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INTM Students and Faculty Honored at IIT Spring IPRO Day

IIT student with his working model desalinator for use in Sahara desert.    Two of Adjunct Faculty member Blake Davis' teams took top honors in a competition among 13 IPRO teams in IIT's Spring IPRO Day.  The "Large Scale Desalinization in the Sahara Desert" IPRO Project 497-348 won the Dean's Award from the Dean of the College of Architecture. INTM student Maurice Goulding was one of the designers and builders of a working model of a desalinization machine showcasing the team's solutions for bringing clean water into desserts.  Davis' “Urban Agriculture Innovation” IPRO 497-02 won the Business Innovation Battlefield award that included a monetary prize for the six-student team.

The Large-Scale Desalination project was intended to address the imbalance in water availability worldwide caused by global warming.  While some parts of the world are experiencing ice melts and flooding, there are arid places that could use this water.  The Sahara Desert in northern Africa is almost entirely uninhabited because of the extreme heat and dry conditions.  The IPRO team’s challenge was to design products, processes, and/or systems to bring water from the ocean to the Sahara and desalinate it so that it could be used to support life in desolate areas.

The team divided into small groups with tasks that included investigating the environmental, technical and political feasibility of a large-scale desalination project in the desert; identifying potential sites that might have good soil for growing plants; designing solar greenhouses to perform the distillations, and determining the amount of water that could be processed at various stages. They also studied different methods of salt processing and their costs, and conducted cost-benefits analyses.

Part of the team researched existing large scale projects which are being proposed for the Sahara including DESERTEC (large scale solar energy farms in the desert, supported by many large European companies), and delineated the civil engineering and transportation challenges of controlling the movement of water from the ocean to these locations.  

Goulding’s group built a stainless steel working prototype of a desalinator (photo above), using an air conditioner as a model for extracting water from the air.  Goulding contributed his knowledge of electrical engineering to determine the components needed to control the flow of water, and program the model to flush out the salt at appropriate times.

The Urban Agriculture Innovation Project was a continuation of work that IPRO teams started in 2012, with UFarmIIT, a test site for technology innovation that has become a student farm, community garden, student organization, and resource for Chicago’s Bronzeville community.  Each semester, IPRO teams have done different types of work on the farm on in the neighborhood, with the goal of sustaining the crop production while creating viable small businesses. The Spring ’15 team helped Schulze & Burch Biscuit Company, a longtime local commercial producer of baked goods, develop a plan for adjacent green space with plantings, rainwater collection, irrigation, composting, energy and structures, and worked with local groups to build capacity and improve production in area urban gardens.  Their goal was to synthesize ideas and plans for student-run businesses, developed in previous semesters, into a comprehensive proposal for a dynamic urban agriculture program on IIT's campus that is actively engaged in Bronzeville.