UAH Senior Design Students Develop New Water Supply System for Nicaraguan Village Engineers Without Borders

BYLINE: Russ Nelson

Newswise – Senior electrical engineering design students at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) recently designed an automatic chlorine dispenser to improve the water supply for a village in Sabana Larga, Nicaragua. The project was implemented together with the UAH chapter Engineers Without Borders (EWB). EWB USA is a non-governmental organization working on engineering-oriented international development work.

Four electrical engineering students, Nicole Barnes, Noah Girkin, Audrey Sims and Mary Stewart, enrolled in UAH's College of Engineering, part of the University of Alabama system, worked together as the “Girados Team” to design and implement the dispenser system. Part of their EE494 Design course. The team is advised by Dennis Hight, Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“UAH EWB is working in partnership with Vanderbilt University's EWB chapter to develop a new rural water supply system,” said Zach Helton, a recent UAH graduate in aeronautical engineering and atmospheric science who is the current president of EWB's UAH student chapter. . “To say we're impressed with Team Gyarados' work would be an understatement. We've been in contact with team members to make any changes to the system in preparation for our final implementation trip to Nicaragua.

Sabana Larga, population 209, is extremely remote, located in the mountains of northwestern Nicaragua, near the municipality of La Trinidad. The community faced a critical issue of access to drinking water after a powerful tropical storm disrupted the water distribution system and left residents with insufficient water supplies, meaning for many to walk a mile each way to get their daily supplies. .

The community asked EWB to design and implement a new water system, a four-part project that includes source development, water distribution, water storage and water treatment. During an assessment trip to select a new freshwater source, testing revealed the presence of E. coli in the new source. To ensure safety, the UAH team developed an automatic chlorine dispenser that cleans the community's drinking water for bacteria while continuously monitoring water quality.

“I was excited to find a project that would help people improve their daily lives,” says electrical engineering student and team member Audrey Sims. “It was a great motivation throughout the project to know where this project would end up and that it could help over 200 people get clean drinking water. I was also happy that we were able to partner with the university club, Engineers Without Borders, at UAH to help us with the project and that our classes gave us the skills we needed. he.”

The team incorporated electronics to control the bypass valve and provide feedback of water quality measurements to a microcontroller programmed to automate chlorine dosing. The system determines how much chlorine dosage is needed by monitoring water quality to report pH and oxidation reduction potential (ORP) measurements. ORP is an important measurement to quickly determine the overall sanitary condition of water. If the system determines that more or less chlorine is needed, it adjusts the total water flow to the 3-inch chlorine tablets. The water project will be implemented in two stages in order to supply drinking water to the community. The water pump and storage tanks will be installed this fall, with the chlorinator and distribution lines to follow in the spring of 2024.

The project proved to be interdisciplinary in nature, as the design support courses completed included Senior Design and Design and Modeling of Electrical Circuits and Systems; control and robotics; Three classes in computer programming engineering and assembly language support for microcontroller programming. The team also used skills from UAH's College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to create written technical documentation for the public, such as a user guide in official Spanish.