Senior Design Projects
Each May, Columbia Engineering’s annual Senior Design Expo showcases the ingenuity and innovation of our graduating class. The day-long event is open to the entire Columbia community and to guests from industry and local schools. Seniors across all of Columbia’s engineering departments demonstrate dozens of projects ranging from patent-pending consumer products to cutting-edge research to proposals for practical improvements to New York City infrastructure.
Here are some highlights from past expos, and stay tuned for details of the next one in May:
29 Electrical Engineering students participated in Columbia Engineering’s 6th Annual Senior Design Expo. With topics ranging from sports to music, from animals to physical therapy, these finished projects culminated a yearlong process of teamwork, science and dedication.
The 2019 Senior Design Expo, took place at Columbia University’s Roone Arledge Auditorium in May 2019, and attracted hundreds of visitors, including faculty, deans, staff, students, and industry leaders.
Students worked closely with their faculty advisors throughout the development of their projects, from design to implementation which provided students with opportunities to be creative and solution-oriented, propelling them to be successful in their professional lives as they graduate from the Electrical Engineering Department.
Learn more about the Electrical Engineering projects:
Baseball Strike Zone Delineator
Joon Mo Park built a baseball strike zone delineator. Contrary to the popularly held notion that the baseball strike zone is rectangular and is ﬁxed, the strike zone is actually constantly changing as the batter is making movements to hit the baseball and has a shape of a pentagonal prism. The proposed delineator calculates for the position of the strike zone using input images obtained from the two set-up cameras and using digital image processing techniques. The delineator aims to aid the umpires in the process of determining whether a pitch is a strike or a ball by providing them an environment where they can compare their calls with those calculated from the algorithm.
Education Logic Blocks
Leah Feuerman, Jacqueline Napolitano, Sayaan Nawaz, and Jackson Welles worked with Columbia Secondary School to develop an educational game to teach students the fundamentals of computer hardware and logic. This project allows students to build their own logic statements using their hands, and see the results with both a computer interface and the structures they build.
Using physical electronic logic blocks, students discover the principles of Boolean algebra as performed on binary signals. Each interconnecting block contains a simple circuit to deﬁne their functionality. Individual blocks will include AND, OR, and INVERT gates, INPUT and OUTPUT variable blocks, TIMER and binary COUNTER circuits, as well as a POWER supply block. A GUI presents the students with logic prompts and allows them to deﬁne the INPUT blocks based on the riddle they are solving.
Chase Stine and Jay Mok built a built-from-scratch amplifier with a custom-built power supply unit. Uses class-D amplification topology, a single positive power supply, has volume control, pre-amplification, feedback, over-current protection and multiple speaker drive capabilities. Can be connected via Bluetooth, phone audio jack, computer audio jack, or other audio output devices such as MIDI keyboards or electric instruments.
Broken Electronics: An IoT Fracture Boot, Walker and Screen
Ryan Davies, Shamirah Tillman, and Mohammad Khojah built an IoT fracture boot. After breaking a bone, the process of recovery is often delayed by putting too much weight on the affected area. Our project seeks to solve this common problem by providing real-time feedback to the patient and useful metrics to their physician. This was accomplished through the use of specialized sensors which read how much weight was placed in critical areas in order to display this information using LEDs and sent it to a database using Wi-Fi. Additional features included fall detection through use of an accelerometer that sent a message to the relevant caregivers. These improvements allow for recovery to be both safer and more effective.
Real-Time Frequency Stabilization and Control Systerm
William Mauro built a real-time frequency stabilization and control sysyem. Discrete analog oscillators are a common sound source in both modern and historic music sound synthesizers, however they have an unfortunate tendency to drift out of tune. In part, this frequency drift can be attributed to the varying characteristics of discrete solid-state components which intrinsically depend on the ambient temperature of the circuit. Additionally, over time, aging circuit elements may deviate from their listed specifications, and a once-calibrated oscillator may no longer behave predictably. In order to combat these difficulties, he developed a novel feedback control system whereby the frequency of an oscillator is continuously measured and adjusted in real-time by digital means in order to maintain precision tuning for any analog oscillator, no matter how unstable.
