Lone mechanical engineer Wallin not alone working with Raikes team

Lone mechanical engineer Wallin not alone working with Raikes team

Calendar Icon Apr 20, 2016      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Derek Wallin (right), a senior mechanical and materials engineering major, works with Dr. Steven Barlow, professor of special education and communication disorders, on the design of a biomedical device for a capstone project. Wallin is the only mechanical engineer on the project being overseen by the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.
Derek Wallin (right), a senior mechanical and materials engineering major, works with Dr. Steven Barlow, professor of special education and communication disorders, on the design of a biomedical device for a capstone project. Wallin is the only mechanical engineer on the project being overseen by the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.
Traditionally, engineering senior capstone projects involve teams of students from the same program working together to solve a problem and design a solution.

Derek Wallin may be part of a team, but his capstone experience is not the norm.

The senior from Newman Grove, Nebraska, is working on a biomedical capstone project overseen by the Design Studio at the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. Being the only mechanical and materials engineering major on the team, Wallin said, has its pluses and minuses.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been a big challenge. Having a singular person working on a project makes the decision-making pretty easy – there’s no one else to argue with me,” Wallin said with a smile.

From the beginning, Wallin said, the project was quite different than what most students in mechanical and materials engineering (MME) will encounter in a capstone.

“You could say this was a little bit different,” Wallin said. “For capstone, MME does a one-semester course, and that’s in second semester. Our first semester is learning about design and design techniques.

“At the beginning of the fall, Dr. Carl Nelson (associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering) announced that there was an opening on a cross-disciplinary project working on a medical device. I knew I wanted to work on medical devices, so I approached Dr. Nelson after class and the next thing I knew, I was on the project.”

Finding the time to work on the project during fall semester presented the biggest challenge, Wallin said.

“I didn’t have any time allotted for the project,” Wallin said. “I had all these other classes on the schedule and I got very little done.”

William Dick, lecturer and adviser in mechanical and materials engineering and teacher for the second-semester MME senior design course, said the unconventional nature of this project was something to which both he and Wallin had to adjust.

“I didn’t quite know how to deal with it because it’s so different from what we have,” Dick said. “Even with the other MME cross-disciplinary projects, I still had a team of mechanical engineers and it was sort of business as usual.

“I was encouraged to let Derek to get his credits for this class by working sort of solo on this project. I don’t mind doing that, but I still have some requirements that need to be met, and they’re being met.”

Even though he’s the only mechanical engineer on the project, Wallin isn’t totally alone on the team.

Dr. Steven Barlow, professor of special education and communication disorders, is the client on the project and is a courtesy assistant professor in biological systems engineering.

Barlow approached the Raikes School about having its students help to update Windows apps that are used to operate a biomechanical device that helps with the testing and rehabilitation of muscle systems in individuals who have suffered brain injuries or have progressive diseases of the nervous system.

The original device was designed by Barlow more than 30 years ago. He decided on including a mechanical engineer to update the design – to make it smaller and more user-friendly for clinical and laboratory settings and to include newer materials – to fit in with newer ways of working on these types of projects.

“My background is in neuroscience, and as part of our training we get small pieces of electrical and mechanical engineering in our curricula, but it’s invaluable to work with primary expertise in the engineering disciplines,” Barlow said. “Biology and engineering are almost inseparable these days. If you look at the National Institutes of Health, in terms of the types of projects that they fund, it’s all about collaboration. It’s not like one person can do it all. Thirty years ago, though, that was the model.”

Though he’s the only mechanical and materials major on the project, Wallin does have other engineers on the team – including teammate Jake Greenwood, a senior electrical and computer engineering major from Lincoln, Nebraska.

I work with Derek a lot, weekly or a couple times a week, and he’s been to this lab (in the Barkley Memorial Center on East Campus), where we can do the instrumentation” Barlow said. “That resource has been there, and maybe that’s kind of a substitute for a compadre so he’s not stuck out there alone.”

Having electrical and computer engineering senior Jake Greenwood on the team has also helped, including having Greenwood attend the weekly meetings Wallin has in Dick’s office to discuss the MME capstone.

“Yeah, I was the only one, the only mechanical engineer,” Wallin said. “I’m the one who did the FEAs and the design work for the product itself, but I wouldn’t say it held me back all that much. I had more time commitment. I put in 12-13 hours a week working on this project.”

Dick said he, too, recognizes the investment Wallin has made in this project.

“As far as this course is concerned, the college says it’s a two-credit hour course, but it should be more,” Dick said. “For Derek particularly, it’s been a big capital-intensive project, with his capital being his time.”