Our first introduction post can be found here.
SmartTree was born out of Northwestern’s Student Club, Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) when we found out we had some solar panels that had been donated to the university that were not in use. ESW brainstormed with all of its members and came up with various ideas and uses for them. After voting, the idea that was decided upon was SmartTree! What does it do, exactly?
SmartTree will be placed on the lawn of the university’s student center and is designed to harness the power of solar energy to charge your phones and other electronic devices. The eight solar panels and the sun will store energy into a battery in the base of the solar tree. This energy can then charge your phones through 5 volt USB ports or anything else through 120 V outlets. There are also benches and a table built into it, so that students may work outdoors, have meetings, or just hang out around the tree, all while enjoying the power of renewable energy!
We recently completed a final sketch of the SmartTree, though are working on perfecting various details.
One particular challenge we are tackling right now is the design of the bracket that will be used to mount the solar panels to the “trunk” of the tree. Using NX Unigraphics, we mocked up an initial design, and then conducted a load analysis.
Obviously, we still have a lot more work to do.
The Design Thinking and Communication course at Northwestern creates groups of engineering students and assigns them to a client, in this case the Northwestern Clean Energy Project. The students learn the general process of engineering design, from initial research, brainstorming, user testing, and client interaction. They also learn how to effectively communicate their findings and design through a final presentation and report. This particular project, the SmartTree, aims to create awareness about solar energy as a source for renewable power, and its implementation will teach students about project planning, public outreach, energy systems, and construction.
The SmartTree will be located on the lawn of the university student center and will provide a social gathering place where students can meet and charge their electronics (cell phones and laptops) using the solar energy captured by the solar panels. Since the tree is entirely student-driven, it will promote and reinforce the university’s commitment to supporting student-driven sustainability efforts.
The SmartTree consists of eight solar panels which will provide energy to two AC Outlets and 4 USB Ports. Current and voltage sensors will be wired inside the trunk of the tree to monitor the power output of the solar panel and display the energy savings through an LCD screen. Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) will be adopted to draw maximum power from solar panel.
Water Pressures was screened at Northwestern on 20 March and will be shown at Columbia on 5 April. Kudos to the groups who gathered and we hope some great action plans result.
Finding a solution to a problem rarely involves moving directly from point A to B. Instead, the problem in itself changes and new obstacles present themselves along the way, leading to an unprecedented and often greater solution. A group of Northwestern University students working to reduce the amount of harmful pollutants in the North Shore Channel can attest to this phenomenon firsthand. After learning
from other students on the Northwestern rowing team that contact with the contaminated water in the North Shore Channel was correlated with incidences of several students becoming ill, a group of students representing majors as varied as biomedical engineering, film, global health, materials science and history decided to find a way to clean up the channel and make it safer for those using it. After researching potential sources of pollutants and aeration techniques, the students believed that tackling the pollution at the source of the channel, near Wilmette Harbor, was the best method to resolve the issue. After learning about the vast scale of the problem and the multiple sources of pollutants with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the students decided that it would be more feasible to implement a smaller scale, more attainable solution on the Northwestern campus. -With access to top professors and an administration that would support innovative water projects on campus, why not take advantage of local these opportunities? The consensus amongst the students and faculty changed to
creating a rain garden on the roof of the Northwestern University library. While the project is small in scale, its ambitions are grand. The water collected in the rain garden will be deterred from the overburdened North Shore Channel, preventing damaging runoff from entering the Channel.
Furthermore, the addition of the rain garden will revive a dead public space and hopefully spark conversations about sustainability. Perhaps most importantly, the project involves a wide array of people working together towards a common goal to make the world a sustainable place, including Northwestern students, professors, and employees, PBS, the MWRD, the city of Evanston, After all, this project isn’t just about Northwestern- it’s about a community working together to make the North Shore Channel safer for everyone.