Innovation, Teamwork Fuels Senior Design Projects


May 1, 2017


Electrical and Computer Engineering Students Edward MacMurchy, Michael Mazzanti, Abby Sydnes, and Dmitry Yarmaliuk took the top prize in the College of Engineering's Senior Design contest on Saturday. The group built a payload system for a high-altitude balloon that will transport a camera controlled from the ground. The group successfully tested their project at 90,000 feet, a new ballooning record, in preparation for the solar eclipse occurring in the summer. Watch video> 

Their project is detailed below and earned the $1,500 top prize.

Runners-up included:

SAE Aero Design Competition, also detailed in this article. Team members: Luke Bizal, Salman Chaudri, Jessica Hampson, Jeremy Ninan, Kenneth Rentz, Janey Stum, Ryan Thomas, and Cameron Williams.

Jenkintown Creek: Modeling and BMP Design for Stormwater Management. Team members: Mary Bradley, Morgan Nemtuda, Shawn Rodier, and Victoria Suber.

Design for a Temperature and Humidity Controlled Chamber for Electrospinning Fibers. Team members: Eric Mikitka, Brian McLaverty, Grant Richardson, Chris Urban.


Senior Design is the culmination of the hard work put in by our Engineering students. It offers them the opportunity to work in groups and put the concepts they’ve learned over their time at Temple into action. Working together, these students find a project focus, develop a plan of action, and collaborate, often finding it necessary to repeat or adjust, for a final project and presentation just before graduation. The journey teaches some valuable lessons about their future paths as engineers. It’s an exciting time at the College of Engineering, as work spaces come to life with final preparations, the whirring of power tools, and some laughter.


Senior Design gives students opportunities to work on cutting-edge technology with some of the College’s most esteemed faculty. The group looked to Dr. Peter Lelkes, and his research on repairing spinal cord injuries. Dr. Lelkes challenged the quartet to find a way to regenerate spinal cord, a way to combat paralysis and other debilitating injuries. Kyle Yeakle, Lindsay Yam, Rohit Batish, and Abbey Roche spent the fall researching the spine and existing repairing procedures. The group came upon a previous project on freeze casting. “Dr. Lelkes suggested ‘How can you make it better?’” said Yam. “A lot of our project is building upon what they’ve done, reading literature about freeze casting, and then modifying it.”

The spinal cord is a linear path made up of neurons that send electrical messages to the various parts of the body. Injuries to this path disrupts this messaging, perhaps stopping it entirely. Any attempts to re-establish the path needs to re-create the straight, linear pathway. One way is to use scaffolding, like construction projects use to build walls straight when completing buildings. “We found in the literature that freeze casting is the most optimal way to create straight channels that can guide the neurons through them,” said Yeakle.  

The group pulled from biomaterials classes, along with their own anatomy and physiology research, to come up with a plan. However, as is often the case with new projects, there is no sure method to solve the problems. “In theory, when we read all the literature, we found that many things could have worked,” said Batish. “When we applied it in the lab, we found, hey, this is very theoretical, and only a few things worked. Dr. Lelkes always wanted to improve on everything we did, which was actually pretty helpful, because we found better and better ways to create our scaffold with different biomaterials.” The group hopes to devise a recipe for the best scaffolding that will allow for linear regeneration.


One trend that is growing in more ways than one is “green roofs.” A group of Civil Engineering seniors used their project to look at bringing this idea to a large facility by creating a green roof retrofit for the top of Tomlinson theatre, just down Norris Street from the College of Engineering. The roof won’t be covered in grass and flowers like a hobbit hole; the group is designing a tray system, which would use gravel as the base below a specially designed soil and plants growing.

“It serves threefold purposes,” said Sean McKelvey. “One is to reduce heat loading on the building. It also reduces stormwater on the sewer system and it’s also an aesthetic, beautification process.” McKelvey, David Slotnick, Matthew Gehman, and Courtney Meizinger won’t actually get to create a space on the low, wide roof of the theatre. Unfortunately the reality is that the roof has no public access so Klein students won’t be able to write scripts on a roof garden on a sunny day. However, it provides some insight for into the future at Temple. The new library will feature a green roof.

Each member has an expertise and draw on class experience for the project. As Slotnick, the stormwater expert noted, a problem has arisen from working with the older, hand-drawn blueprint from the building that was built in the 1960’s. “One of the problems we’ve been having is getting every single parameter needed to model it correctly,” he said. “It involves going into the plans but not all the plans contain all the necessary parameters you need.”

