Senior Design Expo highlights engineering achievements

Engineering students test a new way to rehab wrist paralysis at the senior design expo. Photo: Robert C. Jones Jr./University of Miami
By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Engineering students test a new way to rehab wrist paralysis at the senior design expo. Photo: Robert C. Jones Jr./University of Miami

Senior Design Expo highlights engineering achievements

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
From an aerial transportation system on Mars to a new way to rehab wrist paralysis, graduating seniors in the College of Engineering showcased their capstone projects.

The maneuver was a bit delicate at first, but Samuel Feuer stuck with it.

With a video game-like controller attached to his right hand, he manipulated the animated image of a green worm that appeared on a computer screen in front of him, moving his wrist to the left until the creature came close enough to an apple to take a big bite out of it. 

But after each nibble, the apple would move to a different location on the screen, requiring Feuer to execute another hand movement to chase the fruit. 

As some might say, it was all in the wrist. 

For patients with spinal cord injuries, however, wrist movements, so essential in performing a variety of tasks, can be difficult to make. And the rehabilitation process for such a condition, if patients can afford it, can be non-engaging and require extensive travel to a rehab facility. 

That’s why a team of four University of Miami biomedical engineering students, focusing on the goal of improving wrist function in paralysis patients, created a rehabilitation device that is interactive and easy to use. 

ParaMove uses a portable accelerometer attached to the hand to track wrist movements at different axis points, transmitting the data to coding software that converts the movements to video game-like graphics of a snake and apple. 

It was one of 57 projects featured at the College of Engineering’s Senior Design Expo, a showcase of the capstone projects developed by graduating seniors in all of the engineering disciplines. 

Manhattan-based global investment firm Schonfeld Strategic Advisors, which recently selected Miami as a second headquarters, sponsored the expo. 

A development plan to combat the effects of climate change in a Miami community, an analysis tool to determine if having specialized surgical teams would increase the efficiency of a hospital’s operating room procedures, and a transportation system for a future colony on Mars were among the other projects featured at the event, held May 3 at the Shalala Student Center. 

During the expo, several students like Feuer and other attendees stopped by the ParaMove table, strapping on the controller and moving their wrists to manipulate the worm. 

“We could have done something in a laboratory,” said Golnoosh Goltapeh, one of the ParaMove team members. “But we wanted to go to the core of biomedical engineering. So, we created a device and directed it at a problem that really doesn’t get a lot of attention and where there’s little innovation.” 

Goltapeh and her three team members—Grace Ghiazza, Nicole Navratil, and Tyler Schellenberg—interviewed patients at the Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, getting their input on what would make wrist exercises more engaging. “They said they wanted something fun, something they could take home and do with their families and friends or other patients,” said Schellenberg. 

The four students tested their device on friends and classmates. But time constraints, COVID-19 protocols, and clinical trial restrictions prevented them from trying it out on patients. 

“Research and development can take as long as 15 years in some cases,” said Goltapeh. “We operated on a shoestring budget and came up with something that could potentially be a million-dollar idea.” 

Using various engineering methods to mitigate the effects of sea level rise in a longtime Miami community is the goal of the capstone project by College of Engineering seniors Paul Spada, Ali Alqanaee, Yousef Alsaad, Bader Alshawaf, and Anthony Milton.

The four designed a three-story mixed-used community center for Little River’s El Portal neighborhood, incorporating into their blueprint a floor elevation that corresponds to FEMA’s 100-year flood plain projection maps. They surrounded their structure and a nearby park with vegetated areas and interlocking concrete pavers that capture and store precipitation. And they designed the building with a green roof and structural features that would allow it to withstand Category 4 hurricane-force winds. 

“We applied concepts we learned during all our years at the College of Engineering,” said Milton. “The intermingling of engineering disciplines allowed us to view problems with different perspectives and find new innovative ways to solve them.”

Should we ever reach and establish a base on Mars, a transportation system developed by mechanical and aerospace engineering students Miranda Anhalzer, Yusif Gurbanli, Alexis Abundio, and Johan Zambrano would allow astronauts to travel around the red planet. Their senior design concept, A Transportation and Energy Ecosystem Based on the Martian Atmosphere, captured the Best Project Award at the expo. It is a solar-powered vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that uses wind turbines and converts energy from dust storms, which are quite common on Mars. 

“There wouldn’t be a network of roads on Mars if we ever made it there. So, getting around would best be achieved by flight,” said the students’ faculty mentor, GeCheng Zha, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Aerodynamics and Computational Fluid Dynamics Lab at the College of Engineering. 

“But flying on Mars is extremely challenging because the air is thin. Vehicles need to have ultra-high lift coefficients with high efficiency. The advanced co-flow jet technology with deflected slipstream that the students adopted for their project appears to be the most promising way to get the job done,” Zha said.

“As aerospace engineers, we’re fascinated by flight and space travel,” said Miranda Anhalzer, an aerospace engineering major and team member on the project. “Equally as fascinating is the thought of human space exploration and the eventual creation of a human Martian colony. This concept lies in the not-so-distant future, and with our project, we hope to be a part of this groundbreaking work.” 

This year marked the first time Schonfeld sponsored the expo. “We are excited about our ongoing and long-term relationship with the University of Miami, and taking a lead role in sponsoring the Senior Design Expo is a key step in solidifying that relationship,” said Jennifer Kaplan, head of campus and diversity recruiting at Schonfeld. “We’ve already found strong talent at the University and are looking forward to welcoming several interns this summer.”