temperature, humidity, CO2, lighting level, occupancy, etc.).

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

Team 2: The overall aim of the Industrial Assessment Center at Texas A&M University is to develop a portable device equipped with an array of sensors that will aid in performing building energy audits. The particular goal of this project is to construct a UAV capable of conducting a building survey and creating a 3D image of a building exterior and interior compatible with building rendering and analysis programs, such as Google Sketch-Up and Energy Plus, and suitable for simulated energy analysis. 

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

10. Clean Water for All
Dr. A. Srinivasa, Dr. D. Devesh (MEEN) 

Global warming will likely have a severe impact on the potable water supply in much of the world. The New York Times, August 22, 2006 reports that more than two billion people now live in areas with acute water shortage (“Need for Water Could Double In 50 Years, U.N. Study Finds.”). Especially in drought prone semi-arid areas of India, there is an acute shortage of drinking water forcing people (mainly women and children) to bear the burden of trekking long distances to fetch water.

The aim of the proposed activity is to build a high efficiency, low cost solar/waste heat water still that can be deployed in rural areas to purify or desalinate water. This addresses two major NAE grand challenges (1) making solar energy more economical and (2) providing access to clean water. The project team comprises three faculty from Texas A&M, led by Dr. Srinivasa with skills in design, surface chemistry and fluid dynamics and two faculty from IIT Madras, India one (Dr. Mahesh) working on droplet condensation and the other (Dr. Vedantam) working in design.

Fall 2013 Final Report

11. Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Effectively Interdict Highly Enriched Uranium Smuggling
Dr. S. Chirayath, Dr. W. Charlton, Dr. D. Boyle (NUEN)

The AggiE_Challenge project proposed here addresses one of the grand challenges articulated by the National Academy of Engineering, namely, “Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism.” Only a few tens of kilograms (kg) of highly enriched uranium (HEU) are required to build a nuclear bomb but more than one million kg of HEU exists in the world. A concern is that HEU could be stolen and smuggled into the U.S., either as HEU or as a nuclear weapon, for acts of nuclear terrorism. Securing the U.S. borders against attempts to transport HEU is a national priority. Current nuclear material detection technology is inadequate for several important HEU smuggling scenarios. One of the most difficult challenges is the interdiction of shielded HEU being smuggled into the U.S. in cargo or a vehicle. 

Fall 2013 Poster Team 1
Fall 2013 Poster Team 2
Fall 2013 Final Report

12. The Computing Wiki Big Event: Bringing Computer Science Skills to the World
Dr. R. Furuta, Dr. J. Caverlee, Dr. F. Shipman (CSCE), L. Mandell (ENGL)

This project aims to create a Wikipedia-like software-development reference intended for use by non-computer specialists. The initial area of application will be humanities scholars. Drawing inspiration from The Big Event and from crowdsourcing, we will have the bulk of the content produced by volunteer groups of computer science students in one-day-long events. The AggiE_Challenge team is building the Wiki infrastructure needed to support these groups and working on needs assessments to determine what topics need to be addressed. As enabled by these activities, future semesters will coordinate short term, intense, events to bring together Computer Science and English student volunteers to create the Computing Wiki resource. 

Fall 2014 Poster

13. Sustainable Simultaneous Energy Generation and Wastewater Treatment
Dr. A. Han (ECEN), Dr. C. Yu (MEEN)

This project is to develop a bulk-scale fuel cell using low-cost highly-efficient three-dimensional multi-length scale porous matrix electrodes decorated with carbon nanotubes and nanoparticle catalysts for electricity generation with zero emission. The extremely large surface areas offered by the nanomaterials is expected to remarkably improve the performance of fuel cells. Our electrodes do not need expensive platinum catalysts that are required in conventional fuel cells. Current platinum catalysts are not feasible for commercialization with two main obstacles, high cost and low durability. In order to solve these problems, undergraduate students participating in this project will develop a fuel cell using low-cost and highly-efficient nanomaterial based electrodes with non-Pt nanoparticle catalysts. It is expected that our novel nanomaterial based electrodes provide high performance due to much larger surface area with additional benefits of lower cost and higher durability. Students design and build fuel cells, and then test the performance so as to demonstrate the feasibility of the electrodes for practical use. 

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

14. DNA to Go: Portable, Low-Cost PCR Based Diagnostic Assays
Dr. V. Ugaz (CHEN)

The proposal addresses Grand Challenge #14 Global Health (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation): Develop Technologies that Allow Assessment of Multiple Conditions and Pathogens at Point-of-Care

Students involved in this project will design and build simple, low-power instruments to replicate DNA using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The simplicity and robustness of this approach will make it feasible to greatly expand availability of a host of nucleic acid-based diagnostic assays, especially in resource-limited setting lacking dedicated laboratory facilities and skilled personnel.

Fall 2013 Final Report 

15. Artificial Active Transport for Lab-On-A-Chip Applications
Dr. W. Hwang (BMEN), Dr. W. Teizer (PHYS) 

Laboratory equipment has become an integral part of medicine. In the first world, every hospital and clinic utilizes many pieces of large and expensive machinery to diagnose disease. However, this method is very impractical for many applications. When natural disasters occur, it is difficult to transport the all of the equipment needed to where the patients are at. This results in substandard or delayed care that harms the patient. The cost of this equipment can also be prohibitive for its use in the third world. For both these issues, we need to rethink the concept of a healthcare laboratory.

Fall 2013 Poster
Fall 2013 Final Report

16. Communication Network in Remote Areas
Dr. R. Furuta (CSCE)

A 2004 survey determined more than 40 percent of the world’s population live in rural and remote areas in developing countries with little or no access to the Internet and communication with the rest of the world. The student team will develop a prototype for an inexpensive mesh network that can provide connectivity for isolated areas based on the conceptual design developed the previous semester. This network will consist of three wireless access point nodes that will be mounted on pedestals and include a solar panel to meet power needs. Testing will include positioning the pedestals at various locations on campus to measure the impact of building density and distance on the mesh network before the team explores making the system larger scale. According to a case study of the implementation of a similar system in the small city Guanajuato in Santa Catalina, Mexico, Santa Catarina, it was estimated that with a budget of about 10,000 US Dollars, this communication network could be deployed to serve a community of about 5000 people, connect 34 schools, and greatly impact the socio-economic status quo in that region.

Fall 2013 Poster