Benjamin Brigman,Asher Goldfinger, Anthony Gutierrez, and Moises Pena Jr. built an automated food and water dispenser. The idea for Pet-Minder is to create a system of modules that can identify a pet in a multiple pet environment, attributing a particular diet, monitor movements, and relay information about each one to a phone application. This is achieved by the construction of automated food and water dispenser and a “doggy-door” module alongside RFID tag communication with multiple microcontrollers.
Columbia Engineering’s 5th Annual Senior Design Expo showcased 60 projects, including 10 projects that involved 41 students from the Electrical Engineering Department. With topics ranging from climate change to music technology, from cybersecurity to robotic systems, and more, these finished projects culminated a yearlong process of learning, testing, discovery, and team building. Some projects included collaborations with the Computer Science, Earth and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering Departments.
The Senior Design Expo 2018, held at Columbia University’s Roone Arledge Auditorium in May 2018, attracted hundreds of visitors, including faculty, deans, staff, students, friends, and industry leaders. The students’ enthusiasm about their projects was contagious. Students demonstrated through their work that engineering is at the center of cutting-edge technology!
A world of possibilities opened up to students as they applied what they learned in the classroom to everyday life problems. Students worked closely with their faculty advisors throughout the development of their projects, from design to implementation. This process provided students with opportunities to be creative and solution-oriented, thus propelling them to be successful in their professional lives as they graduate from the Department of Electrical Engineering.
A special thanks to students and their faculty advisors, as well as everyone who attended the Expo!
Learn more about the Electrical Engineering projects:
The Butterfly Effect (1st Prize, Electrical Engineering)
Advisor: Professor David Vallancourt
Louisa Sainz de la Maza and Saarthak Sarup addressed the ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) and related security challenges by building upon new concepts on chaotic circuits for encryption. Their project uses a Lorenz Attractor circuit and RF transceiver to create a low power and low cost solution amenable to the constraints of IoT. The Lorenz Attractor acts as the transmitter’s random number generator. A slave circuit in the receiver then decodes the message by synchronizing with the master Lorenz circuit. This PCB implementation points to IC realization for a practical system.
Real-Time Music Harmonizer (2nd Prize, Electrical Engineering)
Advisor: Professor David Vallancourt
D’Arcy Anderson, Rebecca Murray, Anita Rao, Cincy Xiao, and Jimmy Ye built a real-time harmonizer that allows one person to produce multiple notes at once. The harmonizer takes in a voice signal, and outputs the original and pitch shifted voice signals in real time. The device produces a selection of harmonies the user can choose from, including thirds and fifths above or below the original note. Digital logic is then used to generate the notes to harmonize with the input signal. The user has the option to add a reverb and/or phaser effect to the output.
Discrete Alcohol Sensor (3rd Prize, Electrical Engineering)
Advisor: Professor David Vallancourt
Avery Feit, Miguel Gutierrez, Garrett Kaighn, Bernard Nguyen, and Sarah Thompson built a portable, hand-held, capacitive alcoholmeter that measures the alcohol content of a variety of mixed drinks. The device measures the alcoholic content of beverages based on the difference in relative permittivity between water and ethanol. A dedicated circuit connected to a probe submerged in alcoholic beverages outputs a DC voltage corresponding to the detected probe capacitance. Then, after converting this output to a digital signal and referencing it to a lookup table, a microcontroller reports the ABV value for the beverage on a small OLED display.
Advisor: Professor Matthias Preindl
Albert Gao, Ibrahima Niang, Dawei Ren, and Xuexin Wei created a concept design of a high-performance drivetrain for electric vehicles (EVs) following the specifications and requirements of the FSAE Electric Vehicles Competition. An electric motor, instead of a gasoline engine, powers the environmentally friendly EV. The motor receives its energy from a lithium battery, which is regulated by a motor controller based on input from a human driver.