As the group focuses on energy production and limiting the load on the stormwater, they look to modeling to forecast demand and then devise a solution. Meizinger has created pockets in the tray system to store water for future use. The group also has created a new, more sustainable green roof soil blend. “Many of these soil blends have peat moss in them, which often requires a lot of fertilization in order to grow enough for farming purposes,” said McKelvey. “What we’re doing is we’re using locally sourced compost and biochar [charcoal made of plant and animal waste]. One of the main issues with green roofs has been nutrient run-off. You have fertilizer and it rains and a lot of it runs off into the sewer system. That can cause a lot of issues in the receiving water body. Biochar works to hold onto these nutrients and it’s a key focus for our project.”


On August 21st, a solar eclipse will appear across the United States, the first transcontinental occurrence in recorded history. Temple engineering students, along with groups from of other schools, are working with NASA to create high altitude balloons to live-stream the eclipse as it travels across the continent, as the full eclipse will only be visible to a small sliver of the continental US.

This senior design group, some of whom are involved with the Temple balloon project, are working on the video equipment that will travel almost 100,000 feet in the air to capture the eclipse. The payload will consist of a pi camera, a raspberry pi, and motors to operate the camera while in flight. Keeping the camera centered on the eclipse is the main goal so the team has devised image processing to maintain that focus by moving the camera and transmitting the video.

The group of Abby Sydnes, Edward MacMurchy, Dmitry Yarmaliuk, and Michael Mazzanti are involved in a variety of student groups and projects so options abounded for their topic before they focused on working with Dr. Helferty on this payload. “This one seemed like the coolest project because this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on this, and to have a budget,” said Sydnes. This is part of the project that is funded by a NASA grant.

They have taken a novel approach at attempting to capture the eclipse from a high altitude. “It seems like the general means of weather ballooning is people put experiments or cameras in a plastic or Styrofoam cooler and launch it up,” said MacMurchy, who has focused his research on this segment of the project. There isn’t a lot of prior experimentation in this field. “We want to take the guesswork out of it. We want to do it scientifically.” One area they found an advantage is the higher altitudes and thin air limit the effects of winds. The balloon will be almost 20 miles above the ground, well beyond storms and the jet stream.

After learning the basics of ballooning, the group tackled the challenges of working on the raspberry pi, a small computer chip popular in scientific pursuits. “It turned out to be like a bottleneck,” said Yarmaliuk. “Even doing something really simple like installing the image processing libraries we needed would take three to four hours with each attempt. The raspberry is not so powerful but we have to use it because it’s going in the air. Everything has to be contained in the pi. How much we can do and what sorts of things we can do are limited. Going around those performance boundaries was hard.” The group used software options to maximize the pi’s performance and give them a computer-operated back-up to the automation that should work the camera once in the air.

Tests have proven successful. Just last weekend near Harrisburg, the group was able to operate their camera at 90,000 feet, a new record in ballooning. 


Engineers learn how to adapt and adjust to challenges. For this group of mechanical engineers, that meant changing the project structure to allow two groups to work together. Salman Chaudri, Janey Stum, Ryan Thomas, Cameron Williams, Luke Bizal, Jessica Hampson, Jeremy Ninan, and Kenneth Rentz built a remote-control airplane for the SAE Aero Design East 2017 competition later in the spring.

For this competition, the challenge is that the plane must meet strict size and weight requirements and also carry a five-pound payload and ten “passengers” (tennis balls).

While they are considered two separate teams, the size and scope of the project demands that they merged projects. The host RC club, made up of hobbyists and remote control plane enthusiasts who have helped previous Senior Design teams, suggested a larger group to make a better, safer plane. Flying in residential areas meant conforming to certain standards and designing the plane to fit these guidelines. Working with a larger group also creates relatable experience for the members. “Everybody has a counterpart,” said Hampson. “We always have someone to consult with as you would in the real world. You wouldn’t be thinking, this is what I’m doing and no one is going to double-check me. That’s one of the good things about combining.”

The RC club influenced the design as well. Translating their Solid Works design to reality has created some issues that the team has tried to solve. These real-world challenges is one of the greatest lessons of Senior Design. “In the past four years, most of our education has been in the classroom, a lot of stuff from textbooks, written down,” said Ninan. “Doing Senior Design, you translate all the stuff you did in class into real-life. You learn the stuff that you probably won’t in a classroom, stuff like building team chemistry, team bonding, how to manage time properly, project management. All that you learn in Senior Design.”