Saving Lives with Sunlight

Saving lives with sunlight

Entire neighborhoods were leveled. Everywhere, there was debris, mud and water — though, none you could drink. 

That’s what Mark Hogg, CEO and founder of WaterStep, saw when his Louisville-based nonprofit responded to a landslide in Mocoa, Columbia. The disaster had also affected the city’s infrastructure, limiting access to safe drinking water. 

“So the only thing that we saw was our bleach maker being able to make a difference,” he said.

The machine can produce medical-grade bleach on-site using a car battery as a power source. But those batteries are bulky, and need to be constantly recharged.

“So we threw this down to the students,” he said. “Instead of using a car battery, could we use a solar panel?”

WaterStep enlisted a cross-disciplinary team of engineers and designers enrolled in Dr. Thad Druffel’s design course at the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering, along with business students at Bellarmine University. U of L connects campus with industry to solve problems and create experiential learning opportunities through its Institute for Product Realization. 

“We’re a team,” said Andrew Callahan, a mechanical engineering student who helped lead the product’s research and development. “We have to go at this entire project as a whole in order to be successful.” 

Under the name “Sun Bleach,” the students developed the product alongside WaterStep’s own engineering team. Other students developed marketing materials and a business plan, which made a strong showing in the statewide entrepreneurship competition, Idea State U.

“With the young people working on this with them… it was this surge of energy,” Hogg said. “So, they fueled us with some jazz.”

WaterStep now plans to incorporate the bleach maker into another project called the “Water on Wheels,” or the “W.O.W.” The tool-laden cart aims to allow people in disaster areas or developing countries to manufacture both safe drinking water and medical-grade bleach. 

But design student Emily Braun said the implications of improving access to safe, sanitary water and bleach stretch far beyond a class project or competition — it’s about saving lives. 

“I know I am just a small pawn in this big game,” she said. “And to be able to work with these people who are implementing this type of change is incredible.” 

 

 

With the young people working on this with them… it was this surge of energy. So, they fueled us with some jazz.
— Mark Hogg, founder and CEO of WaterStep
I know I am just a small pawn in this big game. And to be able to work with these people who are implementing this type of change is incredible.
— Emily Braun, design student at U of L
 

Building Better Crutches

Building Better Crutches

Crutches can help people with disabilities get around better. But even crutches have their limitations — they can be uncomfortable, bulky and difficult to maneuver. 

Those are problems students in the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering are helping to solve. As part of their introduction to bioengineering, the freshmen had two weeks to build a better crutch, while applying the teamwork and product design skills they learned in class. 

One team solved the mobility problem by creating a crutch that can fold in half, and become a weight-supporting scooter. 

“The goal of the class is to expose students to different routes and career paths in bioengineering, from research to industry,” said professor Dr. Jill Steinbach-Rankins, who has taught the class for four years. “But at the same time, for them to gain team building skills and skills in the engineering design process.” 

Every year, students take on a different project with a big impact on human health and safety. Steinbach-Rankins said she chose crutches for this class, due to limited access for disabled people in developing countries.

“We’re first-year engineering students,” said Madeline Mitchell, who was on the student team that build the scooter-crutch hybrid. “It’s kind of nice to work on something that actually has real-world applications so early in our engineering education.”

Past classes have engineered better prosthetic hands, anti-microbial shoes to prevent injury and infection and hovercraft to deliver supplies to people stranded in remote areas. 

The project also introduces students to on-campus resources they can use to build products over the course of their career at U of L, such as the FirstBuild maker space and microfactory. And, they get to apply the skills they’re learning in class. 

“I think it’s a good thing to add to your resume,” said student Barret Adams. “But also, it builds your confidence as an engineer for whichever job you’re looking for in the future.”

I think it’s a good thing to add to your resume. But also, it builds your confidence as an engineer for whichever job you’re looking for in the future.
— Barret Adams, freshman engineering student

Student Startups and Scooters that Roar

Student Startups and Scooters that Roar

They’re entrepreneurs. They’re innovators. They huddle with their teams, talking prototypes, branding and turning their products into the next big thing.

But this isn’t Silicon Valley — it’s a capstone class at the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering, taught in two sections by Dr. Sundar Atre, of the mechanical engineering department, and Dr. Thad Druffel, of the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research.

Enrolled students were put into teams, and told to build a startup company around a product. A few even took their products to competitions, including the statewide business plan competition, Idea State U.

In Druffel’s section of the course, students built companies around solutions for renewable energy and energy efficiency. They used U of L facilities, including the FirstBuild maker space and micro factory. 