RockEm SockEm Robots
Advisor: Professor Fred Stolfi
Joseph Campo, John Cervone, Elon Gordon, James Harrison, and Nikiander Pelari built a boxing game with two colorful robots connected to sensor packs that create a real-life and dynamic experience for the game users. Two players face off in the ring, where both players control their own robots by placing sensor packs on their wrists and heads. For instance, when one player throws a punch, that player’s robot mimics her movement. Players can also control their robots’ defensive moves by dodging left, right, forward, and back. The losing bot’s head pops up when a player scores enough points against his or her opponent.
Autonomous Fruit Fly Robots
Advisor: Professor Aurel A. Lazar
Amol Kapoor and Seungmin Lee designed an autonomous robotic system to understand how the fruit fly brain operates. The autonomous robotic system consists of a cloud server called NeuroCloud, and remote ground-based robotic modules called FlyRemotes. The NeuroCloud provides computational power for executing computationally demanding tasks such as progressively training a brain circuit model based on information gathered by FlyRemotes. Through multiple experiments, they examined the information processing capabilities of fruit flies’ neural circuitry, and used their findings to determine which fruit fly model has the optimal learning efficacy for a given task.
Automatic Beer Pong Table
Advisor: Professor David Vallancourt
Ryan Davies, Benjamin Fechter, and Jun Hyek Jang built a beer pong table with LCD screens and ultrasound sensors, which automate several key elements of the game. For example, on startup the cups automatically rise to the surface of the table. Once a ball is fairly scored into a cup, the cup automatically lowers beneath the table. The LCD screens monitor progress for each player.
Advisors: Professors Mike Massimino, Fred Stolfi, and David Vallancourt
Alexander Colton, Julia Di, Bailey Fryer, Chuck Poklikuha, and Connie Zhang built four small mobile robots capable of dynamically coordinated movement within a controlled arena. Using computer vision through a camera mounted above the arena, a computer controls the robots wirelessly. The robots work together to locate themselves and move in formation, which is useful for navigating obstacles while exploring new terrains.
Lost Item Finder
Advisor: Professor David Vallancourt
Tianen Chen, Willian Chiu, Tyler Hiller, and Lucas Lalima built a compact GPS tracker that helps people locate stolen or lost large personal valuables, such as backpacks, purses, or musical instruments. The Lost Item Finder device broadcasts its location via public Wi-Fi on a web-based map interface or via Bluetooth by emitting a sound if in close proximity.
Microgrid Design for Hospital Resiliency
Advisors: Professors Robert Farrauto and David Vallancourt, and Jon Nickerson from National Grid
Lucy Banter, Charles Harper, Rebecca Miller, Varshimi Parthasarathy, Kenneth Spranzo, and Kathy Welter designed a microgrid central controller to help hospitals save lives during power outages. They used pre-existing data to generate load profiles for hospitals of varying sizes. Using a modeling software, the load profiles generated an appropriate resource mix for each scenario. The microgrid central controller has the ability to switch the hospital into islanding mode, minimize non-critical load, and dispatch the most efficient energy resource based on feedback from connected devices.
Watch students show off their projects at this year's Senior Design Expo. Video by Jane Nisselson.
Among the many groups tackling human needs were biomedical engineers working on diagnosing and treating maladies quickly and at low cost. Amnitect (Olivya Caballero, Rosa Kim, Namji Park, and visiting junior Shaw Yang) is an insertable device that can help women tell if they have elevated levels of amniotic fluid during pregnancy, helping to detect premature ruptures of the amniotic membrane, while Lumenda (Lizzette Delgadillo, Bryan Louie, Priya Medberry, and Sid Perkins) is a point-of-care device for diagnosing neonatal bacterial meningitis in low-resource settings. Perkins will travel to Uganda in June to pass on the intellectual property to another organization, he explained, as his teammates will be busy with research and/or medical school and he will be working in Paris as a Fulbright Fellow.
