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Student-Led Engineering Designs to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change and Public Health

Kwee-Yan Teh, Soong-Chul (Sam) Ro, and Pradeep Ray
Affiliation: University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute



The team of UM-SJTU JI seniors — Jiaxi Chen, Xuan Dai, Yeqin Shen, Yihao Chen, and Taichi Liu (left to right) –

Many undergraduate engineering programs offer a “culminating major engineering design experience” for their final-year students, to “produce solutions that meet specified needs [within constraints] with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors.” Such design projects are often expansive in scope, and therefore require the students to “establish goals, plan tasks, and meet objectives” — in other words, to be effective in engineering management.1                                                                   

Text Box: The team of UM-SJTU JI seniors --- Jiaxi Chen, Xuan Dai, Yeqin Shen, Yihao Chen, and Taichi Liu (left to right) --- showcasing their well water salinity measurement and monitoring system prototype at the Joint Institute Design Expo in December 2019Over the past year, we have supervised ten senior engineering students from the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI) on two climate change and public health-related design projects that check all the boxes above. The projects are spin-offs from a 2018 SJTU global engagement initiative dubbed the Bangladesh Challenge that led to a collaboration between the Center for Entrepreneurship of UM-SJTU JI and icddr,b (International Cholera and Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh), the internationally-renowned public health research organization.

Since 2012, the icddr,b team led by Dr. M. A. Hanifi has been monitoring the impacts of climate change on local health in the coastal area of Bangladesh. Research by icddr,b and others concluded that “those living in the coastal area had a significantly higher probability of high salt intake compared with people … who lived in hilly areas,” leading to high blood pressure2 and that “increasing salt intake … might contribute to the seasonal pattern of hypertension in pregnancy in coastal Bangladesh … associated with increased rates of adverse maternal and fetal outcomes”.3 A comprehensive survey of the salinity of underground water, which is the dominant source of drinking water in coastal Bangladesh, is therefore essential, as is a comprehensive geographical information system (GIS) that integrates the water salinity data with other local records (weather, surface water, population, public health), as first steps towards elucidating the nexus between global warming, drinking water salinity, and public health in this region.

To tackle the first need — a comprehensive survey of underground water salinity in rural coastal Bangladesh — a cross-disciplinary team of two Electrical/Computer Engineering (ECE) seniors and three Mechanical Engineering (ME) seniors designed and prototyped a low-cost salinity measurement and monitoring system. It integrates a conductivity-based salinity sensor, an Arduino data logger, and a Bluetooth transmitter within a package for mounting on the hand pump of a standard tube well. Every time the well water is pumped above ground, its salinity would be measured and logged. The salinity data could then be transmitted via Bluetooth to the mobile phone of researchers and onwards to the icddr,b data server in Dhaka.

Another group of five ECE seniors developed an ArcGIS-based mobile app with capabilities for real-time salinity and weather data updates and spatial data visualization. Efforts remain to add features to the mobile app with access to historical weather, population, and public health GIS data from icddr,b to facilitate analysis and interpretation of the rich data set.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered our plan to travel to Bangladesh to conduct field testing of these hardware and software designs around the coastal sub-district of Chakaria, where icddr,b conducts health and demographic surveillance. We plan to continue prototype testing, and subsequent iterative re-design, within UM-SJTU JI instead. Nonetheless, the student teams have reflected on their improved awareness of the impacts of their engineering designs on the global challenges of climate change and public health. The students also indicated greater appreciation for the need for effective project management and teamwork. We are committed to continue providing similar worthwhile engineering design experiences to the UM-SJTU JI students, and offering technical assistance and engineering solutions to our global partners.

References:

 1 ABET Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs; www.abet.org.
2 Rasheed et al. BMC Public Health 2014, 14:584
3 Khan et al. Environ Health Perspect 2011, 119:1328–1332

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