Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
Student Projects

Most of us take our mobility for granted.  But for those who are challenged in this area, any breakthrough that enriches their lives is a major “step” in the right direction.

Take a look at the advances in wheelchair technology that the students from ETH Zurich and the Zurich University of the Arts have developed:  the Scalevo electric wheelchair, which features wheels for cruising and tracks for climbing stairs:

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Do you have any brain child that would enrich someone’s life?

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SFSP is supporting the Yale Future Energy Club in the Solar Decathlon competition – building a net-0 impact house powered by solar energy alone.

A multi-disciplinary team will apply skills learned in their respective majors:  Mechanical Engineering, Electric Engineering, Geology and Geophysics, Architecture, Economics.  GOOD LUCK TEAM

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August 24th, 2015

Congrats to

Flow Photoreactor as a Tool for Scale-­up of Energy Efficient Polymerizations  (Jordan Theriot)

Advanced Visible-light Polymerizations as a New 3D Printing Platform  (Matthew Ryan)

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¿Cachai? It means, Do you get it?, or Do you understand? A phrase often used with foreigners, who quite often, don’t understand, as our Engineers and Scientists Abroad group found out. The Spanish in Chile is different than many other Spanish-speaking countries, full of abbreviations, run-together words, and slang. Nevertheless it was beautiful, as is the culture of Chile, as our Engineers and Scientists Abroad chapter learned after a recent service trip to Chile, during which we provided infrastructure improvements to the Vocations for Orphans nonprofit and learned to somewhat understand the culture of this beautiful country.


The Location

Casa Montaña is located in the Valle de Elqui (Elqui Valley) in the Coquimbo region of Chile. The economy of the area is predominantly agriculture-based, with grapes, lemons, wine and a local liquor called pisco being major products in the area. The project site was nestled up in the gorgeous Andes Mountains, about 12 miles away from the small town of Vicuña.

Casa Montana

Casa Montaña (R. Beck 2015)


The Team

Six engineering students from the South Dakota School of Mines volunteered their time and expertise to making the trip a success. Each student was able to bring valuable skills and expertise to the project team.


Enjoying some empanadas (small pastries stuffed with a savory filling) (A. Schifres 2015)

From left to right:

Sawyer – Mechanical engineering

Colby – Mechanical Engineering

Andrew – Civil Engineering

Gary – Geological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering

Rika – Environmental and Chemical Engineering

Alexis – Chemical Engineering


The Tasks

1. Pour a concrete pad for a water storage tank.


Colby with the freshly-poured concrete pad.

2. Install a water storage tank to increase the capacity of Vocation for Orphans Water System.

Installed Tank

Our installed tank. (A. Schifres, 2015)

 3. Build a retaining wall to protect the tank from erosion.

Retaining Wall

Tank with finished retaining wall. (C. Harris, 2015)

4. Remove and replace the water source intake.

Digging out intake

First, we diverted the water and dug out the old intake. (C. Harris, 2015)

 New intake pipe

Then, we installed the new intake pipe. (C. Harris 2015)

Finished intake

Finally, we covered the new pipe with gravel and larger rocks to protect it. (C. Harris, 2015)

5. Other tasks – the team took care of many other tasks on the project site, including:

         – Painting the source piping to protect it from the elements

- Changing the battery in the vehicle

-Winterizing buildings

Team photo

The team at the conclusion of the project! (Pictured with hosts Annette and Dale.)


The Culture

When all the hard work was done, we also got to experience Chilean culture with a trip to the nearby city of La Serena. We saw the sights, ate fresh seafood, empanadas, and papayas; and bought souvenirs at the local markets.

Chile Market

Artisanal market in La Serena (C. Harris 2015)

Chile lighthouse

Lighthouse of La Serena (R. Beck 2015)

Fish market

Fish market in the port of Coquimbo (C. Harris, 2015)


Port of Coquimbo (R. Beck, 2015)

What We Learned

Our project was enriching for the whole group. We gained valuable experience putting our engineering knowledge into use in the real world. We also got to appreciate the amazing culture and scenery of the country of Chile, while serving others other with our talents.


ESA acknowledges the time and talents of the project team, Dr. Thomas Fontaine, Dale Boe, and Annette Scifres; our partner nonprofit, Vocations for Orphans; and the financial support of Rotary International and IBM (Students for a Smarter Planet Grant).

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July 28th, 2015

WOW – I’ve just had quite an education on the advancement of the mirror.  I always thought it was just a “dumb” piece of glass that is reflective.  Boy, was I wrong!

Now there are things called augmented mirrors – and there are MANY.

Here’s what I’ve learned with a little internet searching…

MirrorMirror developed by students at Purdue University, gives the user not only their reflection, but other important information such as the latest news, emails and even bus schedules.

The prototype was produced during BoilerMake2014, a 36-hour hackathon at Purdue University. It uses facial recognition technology that causes relevant information to be displayed when the user looks into the mirror.

“The mirror will display general information most of the time, but when it recognizes a user it will display their information such as emails or scores of the latest game,” says team member Nick Molo. “With our open development platform, anyone who has the ability to build an app can do so and share it with other users.”

Even going back to development of the 2011 Cybertecture Mirror there was the intent to present users with a wealth of information while looking at their reflection. Described as a reflective window into a digital life, this internet-connected, intelligent mirror can augment your reflected image with weather and news, check for messages or social network feeds, let you watch a TV program, give you information on your state of health and can even act as a personal exercise coach.

blog cybertecture mirror

Please note that these newfangled mirrors do not come cheaply!  I guess you’d have to weigh the cost against the advantages received to see if it will be on your wish list of additions to your home decor :-)

What do you think?

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