Inside 'Design Day': Projects, Prizes and Job Prospects
Graduating UA College of Engineering students presented their design projects in the annual contest of Wildcat ingenuity known as Engineering Design Day.

By Jill Goetz, UA College of Engineering
May 4, 2016


In the culmination of nine months of work, 100 teams of engineering students presented their projects during Design Day.
In the culmination of nine months of work, 100 teams of engineering students presented their projects during Design Day. (Photo courtesy of UA College of Engineering)

Nearly 500 University of Arizona College of Engineering seniors presented their design projects — the culmination of nine months of labor, and their equivalent of a thesis — during Design Day, with some taking job offers and cash prizes.

Interdisciplinary student teams demonstrated projects they designed, built and tested for their sponsors, along with their teamwork, problem-solving and presentation skills, during the annual contest of Wildcat ingenuity.

During the 14th annual event, nearly 130 working or retired engineers and tech specialists participated as judges, selecting winners in several categories for prizes totaling nearly $20,000. More than $7,000 of the money went to projects with biomedical themes.

The top prize, for Best Overall Design, went to a team that developed a noninvasive slide-staining technique for Ventana Medical Systems using an infrared laser, semiconductor sensor and graphical interface meant to help increase the reliability and consistency of histology-based disease diagnostics.

"If our prototype were implemented into their existing staining platforms, the overall tissue stain quality could be improved and lead to better disease diagnostics and, hopefully, better treatment plans," said Danton Whittier, a systems engineering major and team leader.

"The neatest thing about the project was watching all of our independent subsystems come together to form a successful device," Whittier said. "It was a big morale boost when each team member was able to see the impact of their contributions to the overall system."

Most team members will start engineering jobs or join bioengineering graduate programs. Whittier will work as a systems engineer at State Farm; Collin Gilchrist will pursue a UA master's degree; Jamie Hernandez will pursue a doctorate at the University of Washington; Shawn Iles will work as an optical engineer for Edmund Optics; and Tyler Toth will pursue his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pete Moya has one more semester toward his bachelor's degree.

Another team of six seniors won two awards — for Best Innovation and Best Presentation — for its nasogastric tube placement verification system.

The team attached sensors to the end of the tubing that can detect stomach acids to determine if the tube has gone in the intended direction. 

With some patients, such as those in a coma, it can be more difficult to place tubing through the nose for feeding or removing stomach contents without accidentally entering the respiratory tract, said biomedical engineering senior Chris Gallo, who is bound for the Duke University School of Medicine. The results can be physical harm and even death.

"Our sensors confirm that the nasogastric tube is where it should be," Gallo said. The prototype is a long way from being used in clinical trials, he said, but team sponsor Xeridiem already has filed three provisional patents for the tube system. If the medical product manufacturer and first-time Design Day sponsor files true patents, Gallo and his teammates could be listed as co-inventors.

"One of the many highlights of our program for project sponsors is that we give them the intellectual property on their projects," said Ara Arabyan, a UA associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering who has directed the program since 2009. This year, Xeridiem is one of three Design Day sponsors pursuing patents for senior design projects.

UA's Engineering Design Program also stands out from others in the country in its comprehensiveness, level of organization, interactive website and new mobile app, Arabyan said. "We have several new sponsors, and they are coming in based on what they have heard from our sponsors."

Other big winners on Design Day, thanks to project and award sponsors, included a system to harvest energy from the magnetic fields of power lines, a long-distance remote sensor for measuring deep water quality, a device to stop toilets from leaking and prevent floods, and an entry-level crossbow made 80 percent from pre-existing parts.

Projects ranged from nano-size sensors, to a 3-D printer, to a sea rescue robot launcher, to a refrigerated truck converted to a self-sustaining food-growing pod. And for the thousands of spectators at Design Day from the UA campus, the local community and beyond, app screens and robots were everywhere in sight.

One company that has sponsored Design Day awards for several years is Edmund Optics.

Mary Turner, who earned her bachelor's degree in engineering physics and doctorate in optical sciences from the UA in 1986 and 1993, recently joined Edmund Optics. She presented the company's 2016 Perseverance and Recovery Award to a team for its high-throughput curing oven.

"When I was in college, senior design projects were meant to help students get their feet wet," Turner said. "Now students are working on real projects, with potential applications. It's become more and more real-world."

Extra info

To read about the UA Design Day winners, visit the College of Engineering's site.


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Jill Goetz

UA College of Engineering