One student startup — named LiON, for "lithium ion" — converted a scooter to run on a solar-powered lithium ion battery, and redesigned it to be more marketable. 

"You're actually making a potential product for people to invest in," said Barbara Williams, an engineering student on team LiON. She added that students need to be able to think like a customer, whether they're studying design, business or engineering. 

Druffel also included a handful of art and business students, plus mentors from the greater Louisville community to work alongside the engineers. He said working across disciplines prepares the students for real-world jobs that increasingly ask them to communicate with, rely on and learn from people with different backgrounds.

“There’s going to be a lot of people, and you have to learn, and learn really quick from them,” Druffel said. “We spend the first part of the course just talking about how you communicate as a team — and it’s serious.”

In Atre’s section of the course, teams were paired with graduate researchers to build companies around 3-D-printed prototypes. Among other things, teams used 3-D printing to design custom surgical tools or bone implants. You can read more about Atre’s teams here.

And for students who wanted to go further, Atre also offered to pay for the 10-week LaunchIt lean startup training program at UofL’s J.D. Nichols Campus for Innovation and Entrepreneurship downtown. Several students have taken him up on it.

“While entrepreneurship is not for everyone, I want to expose more of them to it,” he said. “Maybe some of them will take the next step.”

 

You’re actually making a potential product for people to invest in. ...It’s not just class work. You actually have actual experience.
— Barbara Williams, U of L engineering student

FirstBuild: Creative 'think space'

Innovation and Creativity at FirstBuild

There are lots of "think spaces" at the University of Louisville. Some are quiet, and others let you be creative and build things. 

For Jamal McFarland, the latter was FirstBuild, an on-campus microfactory and makerspace backed by Haier's GE Appliances. There, he learned to use 3D printers, laser cutters and water jets, between meetings on product design, marketing and sales.

"It's just innovation," he said. "You have a think space. You have a place that allows you to be creative to your maximum potential." 

While at U of L, McFarland applied for a summer job assembling ovens in the micro factory, then was offered a job teaching his fellow students to use equipment for their projects. He said the access to those tools is unusual for a university, and allows students to apply what they learn in  a classroom. 

"There's not many places like this, really, in the country," he said. "You have free access to all of this high-end equipment... You can't get that anywhere."

During his time at FirstBuild, McFarland got to help with the rollout of GE Appliances' Opal Nugget Icemaker and the Paragon Induction Cooktop. That taught him to develop products and commercialize them. 

Now that he's graduated from the U of L Speed School of Engineering, McFarland uses those skills he as an engineer for Ford Motor Co., where he helps find ways to save the company money by making the plant run as efficiently as possible. 

"Working here (at FirstBuild) was really, really good for me," he said. "I learned way more about... how to run a business while I was working here." 

 

 

It’s just innovation. You have a think space. You have a place that allows you to be creative to your maximum potential.
— Jamal McFarland, UofL grad and cost engineer for Ford Motor Co.

Powering Engineering Education

POWERING ENGINEERING EDUCATION

It's sometimes tough to see things from another's perspective. But in the work environment, that skill is critical to problem-solving and innovation. 

At the University of Louisville, engineering students learn that beginning in their first year, thanks to a new required course that puts them in multi-disciplinary teams. They work together on a series of hands-on projects, such as building a working small-scale power plant and connecting it to a computer to collect and interpret data. 

"The class is unique, in that it brings innovation and creativity into the classroom," said Dr. Brian Robinson, lead instructor for the course. "We provide a better opportunity to set students up for success down the road in their academic career and their professional career."

By working on projects, mostly in the Institute for Product Realization's Engineering Garage, students can take what they learn in the class room and apply it to the real world. This teaches them practical work skills, such as project management, critical thinking, ethics and teamwork.   

The teams are made of students from all engineering disciplines, from computer to mechanical, with each lending his or her own expertise. Bailey Florek, a freshman studying bioengineering, said working in cross-functional teams now is good practice for her future career.

"As a bioengineer, I'm going to be working with other engineers in the future to collaborate on projects," she said. "So, I think knowing what they're doing will help me to better myself, too." 

 

The class is unique, in that it brings innovation and creativity into the classroom...We provide a better opportunity to set students up for success down the road in their academic career and their professional career.
— Dr. Brian Robinson, U of L J.B. Speed School of Engineering
 

Hacking the Future of Cooking

Hacking the Future of Cooking

Home cooks of the world rejoice: the future is going to make your kitchen a whole lot better. 

