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Northeastern University

‘Bringing water to your doorstep’

June 11, 2012

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity student- researchers have designed a shovel- ready drinking water system that has the poten­tial to pro­duce 100,000 liters of potable water per day for more than 1,100 vil­lagers in Bbanda, Uganda.

Civil engi­neering stu­dents designed the water system for a senior cap­stone project. Northeastern’s stu­dent chapter of Engi­neers Without Bor­ders, which has brought clean water to fam­i­lies in Bbanda and El Car­riza­lito, Hon­duras, raised $2,500 through Northeastern’s Cat­a­lyst pro­gram to fund travel for two stu­dents to Bbanda and plans to imple­ment the design later this year.

Ferdi Hell­weger, an envi­ron­mental engi­neering asso­ciate pro­fessor who served as the cap­stone project’s fac­ulty adviser, said Bbanda vil­lagers must now carry dirty water for miles just to meet their basic needs, which often pre­vents stu­dents from attending school.

“We’re essen­tially bringing water to their doorstep,” said Hell­weger, who was recently hon­ored by the New Eng­land Region of the Envi­ron­mental Pro­tec­tion Agency for working to make the Charles River swim­mable. “The system will sig­nif­i­cantly affect the quality of life and health of this village.”

Cap­stone stu­dents designed the mech­a­nisms for pumping, storing and dis­trib­uting ground­water in AutoCAD, a soft­ware appli­ca­tion for computer- aided drafting, and WaterGEMS, a hydraulic mod­eling appli­ca­tion for pipe net­works. They con­ducted many com­pu­ta­tional analyses, the most com­plex of which were aimed toward approx­i­mating ground­water flow and mod­eling a diesel gen­er­ator, which will power the entire drinking water system.

Mike Sanders, E’09, a former EWB team member who cur­rently works for an engi­neering con­sulting firm called Kle­in­felder, served as the stu­dents’ tech­nical adviser.

Keith Nelson, E’12, who has twice vis­ited Bbanda, praised the experiential- learning oppor­tu­nity, which he called a “rig­orous project in terms of tech­nical detail.”

“We had to figure out how to get the pump to com­mu­ni­cate with the tank and how the valves inter­face with every­thing else,” he explained. “It gave us a chance to figure out how to actu­ally put every­thing together and get it to do what we wanted it to do.”

Nelson attended weekly meet­ings of Northeastern’s chapter of EWB to keep mem­bers informed of the project’s progress and encour­aged new­comers to meet with the cap­stone group.

“It was a great oppor­tu­nity for us to pass on what we were learning,” he said.

Hell­weger agreed with Nelson’s assess­ment of the project’s value. “We brought together every­thing the stu­dents have learned over the last five years,” he said, in ref­er­ence to courses in which stu­dents cre­ated progress reports, con­ducted hydrology assess­ments and cal­cu­lated water pres­sure coming out of pipes. “In this class, we solved a real- world problem.”

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