Wastewater methane reclamation for the City of Merced. Odor abatement in BART Plazas. Solar collection for oxygen generation on Mars. UC Merced campus drone tour. Skin test analyzer for Valley Fever patients.
This might sound like a list of cutting-edge, high-tech inventions, which they are, but they are also a sampling of the projects featured at UC Merced’s Innovate to Grow event — I2G — held earlier this month by the School of Engineering.
“I2G is a showcase for collaborations between students, faculty, staff and our community and industry partners in which they develop novel designs and technologies that benefit the region, state and the world,” said Dean of the School of Engineering Mark Matsumoto.
While accredited engineering schools across the nation also facilitate these “capstone” projects and events, UC Merced’s program stands out because of its emphasis on workforce readiness.
Since the majority of UC Merced engineering students pursue careers upon graduation, the capstone program enables seniors to build their communication and soft skills while collaborating with partners such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the City of Merced, Conagra, the E. & J. Gallo Winery and the Turlock Irrigation District.
“We teach students that engineering is a practice — you need to know calculus, differential equations and thermodynamics — but that’s not enough. You need to actually use that knowledge to solve real-life problems,” said Alejandro Gutierrez, professor and faculty advisor for the capstone program.
I2G is a daylong competition and flagship event for the School of Engineering and one of the largest events on campus. Throughout the day, seniors participate in the Innovation and Design Clinic, Engineering Service Learning and Mobile App Challenge, with a midday Design Expo enabling students to pitch their project posters to a bustling crowd of collaborators, faculty, staff and members of the regional community.
Engineering Service Learning, or EngSL, teams work on problems faced by non-profit organizations, creating solutions such as the Mobile Maker Lab — a traveling laboratory for outreach events and K-12 schools. This showcases UC Merced’s innovative programs in an effort to inspire new generations of students toward pursuing higher education.
The Campus Drone Project, a virtual tour of UC Merced expands opportunities for prospective students and their families to visit campus by viewing a narrated tour online in real-time, won first place in the EngSL category.
In the Mobile App Challenge category, Edward Brown, IT director for the E. & J. Gallo Winery, served as a partner to the MAC4 team. Together, they developed an app to manage a network of pipe lineups that move wine from one location to another — to trucks or tanks within a cellar. The new system will optimize the distance of lineups, as well as the number of components used within a lineup.
“I wanted to know about the students’ process more than the outcomes; how they broke it down to arrive at a solution,” said Brown. “The students really grasped the project, which was super complicated, and became more effective at communicating.”
In fact, I2G projects are frequently so successful that students have started up ventures to continue the work they began as seniors or have been hired by their partner company.
For example, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, Tergis Technologies and Sweep Energy are two companies that spun off from I2G projects. In the case of Tergis, founders Michael Urner (’15) and Paul Barghouth — who is currently working on his Ph.D. in Quantitative and Systems Biology at UC Merced — teamed with students to develop a humidifier for babies on ventilation in a neonatal intensive care unit suffering from pneumonia or other respiratory ailments.
Winning their track, student team Power worked with alumni collaborators at Sweep Energy to successfully design, build, and test a non-invasive power supply for two of their devices that monitor loads and performance in a wide range of machinery.
Power team member Luke Kostrikin invited his parents, Tom and Laura Kostrikin, to attend I2G coming from their Bay Area home to UC Merced.
“This is big, what’s happening here. It’s vital for our community and to society,” said Laura Kostrikin. “As parents, we are a springboard for our son’s success, but our future is here in this place.”
For a complete list of finalists and prize winners, please visit Innovate to Grow 2019 .