Fairfield University asks School of Engineering students to be inventors



Invent a tool or system that will be helpful to society.

Image: Engineering studentsThat was the assignment given last fall to Fairfield University School of Engineering students. The fruits of their labor, and imaginations, were recently unveiled to faculty members. An orthopedic glove, designs for 'green' affordable housing, and an electric motorcycle were among the projects completed by students this year under the guidance of professors.  

Jack Beal, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering, explained how the Senior Design course at the undergraduate level, and the similarly themed Capstone Course at the graduate student level, test students' knowledge of many facets of engineering. "They sharpen their competencies in problem solving, design, and in creativity and innovation which are the hallmark of all engineering disciplines."

Four seniors developed an orthopedic glove to help stroke victims and those with hand injuries regain hand strength for grasping objects. The idea for the project generated with Jerry Sergent, Ph.D., professor of electrical engineering, who suffered a stroke a year ago. "It's something close to my heart," he said.

Sergent underwent physical therapy at St. Vincent's Medical Center with Louis Elmo, who helped the longtime Fairfield faculty member regain full use of his hand. "He had agreed with me that there was a need for a glove like this," said Sergent, who is now recovered. "I encouraged my students to work on it. They worked so well together, bringing different disciplines of engineering to the project."

The students put themselves in the shoes of stroke victims. "When you have a stroke, your skin becomes brittle," said Andrew Krywucki, of Philadelphia. "That means stroke victims feel heat quite easily so we had to keep the glove lukewarm."  

After overcoming obstacles involving a heat pump and power issues, the nine-volt battery-operated device worked as designed and received the annual Dean's Award for best project. Darnell Rhynie, of Bridgeport, Conn., noted he and his fellow glove inventors (including mechanical engineering majors Juan Navarro, of Ecuador, and Kaitlin Meszaros, of Selden, N.Y.) agree there is an opportunity for the product to be patented. "This is something that can really help people," Rhynie said.

Image: Engineering studentsSergent adds that there's a "strong possibility" the glove project will continue with a new group of seniors come fall.

Painted Fairfield red, complete with a Stag, a motorcycle requiring no gasoline proved to be another success. Barely making a sound, the rebuilt motorcycle's internal combustion engine was taken out, and replaced with an electric motor and batteries. The bike now uses no hydrocarbon fuels at all and emits no carbon dioxide gas.

"The fact that this bike is moving, and at significant speed, is a huge accomplishment," said Marco Hernandez, of Norwalk, Conn., an electrical engineering major who worked on the project with fellow United Illuminating Company co-worker Luis Tintin, of Danbury, Conn., and mechanical engineering major Andrew Grandin, of Newton, Mass.

With direction from Ryan Munden, assistant professor of electrical engineering, the students were able to get the motorcycle to reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. "This project really tested my mechanical engineering knowledge," said Grandin, who starts training with the Navy Seals later this year.

Munden noted, "These guys were passionate about this project, and this is a success because of it."

Brian Seminara, Dan Caporizzo and James Guinaw designed environmentally friendly affordable housing, as part of the Northeast Sustainability Energy Association (NESEA) Student Design Competition. The contest required a workable plan for a real life housing project for 20 families in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Undertaken with the help of mentor Chris Rappoli, a Fairfield alumnus, the students learned how to use eQuest, a building energy simulation tool, and AutoCAD, architectural design software, while making the housing handicapped accessible and energy smart. Although the Fairfield group placed fourth in the student design competition, they were proud of their accomplishments. "Our cost [for construction per square foot] and heating load were way below the other groups," said Caporizzo, who majored in mechanical engineering.

Other noteworthy inventions this year were a fluid control system involving nanotechnology and a retrofitted wheelchair with a voice-activated sensor to initiate commands. Beal observed that along the way, the design projects provided opportunities for the students to work in interdisciplinary teams. "They learn how to develop initiative and leadership, crucial for working in engineering," he said.

Images: top) A group of engineering students rebuilt a motorcycle that now uses no hydrocarbon fuels at all. The bike also bears a NASA logo, a tribute to the NASA Connecticut Space Grant that helped fund the project. Pictured (L-R) is Luis Tintin, of Danbury, Conn., Marco Hernandez, of Norwalk, Conn., and Andrew Grandin, of Newton, Mass., with Assistant Professor Ryan Munden on motorcycle; bottom) Hernandez and Tintin work on numerous electrical connections in a School of Engineering lab.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 9, 2011

Vol. 43, No. 231