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Thousands of engineering students show off work in annual Capstone Design Showcase

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More than 1,000 engineering students flooded the corridors of the Zachry Engineering Building on the Texas A&M campus with their Capstone Design projects that ranged from cameras on Earth to plants on other planets.

The students represented 245 different projects, some with industry sponsorships in which they were given a problem and asked to create a solution. Each team created a poster explaining the problem they were given, their process and the solution they developed, along with a prototype.

More than 140 industry judges spent much of Friday visiting with the teams to determine the top three in eight different engineering majors and an overall showcase winner.

The Reliable Instrument Counter ended the day as the overall Showcase Capstone champion, winning $1,500, while the eight awarded majors won first-place prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000.

“We have lots of students, and they are doing some amazing things,” said Magda Lagoudas, executive director of industry partnerships in the College of Engineering.

The annual showcase gives the students the chance to show off two semesters’ worth of work and talk with people outside their programs about their product.

Lagoudas didn’t visit all 245 teams spread across the second through fifth floors of the Zachry Building, but she saw some when they were in the pre-Capstone phase in her class.

“It’s amazing to see not only the development of the prototype, but the development of the students themselves and how they mature through the process,” she said.

Lagoudas said students understand what they can do as an engineer, and the project lets them see how they can apply those skills.

Conner Jenkins, one of the showcase judges and senior project manager with Austin-based Icon, said he was impressed with how applicable the skills were, saying he did not expect such a wide range of industries.

Showcase judge Cheyenne Harper, human resources business partner with Icon, said the event gives the company a chance to recruit future talent who they feel could benefit Icon.

“They’re willing to learn, and they’re super knowledgeable,” she said. She looks at what the students have done with the resources they had. “It’s just really impressive seeing what these students can do.”

Sneha Sequeira and Aaron Ildefonso, both mechanical engineering majors, partnered with the City of Bryan to develop models and a quarter-scale prototype of the Queen Theater crown, saying the project can help preserve the theater’s history.

The lack of documentation of the original crown meant the team had to create the model based on their observations and study of the crown that is still on top of the theater in Downtown Bryan.

“Realizing it spins, realizing this is accurate, I could confidently present this to the City of Bryan and not be worried,” Ildefonso said. “There’s a sense of fulfillment, like, wow, I did my job as an engineer.”

The team, along with the other 244 teams, will present its project to sponsors in the coming weeks.

Ildefonso said the process and seeing the quality of the original crown gave him a greater perspective and respect for engineers who built products from the ground up.

Holden Campbell, a senior mechanical engineering major, was part of the Multiplanetary Agricultural Sustainment team that partnered with SpaceX to develop a prototype to create a system to grow leafy greens and produce off Earth.

The team ended up earning the $1,000 first-place award for mechanical engineering awards.

One of the greatest challenges but most interesting aspects of the project, Campbell said, was the lack of design requirements from SpaceX, saying they were not told a specific size or weight the system needed to be.

Their one main task was determining if a lower-cost lighting system was as effective as a more costly option. The answer they determined is the more expensive option is more effective, producing a more robust product, Campbell said.

Campbell called it surreal to work on a project with SpaceX and said he is proud to present it to the company in Brownsville this weekend.

In the future, he said, he will be watching as SpaceX develops its Mars program to see if he sees any familiar systems.

Senior mechanical engineer Josh Duarte’s Intelligent Chessboard idea came about during the COVID-19 pandemic when he wanted to play board games, particularly chess, but could not meet up with his usual opponents.

Team member and senior mechanical engineering major Cynthia Jarvis said online chess was not an ideal solution because they were participating in “Zoom university” and were tired of looking at computer screens. Unlike most of the other teams, the Intelligent Chessboard did not have an official sponsor, so they had the freedom to develop their own problem and create their solution.

Using magnets and computer coding, the Intelligent Chessboard allows someone to play the computer, but the computer’s actions happen on a physical board.

Some people who saw the computer’s chess piece move on its own with the magnet said it was reminiscent of Wizard’s Chess from the “Harry Potter” franchise.

Duarte said it was refreshing to see people gravitate toward his product and the shock on people’s faces when the first chess piece moves on its own.

“It’s been an amazing process just seeing everything together and to see it actually working and people interacting with it and people enjoying it,” he said.

Jarvis said the electrical and computer science skills needed to complete the project meant the team of mechanical engineers had to do a lot of problem solving and troubleshooting, sometimes spending hours on a single problem.

Duarte said the project aligns with the master’s degree he is pursuing next year at University of California concentrating on product design.

VenuMadhavi Vudayagiri, a high school math and computer science teacher at Round Rock High School and was visiting campus with her son who will be a freshman next year, said she has a lot of information and pictures to take back to her high school students to encourage them to pursue their dreams.

“It’s amazing to see this, and I’ll have a lot to talk about when I get back,” she said.

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