That is, if the teams competing in the “Future of Cooking” hackathon have anything to say about it. They spent a weekend at the FirstBuild makerspace and micro factory at the University of Louisville building pots that stir themselves and smart cooktops that give you step-by-step recipe instructions.

That second one is Sous Chef, a project conceived by U of L students. Sarah Morris, a senior at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, said the competition gave her a chance to gain hands-on experience. 

“We got to come up with an idea for a product, and then see it through to the end,” said Morris, whose team won for the Best Simblee Connected project. 

The hackathon let each member of the team work outside his or her own area of expertise. They worked on everything from leveraging smart sensors, to creating marketing materials. 

“The atmosphere was great, the people were awesome, and I learned a lot at the end of it,” said John Le, a junior computer engineering and computer science major. “It was a time where makers, engineers, designers, and builders come together in one area to design and innovate the future of cooking.”

Morris got involved in the hackathon through past work with FirstBuild and its backer, GE Appliances, a Haier Company. She now has a job waiting for her at the latter after she graduates. 

"U of L is so closely tied with FirstBuild, it's a great opportunity to continue your hands-on work," she said. Students can go to the space and learn to use tools and equipment they one-day will use in their jobs. 

 

 

The atmosphere was great, the people were awesome, and I learned a lot at the end of it. It was a time where makers, engineers, designers, and builders come together in one area to design and innovate the future of cooking.
— John Le, a junior computer engineering and computer science major
 

Designer Engineering

Designer Engineering

There are many tools in the artist's tool box — paint brushes, charcoal, pencils. But at the University of Louisville, students also work with water jets, 3-D printers and powerful laser cutters.

Classes at the U of L Hite Art Institute have found many ways to incorporate these tools, available on-campus in the GE Appliances-backed FirstBuild makerspace and microfactory. The printmaking studio, for example, has used the facility's equipment to cut stones used in the printing process. 

"It's pretty limitless," said Rachel Singel, an assistant professor. "It's just real... a dream to have those facilities available," she said, adding that it allows students to experiment with new tools and broaden their perspectives by working with people in other fields.

Another instructor, Power Designer-in-Residence Leslie Friesen, used FirstBuild to teach design. She brought her class there to produce 3-D elements for a project, in part, to give them experience with different equipment, materials and methods of production.

"I think it's really nice having the engineers and the designers work together," said Amber Kleitz, a student in the design class. "Having all of these different facets of my design career, even as a student, I feel that I can show how versatile I am." 

Having all of these different facets of my design career, even as a student, I feel that I can show how versatile I am.
— Amber Kleitz, senior in Communication Art & Design
 

Art and Engineering

Art Meets Engineering

Engineering is a science — there's complicated math, physics and chemistry, all coming together to shape our world. But for Taylor Beisler, it's also an art. 

She blends the two disciplines, as a product development technician at FirstBuild microfactory and maker space on the University of Louisville's Belknap campus.

"I love art and I love physics," said Beisler, who graduated from U of L with a fine arts degree. "And for me, they both come together. I take creativity, and bring these engineering ideas to life and go, 'what if we could do this?'"

Beisler uses this cross-disciplinary approach when she helps train other U of L students at FirstBuild. The micro factory allows them to see how what they learn in class can be applied. 

"This is how you actually do your book in the real world," she said. "Not everything in black and white in books works in real life, and I think that's a really beautiful part of engineering to realize."

Today, many other U of L art students are following in Beisler's footsteps. Several classes at the Hite Art Institute are finding ways to incorporate the advanced equipment at FirstBuild into their coursework, such as for painting, graphic design and printmaking. 

 

I love art and I love physics. And for me, they both come together. I take creativity, and bring these engineering ideas to life and go, ‘what if we could do this?’
— Taylor Beisler, product development technician at FirstBuild
 

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

How do students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it in the real world? At University of Louisville, we help them bridge the gap — sometimes, literally. 

As part of their coursework, students in the J.B. Speed School of Engineering Civil and Environmental Engineering Department built a steel bridge and a concrete canoe (that actually floats!).

They're now taking their work to compete in a regional conference for civil and environmental engineering students held at The Ohio State University. If the U of L team wins there, they could go to nationals. 

The project let the team apply what they learned in class. Dawn Dunaway, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter, said real-world experiences like this will help students when they're applying for jobs after graduation. 

"It's a really neat and unique opportunity that we have, especially here at U of L," said Dunaway, a senior. "We're kind of the only ones that get to combine competition with built-in co-ops and our really unique coursework," plus, on-campus facilities like the FirstBuild maker space. 

