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Left to right: William Astorga, Nathaniel Bauer, Professor Oscar Lopez, Omar Tapia, Miriam Alanis, and Katia Melo give thumbs up next to their presentation board and a bucket mounted on a tripod at the Engineering Showcase.
The Aggies from Texas A&M University's Higher Education Center at McAllen strive to improve the current method of collecting precipitation data, by developing an innovative mechanism to measure precipitation in all forms. From left: William Astorga, Nathaniel Bauer, Oscar Lopez, Omar Tapia, Miriam Alanis and Katia Melo. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering
Five engineering students from the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University's Higher Education Center at McAllen (HECM) have developed an innovative mechanism to measure precipitation in all forms. Branding themselves as '22 Maroon’, the team from the multidisciplinary engineering technology program consisted of Miriam Alanis, William Astorga, Nathaniel Bauer, Katia Melo-Medina, and Omar Tapia. They were assigned a capstone design project that spanned two semesters, aimed at challenging their technical and engineering skills, and they rose to the challenge brilliantly.
The novel device designed by team ’22 Maroon,’ named the Precipitation Measuring Device, can capture rain precipitation, snow and ice, funneling it into a container that houses a tipping bucket mechanism. An electrical circuit designed by the team closes when the bucket tips to one side, triggering an electrical signal. The students also incorporated a data logger and control hardware that was programmed by the students in the C programming language, which enabled the device to capture and store precipitation data on a daily basis. Additionally, the Precipitation Measuring Device can also measure the amount of daily accumulated snow precipitation by utilizing depth sensors, control hardware and software.
The United States Department of the Interior, specifically the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, solicited industry experts to the Counting Every Drop Challenge to improve the current method of collecting all forms of precipitation data, especially snowpack data. The students competed against industry and professional corporations, which had greater resources and funding. The team ’22 Maroon’ device is designed to capture precipitation, a critical and crucial factor in predicting, determining and allocating water resources and usage throughout the United States.
Using funding they earned from HECM's High-Impact Practice Research Competition award, the students' design met the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Specification requirements, and the team entered the competition with their Senior Capstone Design Project. The prototype created by '22 Maroon’ can be installed anywhere by two people in a single day. The team faced challenges in designing the device, specifically with snow capping, where snow accumulates on existing measuring devices and prevents accurate data readings. The students incorporated their knowledge to address this challenge, using an aluminum pipe cylinder to elevate the device approximately seven to eight feet off the ground.
"The students' project was a reinvigoration of life, exploring something beyond what you think you can handle. The students proved to be leaders when they said, 'Yes, we'll do it. We'll accept this challenge and compete.' It reinvigorated the drive for innovation, that wonderful curiosity that drives an engineer. Their ingenuity and creativity have no limit, and they push forward. The interesting problem with the design process is that you don't know if a viable solution exists until you try it. Their project was a real-world example of design, and I saw it happening before my eyes," said Oscar Lopez, professor of practice in the Department of Multidisciplinary Engineering and instructor of record for this particular Senior Capstone Project Design course.
"We used the High-Impact Practice Awards proceeds to design the device and for our trip to present our work product at the Engineering Project Showcase in College Station. I want to recognize HECM's support, particularly Dr. Adolfo Santos, assistant provost at HECM and the High-Impact Practice committee, along with our departmental faculty subject area experts: Dr. Kelly Brumbelow, Dr. Ivan Diaz, Dr. Andrew Conkey, Professor Rafael Fox, Dr. Aldo Nuñez and Dr. Guodong Guo for their most valued support,” Lopez said.

The mechanism created by the students is an impressive application of their technical and engineering skills and a solution to a critical problem. With the students' device, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can improve its current method of collecting data on snowpacks, leading to better water management, conservation and sustainability of natural resources.
Although '22 Maroon’ didn't win the Counting Every Drop Challenge, their innovative device and efforts powerfully illustrate how engineering and technology can address crucial issues.
"Aggie engineering students can compete at a very high level, both nationally and internationally," Lopez said. "This project was a real-world example of design and how our engineering students are well prepared to contribute to any societal need and solution scenario. Their project has immense potential to impact water resource management and conservation, and it's encouraging to witness young minds taking on such significant challenges. We aspire to see more students be inspired by their work and make their impact in contributing to society through their skills and knowledge. This experience has transformed this team of five students in a most impactful way, and it has also been a transformative experience for me. That's what we're all about in engineering at Texas A&M University; we strive as a team to create an immersive, innovative and transformative experience for our students."