Engineering Students Preparing for Beijing Competition

A group of engineering students will get a chance to show off their skills this September against peers from the United States, United Kingdom, and China at a competition in Beijing.

Part of the Global Grand Challenges Summit, six teams from each of those countries are working to develop a technology that helps answer one the “Grand Challenges for Engineering”—a list of fourteen issues that engineers feel pose the biggest threat in the twenty-first century.

Teams have been preparing since January for the competition, an event that team mentor Kevin Kit described as a great opportunity for the students.

“The overall experience will be a pretty big deal,” said Kit, an associate professor of materials science. “To be there, see the teams from around the world, and interact with their peers should be interesting.”

UT’s team consists of seniors Natalie Beitel, Duncan Greeley, Adam Hasse, and David Klumpe as well as junior Christina Sanford, covering electrical engineering, materials science, nuclear engineering, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering, respectively.

“This is an incredible opportunity on various levels,” said Sanford. “It is a huge honor to have been selected for this trip. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined being picked to represent UT, let alone represent it internationally.”

Not only will they be developing a technology that addresses one of the challenges, but this year’s competition also includes the need for teams to consider the business and marketing side of the project.

Kit, along with Roger Parsons and Christopher Pionke, who are both Grand Challenge Scholars Program co-directors and mechanical engineering professors at UT, chose sustainability as the challenge they wanted the team to address.

The team’s idea revolves around taking the crystal zeolite, which can be adapted to remove particular substances from air or water, and adapting it for use around methane.

A farmer, for example, could then use devices to collect methane from animal waste in his or her barn and then use that same gas to power the farm.

“They narrowed down the idea and then came up with something that eliminates pollution and can be a source of heat and energy at the same time,” said Kit. “That not only satisfied the Grand Challenge portion but is a viable business idea as well.”

Kit said that the business-related requirement was a unique component, one that was important to the students beyond just the competition.

“It’s good to have them consider that as part of the design process,” said Kit. “It’s not typical for engineering students to necessarily be thinking about that, and this has made them more aware of the need to keep an eye on what is marketable, not just what is neat.”

For team members, the opportunity to see their engineering skills put to practical use was also an attraction.

“It’s a chance to achieve my goal of applying engineering to improve people’s quality of life, ” said Sanford. “Also, by attending the conference we’ll have a chance to hear great engineers talk about their solutions to modern problems.”

It won’t be all work for the teams though, Kit said. Sightseeing excursions, including trips to the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace are planned to broaden the students’ cultural awareness.

In addition to UT, the other US institutions competing are the University of Southern California, Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Olin College, and the New York Institute of Technology.

The summit is held jointly between the US National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)