We’re (U of L students) kind of the only ones that get to combine competition with built-in co-ops and our really unique coursework.
— Dawn Dunaway, senior in civil engineering
 

Hackathons Get Smart

DerbyHacks smart cities hackathon

What do future cities and University of Louisville students have in common? They're smart. 

For proof, just ask the more than 100 students who participated in the 2017 DerbyHacks hackathon at the U of L Institute for Product Realization. The event gave them valuable hands-on experience developing innovative technologies, with mentorship from leading experts from the public and private sector. 

They spent the weekend imagining and hacking software and hardware for connecting future cities — from teaching Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant to play chess to mapping the best places to buy a home, accounting for crime rates and other factors.  

Sam Nwosu, a graduate student at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering and president of the Speed Association for Computing Machinery U of L chapter, said hackathons are a great opportunity for hands-on learning experiences.

"In the work environment, there's so much stuff you need to know going in," he said. "I would say to anyone who's still going through school, just look out for those opportunities to learn and do hands-on stuff, because it'll pay off a lot down the line."

And with hackathons, students can not only gain experience that could help them get jobs after graduation, but they could win prizes doing it. Nwosu went into his first hackathon with zero experience, and still won four scooters. 

There’s a full list of projects and winners here, on the DerbyHacks website. 2017 marked the second annual hackathon, which was organized by University of Louisville students with help from outside organizations. 

In the work environment, there’s so much stuff you need to know going in...I would say to anyone who’s still going through school, just look out for those opportunities to learn and do hands-on stuff, because it’ll pay off a lot down the line.
— Sam Nwosu, a computer science and computer engineering graduate student and president of Speed ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) student chapter.

Mahsa Badami

Mahsa Badami

Doctoral computer engineering and computer science student at the University of Louisville

When Masha Badami applied to the University of Louisville for her doctorate in computer engineering and computer science, she told her future adviser, Dr. Olfa Nasraoui, about her "dream job."

That job would merge "research, innovation and an environment which includes huge communication among trainers and trainees," she said. And U of L could help her find that job, because it's at the "convergence point of science and industry." 

Now close to the end of her program, Badami says she's more inspired than ever to pursue that dream as a data scientist for Apple Inc. She's prepared, thanks to her work with world-class experts at U of L and side-by-side with industry through a nine-month internship with Nationwide Insurance, where she got to contribute to innovative projects involving smart homes and the Internet of Things. 

WATCH: Your Data-Driven Social Life (Mahsa  Badami, U of L)

"I have been collaborating with several business partners, such as commercial claims to help them extract insights from data in various forms," she said. "I truly enjoyed sharing my knowledge in real-world problems as well as learning from my peers."

Badami was inspired to enter this field after watching Steven Speilberg's "A.I." as a teen. Like the characters in the film, she dreamed of making a difference. 

"Now when I look back, I can tell that at that age I was so captured by that concept," she said. "It built in me a hope, a dream that I could, someday, be one of those who change the world."

I highly recommend having some experiences at industry. Even if you plan to continue your career in academia, understanding the real-world problems has such a huge impact on forming your career. It helps you to learn and use new skills and propose solutions which can be used in solving real world problems. In addition, industry has a different working place environment, it helps you to build connections as well as experiencing different set of social skills.
— Mahsa Badami, doctoral student

InfoBeyond Technology LLC

InfoBeyond Technology LLC

InfoBeyond Technology LLC specializes in developing early-stage and highly innovative software products for customers to solve the challenging information technology problems in a cost-effective way.

The company leveraged University of Louisville researcher, Dr. Hongxiang Li, for help with wireless communications and big graph data analytics while developing two new products for cybersecurity.

One of the products, Security Polity Tool, is a software tool that verifies the access control policies, such as who can access a sensitive database. The other product, NXdrive, is a holistic data protection solution against data breach that protects the data from being stolen, tampered, and destroyed.

"Our proposed design can achieve system scalability, spatial-temporal visualization, and computational efficiency by distributed graph embedding and real-time streaming capabilities with implementation of various machine learning algorithms," said Dr. Li. 

Dr. Bin Xie, InfoBeyond's founder, said working with U of L on this project has gone very well, and his company has benefited from leveraging Dr. Li’s expertise and his students. The company also ended up hiring an intern and offering one student a full-time job.

 

Faezeh Tafazzoli

Faezeh Tafazzoli

Doctoral computer engineering and computer science student at the University of Louisville

Faezeh Tafazzoli left another school to come to the University of Louisville's J.B. Speed School of Engineering after learning about our opportunities.

As a student under advisor Dr. Hichem Frigui, Tafazzoli was offered an internship (then two more) doing research for technology giant, Xerox Corp., where she got to work on big, potentially ground-breaking projects.

