Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, June 2013, Paper ID #6997


Copyright American Society for Engineering Education, 2013. Used by permission.


The senior capstone experience within the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a two-semester, two-course sequence intended to give senior students realistic design experience, working with real projects, real clients, faculty consultants, and teammates to produce a deliverable that meets the client’s needs. Students within this course sequence come from two different degree programs (agricultural engineering and biological systems engineering) and within each degree program from a variety of “emphasis areas”, e.g. biomedical engineering, environmental engineering, machine design. While the goal of this course is for students to experience a “real” design project, we felt that we needed to improve this senior design sequence with an exercise that forced all students through a shared and “complete” design process to help address some of the challenges associated with a crossdisciplinary capstone course. Therefore, beginning in 2010, a two-week, rapid design challenge was implemented at the beginning of the senior capstone design experience, based on a similar challenge developed at Bucknell University1. This abbreviated design experience challenges the students to rapidly learn and implement the basic steps of design to produce a functional prototype, which is displayed and tested during a design challenge competition. The challenge presented to students is to design and build a device for a third-world clinic to infuse a cholera treatment solution, at a specific flow rate and time for injection, with specific technical constraints. During this two-week challenge, multiple assignments help move the students through each phase of the design process. Teams are given a budget and time to build, test, and iterate their design before the final competition between teams. The team with a device that most closely achieves the dictated criteria wins the competition. To evaluate the performance of each team, a National Instruments (NI) data acquisition system was developed, which combines NI LabVIEW software and two Micro Motion Coriolis flow meters. The system evaluates multiple parameters of the design, and combines the data with faculty judge evaluations to calculate an overall score. Team scores are displayed on a digital scoreboard throughout the competition. The Rapid Design Challenge (RDC) is then used as an example to introduce future topics in the course. Finally, the RDC has been critically evaluated over four semesters of implementation as part of the continuous improvement and assessment process. This exercise has revitalized the course and ensured that all students share a common and successful design experience.