Students show expo work

HOUGHTON – More than 70 teams of students showed off a school year’s worth of work Thursday on a wide variety of projects during Michigan Technological University’s Undergraduate Expo.

The 13th annual expo, held for the first time on the third floor of the J. Robert Vane Pelt and Opie Library, featured projects from Tech senior design (generally five senior-level students from one degree program) and enterprise (essentially cross-disciplinary student-run businesses), as well as three high school enterprise teams (including Dollar Bay High School’s Student Organization of Aquatic Robotics).

“For the students it’s an opportunity for them to get recognized for all the hard work they’ve been doing throughout the year, and to connect with people both on campus in the community and from industry,” said Mary Raber, Tech associate director of the Institute for Leadership and Innovation and the Enterprise Program. “For Michigan Tech obviously it’s a great opportunity to show off what our students are capable of.”

The immense variety of projects was on full display, and included an enterprise team preparing to send its own satellite into space, and senior design teams creating a dirtbike that can be used in snow and an improved walker for the elderly.

The Aerospace Enterprise, which has about 70 members, first started working on its Oculus-ASR satellite in 2008, and it won a competition in 2011 that will allow the team to launch it into space in 2015.

“As a whole, we’re just excited to see it (launch),” said Jake LaSarge, senior mechanical engineering student and enterprise team member. “This satellite’s mission is to help calibrate ground-based telescopes seeking to identify classified space objects.”

The team has won $100,000 for work on the project by earning entry into the 2011 competition and then another $100,000 for winning it.

The dirt bike conversion senior design team has spent about four hours per person in the shop every night for the past five to six weeks to complete its project, which uses all parts of the dirtbike except the tires, replacing them with a ski on the front and a track system on the back.

“The installation time is about half an hour to 45 minutes. Most of the kits out there now replace the swing arm and the suspension. We wanted to keep everything the same with the bike, but we built around it,” said team member Darren Kesti, a mechanical engineering technology student. “There’s kits out there that run $3,000 to $5,000. We did this for under $1,000.”

The walker group did research to discover what improvements could be made, including interviews and tests at the Bluffs Senior Community in Houghton.

“Fifty-five percent of all falls happen at night, so we wanted to incorporate a lighting system into our walker,” team member Travis Graham said. “We wanted to make it more accessible, so we created a novel feature of width change, as opposed to vertical.”

The lights are touch sensitive, and the walker also has a new piston brake system.

Other projects included a low-cost prosthetic knee, a water valve test system, a jet-propelled sea kayak and a soldier personal-cooling system.

More information about the expo, including a full list of winners, can be found at