The Brilliance of Young Minds
In an age when the responsibilities of our youth are in question and the legacy we will leave them is uncertain, the young minds of Nebraska engineers are working to make sure their future is bright and secure.
There are two avenues in place at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln that exist to give its young engineers a path to discovery and success. They are the College of Engineering’s Senior Design Project, and the J.D. Edwards Honors Program’s Design Studio.
Mark Tuch, a senior civil engineering major, desires a future in transportation and is well on his way. As part of his senior design project, Tuch and his classmates were given the daunting task of making Memorial Stadium safe for the 21st century. With the threat of terrorism mounting, and displays of violent bombings making headlines daily, security personnel in Lincoln and at UNL are all too aware of the sea of red’s vulnerability.
Fred Gardy, assistant chief of police at UNL, contacted the Department of Civil Engineering to help solve this security dilemma. Memorial Stadium is one of the most exposed venues of its size in the country, and many feel that changes need to be made. The prospective security improvements include defending against bombs, improving the building’s perimeter and screening, creating an emergency evacuation plan, and improving gate procedures. Gardy came to Tuch’s class with a couple of requests: devise a plan to create a 300-foot perimeter to move all vehicles from the stadium, and to decrease injuries that could result from a mass panic as people flee the stands.
“Basically, this is a project the university is looking into funding, and Fred [Gardy] is going to use our information to show the need for the support of this project,” Tuch said.
Tuch’s class faced tough challenges in drafting its proposal. There are several key streets and parking lots currently inside the proposed 300-foot perimeter. Traffic would need to be rerouted, and the developing Antelope Valley project and new practice facility have left roads surrounding the stadium in a state of limbo. Ultimately, the university does not want to lessen the fan experience.
Working within and around these limitations, Tuch’s project relies heavily on information provided by state agencies regarding explosives and blast radii. Their developing proposals involve the most recent technological advances in barriers and barricades, as well as traffic planning.
As Tuch and his classmates progress, their findings continue to break new ground. “Not a lot of firms do this sort of research,” Tuch said. “We’re having to pull bits and pieces of information from different places.” Tuch’s hard work creating this proposal is paying off in more ways than one. “It’s an opportunity to get more experience and continue to work on teamwork. But, ultimately, we’re making everybody safer, and you can’t really put a price on safety.”
Safety was also a theme in another project in the J.D. Edwards Honors Program. Sunita Gupta, a senior computer engineering major, worked with five other students on a project for a local Lincoln medical technologies firm. Clients who work with the J.D. Honors Program pay the program and in return students gain real-world experience in the fields of computer engineering and business.
“This is not a cookie cutter project,” Gupta said. Most projects undertaken by design studios within the program tend to be a Web interface to some sort of database system. This client is not expecting a product at the end; rather, Gupta’s team was charged with coming up with an evolving prototype of a wireless asset tracking system to track people and things within buildings.
“Most people just think, ‘oh, you can use GPS for that,’” Gupta said. “But what they don’t realize is that the satellite has to be able to see you, and satellites can’t see inside buildings.” Similar systems do exist today, and run at about 2.4 GHz. But Gupta’s team looked at developing a new technology. “There are two different devices that could be used. One you push a button to send a signal, and the other constantly transmits.” Possible uses for this technology are to track hospital patients, prison inmates, retail merchandise and sensitive materials in office buildings.
“I want to go into hardware development and this is the exact process you go through, so this project is just perfect for me,” Gupta said. “It’s cool to see how you can research something and develop it into a viable system.”
Tuch and Gupta presented their final plans to their clients at the end of the school year. Now, new challenges with new technologies await them. Their recent struggles and successes can only serve to bolster their confidence and our state of security. It appears that perhaps we need not worry so much about what will become of our younger generations. Their futures are in good hands—their own.