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Students Find Novel Ways to Get Water to Less-Developed Areas

Friday, November 20, 2015
Students test human-powered water pumps at the SRC pool.

Pumped Up: For this fall's Appropriate Technologies course, students designed many novel ways to pump water to reach an off-the-grid village. The course was taught by professors from three academic departments.

How would you provide ample water to villagers living "off the grid" on the banks of a small stream somewhere in the developing world?

That was the question considered by 17 students in Rose-Hulman's first Appropriate Technologies course, taught by professors from the civil, mechanical, and electrical and computer engineering departments.

The students were asked to design at least two different pumping mechanisms to get water from the campus' Lost Creek into a bucket at least 12 feet above the stream. They had to consider the limited resources in the imaginary "village," including the scarce means to maintain and repair their pumps.

Students in the class expressed an interest early in the quarter in doing a humanitarian engineering project, says Wayne Padgett, professor of electrical and computer engineering. "I think the students were very engaged in their projects, and that was encouraging," he says.

The students' pumping mechanisms utilized wind, solar, hydro and old-fashioned human power. Some designs kept things simple, while others were more sophisticated. All were restricted to spending not more than $150 on parts.

The designs were put to the test on the course's final exam day, when the students gathered at the creek to demonstrate the reliability of their projects. The most successful pump was a sturdy, low-maintenance hand-pump designed and built by sophomore mechanical engineering major Caroline Johnson and biomedical engineering majors Alicia Leinen, a senior, and Jiaojiao Wang, a sophomore. Their pump filled a five-gallon bucket with water in just 49 seconds.

Water To Developing Countries Articleimamge

Live Streaming: As part of the Appropriate Technologies course's final exam, students pumped water out of the campus' Lost Creek. The multidisciplinary course was offered for the first time this fall after being developed with the support of a grant from the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network.

Other successful designs, in terms of time taken to fill the bucket, were created by seniors Joseph Fifty, Daniel Jenne, and Chad Kohls, all electrical and computer engineering majors. Their pump used a small motor charged by solar power.

Not all of the pumps worked properly, but that's an important part of the learning process, according to the course's professors.

"There's a lot of learning involved, even when things don't work properly," says Michelle Marincel Payne, assistant professor of civil engineering.

Mechanical engineering professor Andy Mech agrees, stating: "You always know why something didn't work, but you don't always know why something did work."

The course was developed and supported through funding provided by the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, which is encouraging the development of entrepreneurially-minded learning programs through educational practice, faculty engagement, and student experiences. Also, guest lectures were provided by alumnus Roger Ward, who has extensive experience in civil and environmental engineering.