“I had a wonderful experience while learning a lot about the cutting-edge aspects of research and technology in Computer Vision,” she said. 

In one project, she developed a telemedicine monitoring system for tracking the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, which allowed for easier and more cost-effective care management. In another project, she developed a computer-vision tool that helped track abnormalities in a person’s gait, which can point to other problems in their overall health. 

During her time with Xerox, Tafazzoli was awarded two patents, attended industry conferences, and gained valuable insight into her future career. That’s why she advises other students to engage with industry, too. 

“Regardless of their future plans toward academia or industry, I would highly recommend all students to attend and engage in industry-related activities,” Tafazzoli said. “This would give them better insight about what skills are really needed and how those skills would fit in a team work environment.”

Regardless of their future plans toward academia or industry, I would highly recommend all students to attend and engage in industry-related activities. This would give them better insight about what skills are really needed and how those skills would fit in a team work environment.
— Faezeh Tafazzoli, Ph.D. candidate in Computer Engineering and Computer Science

Tegjyot Singh Sethi

Tegjyot Singh Sethi

Doctoral computer engineering and computer science student at the University of Louisville

During his time at the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering Tegjyot Singh Sethi got hands-on experience working with industry via a very prestigious internship with technology company, Google.

As a doctoral student under faculty advisor Dr. Mehmed Kantardzic, Sethi worked two summers as a software engineering intern at Google Search. There, he got to help improve the music action for the search engine’s knowledge panel, which lists links to third-party apps when you search for music-related entities. 

“The internship helped me to develop sound development skills and enabled me to design and undertake large projects with confidence,” Sethi said. “It also enabled me to develop my network and reach out to my peers to understand my place in the industry.”

Sethi said working with industry is a huge benefit for students, because it allows them to better understand the needs of the world of work they’re about to enter. This is especially true, he said, when students get to be involved in high-impact projects that challenge them to learn new skills.  

WATCH: Adversarial Machine Learning: When Good Machine Learning Leads to Bad Security (Tegjyot Singh Sethi) 

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The internship helped me to develop sound development skills and enabled me to design and undertake large projects with confidence. It also enabled me to develop my network and reach out to my peers to understand my place in the industry.
— Tegjyot Singh Sethi, doctoral computer science at University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering

QuesTek Innovations

QuesTek Innovations

QuesTek Innovations LLC is a small business in Evanston, Illinois, that specializes in new materials development. As a small business, QuesTek lacks all the resources necessary for the full material developmental cycle, such as additive manufacturing (AM) equipment and operation expertise.

QuesTek filled this gap using the University of Louisville’s Rapid Prototyping Center (RPC), which has advanced equipment for additive manufacturing. The company also leveraged the world-class expertise of Dr. Thomas Starr, director of the RPC and an internationally recognized leader in development and application of additive manufacturing technologies.

"In partnering with the RPC, QuesTek has greatly benefitted from the extensive AM facilities and significant background research in AM processing of metals that the RPC possesses," said
David Snyder, Senior Materials Development Engineer at QuesTek Innovations LLC.
"This partnership has greatly accelerated our research into the development of advanced stainless steels for use in production of novel, complex parts by additive manufacturing."

In partnering with the RPC, QuesTek has greatly benefitted from the extensive AM facilities and significant background research in AM processing of metals that the RPC possesses. This partnership has greatly accelerated our research into the development of advanced stainless steels for use in production of novel, complex parts by additive manufacturing.
— David Snyder, Senior Materials Development Engineer at QuesTek Innovations LLC.

NaugaNeedles

NaugaNeedles

NaugaNeedles is a Louisville, Kentucky, technology company that produces a revolutionary nano-fabrication nanoneedle tool made from silver-gallium. The technology was developed using research and development work conducted at the University of Louisville. 

The nanostructure fabrication method created a product that was high performance, durable and low-cost. Following this discovery, NaugaNeedles developed a variety of specialized probes called Needle-Probes, which are now used by researchers as ultra-sensetive nano-sensors. 

"We are are outsourcing a portion of our services to the Micro/Nano Technology Center at UofL," said CEO and founder Dr. Mehdi. M. Yazdanpanah. "We benefit from this collaboration tremendously, by cutting our cost and processing the job more efficiently and timely manner." 

 

We are are outsourcing a portion of our services to the Micro/Nano Technology Center at UofL. We benefit from this collaboration tremendously, by cutting our cost and processing the job more efficiently and timely manner.
— Dr. Mehdi. M. Yazdanpanah, CEO and founder of NaugaNeedles