Women’s health in Uganda inspired AdneXXa (Tess Cernonsky, Erika McManus, Nina Moiseiwitsch, and Lara Warner), a low-cost female condom that can be boiled for reuse, while Haiku Prosthetics (Amanda Jimenéz, Roberta Lock, Chiang Lu, Georgiana Yang, and William Yu) is waiting on a patent for the adaptable, universal prosthetic socket they designed to help children growing up with artificial limbs. Smartphones enable LUNA (Shujian Deng, Kristopher Harris, Nicholas Primiano, Payal Rana, and Zane Zemborain), a laser ultrasound-guided biopsy needle aid that uses a smartphone app for better insertion, and Sirena (Josh Hughes, Rachit Mohan, Derek Netto, Alexandra Nuzhdin, and Zaheen Sarker), a trimodal assistive system to help EMTs document treatments while keeping their hands free for patient care.
Electrical engineers John Kotey, Chris Kunkel, and Julian Vigil combined a sensing device, machine learning, and an app to create TearsTalk, which analyzes babies’ cries and is expandable to interpret other sounds. The project made the semifinals of this year’s Columbia Venture Competition.
“A baby’s cry contains tons of information, from hunger or discomfort to larger health concerns,” Kotey said. “Our device accounts for ambient noise and is expandable so long as we have an audio signal.”
Others created artistic robots, like the RoBach (Will Cao, Eli Epperson, Cynthia Kallif, Amritha Musipatla, Nick Scarfo, and Johanan Sowah), which combines a Mozart-trained artificial intelligence with an analog synthesizer to compose and improvise music, and Toulouse (Amelia Dunn, Evan Hertafeld, Yadir Lakehal, and Aramael Pena-Alcantara), which paints portraits. Mobile robots ranged from the spherical Robot that Rolls (Grace Liu, Trevonna Meikle, Peter Luning Prak, and Yuchuan Zhang) to Honu, a turtle-like autonomous beach cleaning robot (Bradley Beeksma, Daniel Gonzalez, Jamie Hall, and Alyssa Nicole Posecion).
Also presenting were civil engineers including Kevin Chiu, Colton Doering, Stephen Ho, Rashed Al Qudah, Anel Redzematovic, and Hua Zheng, who designed a proposed extension of New York City’s AirTrain to Astoria, Queens for faster trips to the city’s airports. Chemical engineers John Bender, Sophie Jo, and Zoe Zegers designed a potential plant for producing methanol fuels, while earth and environmental engineers Chris Ahn, Fred Enea, Anna Libey, Xiaocong Susan Liu, Colette McCullagh, and Maria Torres worked with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on ideas for cooling the city’s scorching subway platforms during the summer.
Mechanical engineers Jake Abitbol, Kevin Baquero, Lane Baze, and Benjamin Machtinger designed and made the windproof ONEbrella, which uses a unique double structure to function while still allowing wind through.
“We thought we were done after today,” said Abitbol. “But after all the questions and interest we’ve gotten, we might have to reconsider.”
Showcasing their ingenuity and a broad array of research interests, Columbia Engineering’s Class of 2016 made the third annual Senior Design Expo the most colorful and wide-ranging yet. From CatheCARE, a catheter disinfectant device utilizing UV light to keep bacteria from the bloodstream, to a machine that mechanically reproduces hand movements for knitting, students demonstrated their innovative projects and prototypes to a packed house at Lerner Hall May 5.
“Senior design projects encompass the entire engineering design cycle, from making something work to making a good presentation,” said Shih-Fu Chang, senior executive vice dean and Richard Dicker Professor of Electrical Engineering, kicking off the event. “Today is a highlight and signature for the School and the University.”
Projects from the School’s various departments included a new general purpose programming language called Dice developed by computer scientist David Watkins and a deep analysis of overnight and intraday returns of exchange-transfer funds in emerging markets from Xiao Xu, an industrial engineering and operations research major. Several groups of civil engineering students gave detailed proposals for a variety of bridges to accommodate needs and budgets of communities across New York, while teams of earth and environmental engineering majors addressed issues including optimizing treatment of pharmaceutical waste and assessing the potential benefits of organic fertilizers.
