Students Showcase Invention at National Conference

By John C. Giardina

An Environmental Engineering senior design team has recently showcased their novel sensing device during the national conference of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis, MN.  Jenabay Hupman, Bryan Toohey and Sean Buckley, along with their advisor, Dr. John Lane, found an exciting forum to display their new temperature measuring device.  They developed the device to improve the ease and accuracy of temperature measurements in studies involving groundwater and surface water interaction.  Such studies can provide valuable data regarding the health of ecosystems, detailing how a change in groundwater or surface water can affect the other.

In these studies, temperature change can be used to track the flow of water between the ground and surface.  Learning how the temperature in one of the water sources responds to a change in temperature in the other can help to determine the direction of the flow between the surface and groundwater.  This information about flow can inform researchers about the effect of a change in one of the water sources, such as the addition of a certain contaminant, on the other water source.  Information about temperature is also important because it can substantially affect the health of certain species living in the surface water.  Most organisms have a specific temperature range that helps them to survive and fully thrive.  Data on temperature can help improve conservation efforts and provide insights into the ecosystems of bodies of water, like lakes and wetlands.

To get the temperature data, the current standard procedure is to insert a string of probes into the ground.  The two main problems with this technique are that it can be inaccurate and the entire setup has to be replaced whenever the probes need to be taken out or changed.  To remedy this problem, the design team developed a probe they call RAMSES (Rapidly Adaptive Multi-Sensor System).  The device is essentially a tube with sensors placed in it at different positions.  One part of the tube is designed to measure the surface temperature, while the other is for the groundwater.  The materials used to make the tube keep the different sections insulated, producing more accurate measurements.  Furthermore, the design of the device makes it easy to change the sensors.  Once the outer casing of the device is in the ground, it can stay there.  All one needs to do is take the sensors out, leaving the tube in place in the ground.  This allows all the sensors to be replaced or changed quickly and easily.  Damaged sensors can be replaced and different measurements, such as electrical resistance, can be taken.

Dr. Lane explained the central benefit to using this system: “RAMSES is intended to be easily expandable, depending on the mission requirements.  The notion is that once the casing is driven into the stream bed, one would like to maximize its potential benefit.”  The hope is that a device like RAMSES will make groundwater-surface water interaction studies more efficient and effective, more quickly and accurately generating results that help to explain important ecosystems and patterns in water flow.

For all of the students involved, this project provided a great opportunity and experience.  “It was a great learning experience to design and build a phase one prototype instrument that improves upon the best technology currently available within the hydrological community for measuring streambed temperature,” Buckley said.  The success and recognition of their project is certainly reflective of the perseverance and potential of all these students.

Following UConn, Hupman is planning to attend graduate school for Chemical Engineering, Buckley is planning to attend graduate school for Environmental Engineering, specifically for hydrology, and Toohey has already entered the private sector working as an environmental engineer.

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