Oklahoma Students Develop Innovation for Wastewater Infrastructure

Kim Sorrels is an instructor at Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Kim has a BS in architectural engineering and MS in teaching, learning, and leadership from Oklahoma State University. 

Ethan Hobbs is a student at Perkins-Tryon High School and is a member of SkillsUSA at Meridian Technology Center. He also enjoys playing basketball and being outdoors. Camden Justice is a junior at Stillwater High School and enjoys studying, building, and repairing model trains. Garrett Leming is a student at Stillwater High School and a member of SkillsUSA at Meridian Technology Center. He enjoys playing football and being outdoors. Cody Werner is a student at Perkins-Tryon High School and a member of SkillsUSA at Meridian Technology Center. He enjoys building models and participating in Perkins’ 4-H shotgun shooting.

Students enrolled in the Civil Engineering and Architecture (CEA) course at Meridian Technology Center took part in the 2017 PLTW Engineering Design Competition sponsored by Chevron. The challenge was to investigate a problem related to infrastructure facing the local community and propose an innovation to address that problem. The team placed third in the national competition with their innovative engineering design.

The team consisted of four 11th graders: Ethan Hobbs, Camden Justice, Garrett Leming, and Cody Werner. As their instructor, I provided mentoring alongside the students’ peers in the Meridian Pre-Engineering Academy, Garrison Allen and Caleb Cotton, as well as a few working professionals in the engineering and wastewater field.

The Problem: Detecting Issues Within the Local Wastewater System

We chose to investigate the wastewater system, largely due to Oklahoma’s low report card grade of a D+, as determined by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). This was one of the worst grades on the report due to the lack of funding, age of the system, and failures within the system.

After visiting the water and wastewater plant in Stillwater, we soon learned that no system was in place to identify breaks or issues within the piping system in the community. The only way to know of breaks was if a patron called to report of one. The issue was important to us because it impacts everyone in the community. We felt we could have a large impact with a low cost.

The Innovative Solution: Sensing the Issues

Using the design process from PLTW, we generated multiple ideas and chose to develop a sensor that is small enough to drop into the piping system to detect potential issues or line breaks. The sensor is a GPS system that would collect data on the location, velocity, and path traveled.

To enclose and protect the sensor, we designed and 3-D printed a threaded shell. The shell is small enough to fit through residential or commercial pipes.

We then built a small-scale prototype of the piping system to test our sensor. The test ran smoothly, aside from a few splashes, and we had a successful solution to the problem in our community!

Our Experience

Throughout this experience, we learned the importance of documenting our work and the benefits of generating and evaluating multiple ideas. During the task, we endured issues in the design and printing of the shell but strived to overcome those failures. Another important lesson learned was working in a team and utilizing each member of the team and their individual skills. In the end, we created a useful and applicable idea and are excited about continuing the development of the idea with the goal of incorporating the sensor into the system.

We are proud to have had the chance to represent our community in Oklahoma and make an impact on an existing issue. An opportunity to compete and place at a national level is not always common. We feel that it doesn’t matter where you come from – you can make an impact and develop innovative ideas in engineering.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.