Biomedical engineering seniors tackled a range of health issues. The prototypes they developed included the cerVIA system, which combines a speculum-fitted camera with a screening algorithm to better detect and diagnose telltale lesions that indicate cervical cancer, and HelioCure, a hybrid phototherapy device designed for treating neonatal jaundice in low-resource settings with a combination of filtered sunlight and LEDs. Resistaderm uses a flexible and impermeable bioplastic seal to prevent transmission of skin infections in contact sports, and SafeStep, a sensor-enhanced walker, alerts patients when their gait and posture suggest that they may soon fall.
Many electrical and mechanical engineering students developed solutions for consumer needs, from the Auto-Powered Water Meter wirelessly tracking water usage to ClearChat, an advanced new directional hearing aid, and the Braille Box, a cost-effective portable unit for teaching the tactile language. Others engineered music, such as an instrument that enables mind-controlled musical composition and performance, and devised robots, with capabilities including walking, hopping, putting golf balls, fetching tennis balls, playing pool, and wriggling forward with snake-like peristaltic movement. KeyHand, a glove equipped with a variety of sensors, promised to enhance dexterity in virtual environments.
“Senior projects give you the freedom to be creative and apply all you’ve learned towards ends that interest you,” said Adam Jaffe ’16SEAS, who used what he learned in applied physics and mathematics to design a water-impervious layered membrane based on graphene oxide. “You have the chance to pursue something you’re passionate about.”
Columbia Engineering seniors had the opportunity to showcase their capstone projects at the School’s Senior Design Expo, held May 7 in Lerner Auditorium. Attendees learned about the mechanics, design, and engineering behind a wide range of projects and prototypes from all nine departments, including a mechanical device that mimics the movement of a human hand, a robotic air hockey player, a device that enhances hearing protection for soldiers, and a model for a soccer stadium that can withstand gale force winds and earthquakes.
Students filled Lerner in typical science fair fashion. In her welcome remarks, Dean Mary C. Boyce commended the students’ creativity and collaborative work and the benefits of the senior capstone projects.
“These projects provide the students with the opportunity to go through the entire design cycle. Students learn to work with one another in a team environment, they learn the constraints of time management, the realities of actually trying to build something and make it work and often have an iterative process in doing so and also being responsible for budgeting, designing, fabricating, and testing,” said Boyce. “Whether the project is whimsical or serious, all represent the fundamentals of an engineering approach to problem solving and all represent a solution.”
The expo this year was sponsored by Turner Construction, and in a pre-reception CEO Peter Davoren said the students coming out of Columbia are well rounded and interpersonally skilled—critical qualities needed in qualified engineers. “You can’t just be a scientist,” said Davoren. “The quality of the education here is terrific. We’re going to continue to recruit, and in order to recruit we have to give back too so we want to participate in as many programs as we can in SEAS. It’s a win-win.”
Inspired by Murphy beds and pop-up books, Rambunctious Solutions, a team from mechanical engineering, developed a collapsible table built with a novel material the team synthesized and tested over the past year.
“We started thinking about bringing pop-ups to the human scale for microapartment furniture, and then we went crazy,” said Zachery Wills. “We did our due scientific diligence and worked out the mathematical theory and physics of every component.”
Normcore developed a robotic bass guitar with silicon fingers to pluck strings in carefully calibrated natural fashion, while Saximus created a robotic saxophone player to mimic human performance and Nepollo created an intricate glass harp. A delta robot from Delta Force achieved impressive precision and speed in a series of tasks.
Teams from civil engineering designed resilient and cost-effective structures including novel stadiums, a bridge, and a multipurpose artistic space for dense urban environments.
“Bringing art and innovation to the urban landscape was about a lot more than a building looking pretty,” said Kathilee Kenlock of KNAAK, who designed a three-story building encompassing workspaces for music and visual arts as well as a museum facility. “It took some major calculations.”
Biomedical engineering projects addressed a range of challenges from improving ostomy bags to protecting soldiers’ hearing with noise-dampening headphones to integrating therapy for cerebral palsy into child-friendly video games.
Several chemical engineering teams tackled a challenge to reinvent some of Johnson & Johnson’s popular skin care treatments to address health concerns while preserving viability in the marketplace.
