First year team reach Grand Final of Engineering for People Design Challenge

A group of first year engineering students have made it through to the Grand Final of the Engineering for People Design Challenge, a national competition run by Engineers without Borders.

The annual competition challenges student teams to design engineering solutions to real-world problems, taking into account the complex economic, legal, social, ethical and environmental contexts in which their solution would be implemented.

The initiative has been integrated into the School’s new-look first year engineering curriculum, introducing all our students to the importance of the design cycle and allowing them to work in multi-discipline groups to discover how engineering can be used to help improve the lives of people across the globe.

Florence Hockaday (Chemical Engineering); Yang Ju (Electronics & Electrical Engineering); Shugo Kitahara (Mechanical Engineering); and Kiran Patel (Electronics & Electrical Engineering) worked together on their competition proposal across semesters 1 and 2 as part of the courses Engineering Principles 1 and Engineering Design 1.

The proposal

The team won praise from the judges for their idea for a solar-powered desalination plant to provide clean drinking water for residents in the coastal towns of Lobitos and Piedritas in northern Peru – where around 70-80% of residents are living in extreme poverty.

The team explained: “The plant would create sufficient clean water to meet the needs of the residents and tourists, while being sustainable with a minimal negative impact on the environment, taking advantage of the high levels of sunlight to harness sufficient energy from solar cells.

"Access to safe water has direct links to sustainable development in many regards. The United Nations considers access to clean water one of the key pillars of its sustainable development goals, as it is very interconnected. Improved access to water aids education, economic growth, poverty reduction, health and more.”

Pictured: The team propose a solar-powered desalination tank to supply coastal communities in northern Peru with safe drinking water

Competition progress

The four students produced a final report as part of their Semester 2 assessment, on the basis of which they were selected by a panel of University of Edinburgh academics as one of five groups (out of 80) to enter the national competition. In the first round of that competition, the team were then selected by an expert panel to go forward to the Grand Final.

During the live online Grand Final – which took place on Thursday 1 July – the team pitched their idea to peers, academics, industry representatives and a panel of expert judges.

“Innovative solutions”

Dr Dave Laurenson, Acting Director of Learning and Teaching, commented “This competition is a fantastic way for our students to engage in real problems, and produce innovative solutions that can make a significant difference, at the start of their engineering journey.

“We are delighted that the ingenuity of this team has taken it to the Grand Final in the first year that we have integrated the competition into our new curriculum.”

Team testimonials

“During the preparation of the competition, I have learnt the importance of a team work because without each member's efforts and skills we couldn't have brought the best outcome for the competition.” ~ Yang Li Ju

“Prior to the competition, I had never taken part in a pitch; being able to present our group’s idea to a panel of engineering professionals and industry leaders was a very valuable and inspiring experience.” ~ Kiran Patel

“It was a very nice feeling to be able to think about solutions to real problems plaguing the world alongside like-minded people. This was a valuable experience and I hope to continue to contribute to the world in a positive way.” ~ Shugo Kitahara

“I enjoyed that the project allowed us to see the ways that engineering has so many real world applications and I learnt the important of knowing the context and history of an area when creating a solution. Getting through to the grand final was an exciting opportunity that allowed our team to develop the design without bounds.” ~ Florence Hockaday