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VCU Engineering Students Present Innovative Projects at 2013 Expo

Seniors’ designs and months of work are integral to graduation      

RICHMOND, VA. March 12, 2013  – Over 200 engineering students will put to the test their research projects and product prototypes – from a digital iron to press virtually any fabric to an inertial electrostatic confinement fusor for laboratory use – at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering’s Senior Design Expo 2013.

The expo – part of VCU’s Student Research Week is Friday, April 19, at 9:30 a.m. at the Science Museum of Virginia.  VCU School of Engineering Dean Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D. will welcome industry leaders and hundreds of middle and high school students who annually attend the event. The expo is free and open to the public.

VCU’s senior engineering students, working across the school’s multiple programs, have spent their senior year conceptualizing, designing and testing projects aimed at improving human life, and advancing technology and research.  The projects—part of VCU’s engineering curriculum since 1999 are the capstone of engineering students’ studies and a requirement for their graduation.

“The Senior Design Expo teaches leadership and design skills in a collaborative environment and provides students the opportunity to develop projects that may lead to product innovation,” said Boyan, dean, VCU School of Engineering.

Among this year’s Senior Design Expo projects are:

  • Biomedical Engineering: An Auditory Tour for the Visually Impaired using RFID Technology
    To help the visually impaired overcome accessibility and navigation problems, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens became the test bed for a project employing radio frequency identification (RFID) and its electromagnetic fields to transfer data from a tag placed in the garden to a visitor’s RFID reader.  The device could be used by the visually impaired to navigate public areas through an electronic compass and auditory feedback, while also providing them with pre-programmed information about the sights before them.
  • Computer Engineering: Steam Iron Digital Control
    It appears to be a simple clothing iron – only this one is an intuitive, menu-driven iron that uses an LCD screen integrated with a microcontroller and built-in sensors.  The design controls settings on the iron, such as temperature and steam, while the touch screen displays a library of fabrics to select – and in multiple languages. Unlike today’s  irons, the prototype could bode customization and convenience for consumers.
  • Computer Science:  Web Application Security
    To challenge the safety of web applications, four students tested a static scanner to explore how well the scanners perform in detecting vulnerabilities in a computer program’s source code.  Their findings: though scanners are a good indicator of gauge application safety, they are not foolproof, particularly in their failure to pick up business logic vulnerabilities.
  • Electrical Engineering: Linear Rotary Motor
    Aiming to combine linear and rotational motions, this motor seeks to find and explore a new ability for these already beneficial machines.  Currently, linear motors can produce high forces at variable speeds moving a payload in a straight line, while rotational motors allow the user to control the rotational motion of the payload.  The students have accepted the challenge of combining these two motions in one payload. By doing so, their work could ultimately enhance medical machinery, assembly line production and security systems.
  • Chemical and Life Science Engineering: Continuous Process for Production of
    Non-rare Earth Metal Nanoparticles for Increased Energy Output of Electric Motors
      With the major issues concerning rare earth elements (REE) being their availability and the environmental impact caused by mining them, this project involved assembling and testing a continuous-flow, modular microreactor system to produce non-rare earth metal nanoparticles from Cobalt starting material.  A continuous flow process would allow for greater process control, more flexible process modification and fewer hazards.  Ultimately, the development of a microreactor continuous flow system would decrease dependence on natural REEs, lower prices on lightweight engines, improve electric motors’ performance and better the environment.
  • Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering: Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusor
    This project stems from the department’s need for a neutron generator to enhance research capabilities for students’ and faculty members’ continued neutronics research.  The team’s design, with a goal of simplicity and safety, uses a high voltage cathode located in a vacuum chamber filled with deuterium gas.  There, a potential difference ionizes deuterium atoms, thus inducing motion of the charged particles and achieving ultra-high velocities.  The project aims to mitigate the risks inherent with a fusor, which include ionizing radiation (neutron and x-ray), electrical shock and chemical as well as fire hazards.

The 2013 Senior Design program is made possible through gifts from corporations, individuals and organizations including Altria Group, Keith Fabry Reprographic Solutions, Mark A. Sternheimer, Sr., Mailing Services, Inc., and the Science Museum of Virginia.