“Our mission was to maintain product efficacy with better marketability and cost effectiveness,” said Andrew Wagner, who worked on an all-natural approach to the Aveeno skin care line.
Other senior projects at the expo included standardizing semiconductor nanoparticles (electrical engineering), exploring the optical properties of graphene for photonic applications (applied physics and applied mathematics), optimizing the delivery schedule of agricultural seed and fertilizer in rural Africa (industrial engineering and operations research), and assessing how best to restore part of the Bronx River for recreational opportunities (earth and environmental engineering).
“My team wanted to create something whimsical that people could play with,” said electrical engineering major Shanny Li, who developed a remotely controlled LED module for turning buildings into interactive art displays. “Engineering is fun, and we want to share that with the rest of campus.”
The School has just launched its year long 150th birthday party with a full week of activities that are engaging students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
On Sunday, February 16, the Engineering Student Council (ESC) and Engineering Graduate Student Council held a dinner for more than 400 in a packed Roone Arledge Auditorium. ESC President Siddhant Bhatt ’14 welcomed everyone and introduced Dean Mary C. Boyce, who gave a presentation on the exciting research that’s come out of the School over the past 150 years and screened a video to mark the sesquicentennial. Columbia Engineering Young Alumni President Whitney Green BS’10, noted that “if you take a good look at our past and current research achievements in the global issues of mechanical developments, computing, robotics, agriculture, health, smart cities, energy, the environment, data science, and more, you’ll see just how far we students, faculty, and alumni can reach and the amazing impact we’ve had on the world. Now, imagine what we will do for society in the next 150 years!”
After the dinner, students went out to view the beautiful 150th light display illuminating Low Library for the rest of the week.
"This was a great night,” says Bhatt. “We should all take a moment this week to look at the decorated Low Library and see Columbia Engineering under the spotlight, and remember what we are all a part of. We are important members of this community and let’s celebrate that!”
Several other events are scheduled this week—which is National Engineers Week (an annual event now known as DiscoverE Week)—including the Archimedes Society Dinner and a talk by Robert McCaughey, professor of history at Barnard College and author of the forthcoming book, A Lever Long Enough: A History of Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science Since 1864; and a SEAS networking event on Wednesday, February 19, for students and alumni, co-hosted by the Center for Career Education and Society of Women Engineers. (To see photos from Columbia's DiscoverE Week events, visit the Engineering Student Council's Facebook page.)
On Monday, February 24, the School is hosting Engineering Icons: A Conversation with Mike Massimino BS’84, an evening open to the Columbia community that features a screening of the documentary, Hubble 3D, at Lincoln Square IMAX and a conversation with Dean Boyce and Massimino. Massimino, currently a visiting professor in the mechanical engineering department, was the NASA astronaut charged with fixing the Hubble space telescope and is featured in the film. To attend the screening, please register here.
Throughout the year, the School will host more than 30 events for faculty, students, and alumni, all with a sesquicentennial theme. These include the Columbia Engineering Young Alumni Blue and White Gala on March 29; Reunion Weekend, from May 29 through May 31; the International Parents Dinner in August, Homecoming in October, and many more.
On May 8, the School will hold a special Senior Design Day Expo to showcase innovative design projects by seniors. This event, which will take place in Roone Arledge Auditorium, will provide an opportunity for the larger Columbia community to celebrate the creative and innovative work of the School’s students.
Two major highlights of the anniversary year are planned for November. The first is “SEAS 150 Symposium,” which will be held on the afternoon of Friday, November 14. The symposium will feature presentations in a mini-TEDx format given by faculty and graduate students that directly link the research that took place early in the School’s history to research now being performed by current faculty.
To cap the anniversary year, the School will host a Founders Day Gala on the evening of Saturday, November 15, in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The Gala will include a cocktail reception and dinner, with remarks by Dean Boyce and additional speakers, as well as a video of the School’s history and milestones. This date marks the exact day in 1864 when the School first opened its doors, with 20 students and 3 teachers. In the ensuing 150 years, Columbia Engineering has grown to accommodate more than 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students and 175 faculty members.