NIU Voices: Innovation on display at senior design virtual event

Innovative technology was on display at the annual Senior Design Demonstration Day. The virtual event hosted by Northern Illinois University’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology was held Friday, April 23. Visitors to the website interacted via live video chat with 72 student teams to learn about their projects.

The Senior Design course brings together concepts and principles learned in the classroom and bridges theory with practice. Students form teams and get hands-on experience solving real-world problems; the kind of engagement that is the foundation of the curriculum at NIU.

The senior design program is a culmination of the learning experiences in our students’ engineering education. They apply the knowledge they acquired in the classroom to bring together concepts, theories, and construct a prototype or process. They also use problem-solving skills to work on open-ended complex systems, as well as understanding the business of engineering and further developing their communication and project management skills. Along the way, they are mentored by faculty and industry professionals, and these projects are often viewed as a student’s first professional achievement.”

The teams work with industry sponsors to develop prototypes that create or enhance a product, system, process, automation, algorithm or smart technology. Or they may work with a research organization, such as Fermi National Laboratory, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Argonne National Laboratory or the Morton Arboretum.

For example, one team is working with the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District to detect COVID in populations through sewage testing.

In addition to the industry and research organization sponsored teams, there are nine teams that have challenges sponsored by other NIU colleges, 25 projects identified by engineering faculty and nine projects identified by students. One student team called the “Rock Valley Roasters” from the NIU engineering program at Rock Valley College in Rockford is developing a less expensive way to roast coffee.

Three projects were proposed by faculty in the College of Visual and Performing Arts that advance artistry and the design of musical instruments. One team is devising ways to forage steel for the Trinidadian steel drum, while another is working to advance the design of the berimbau, an African guitar-like instrument. A third team is working on a photography system that would enable individuals with disabilities to practice photography more easily.

A College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty member challenged one team to recover liquid fuel from the manufacturing of plastics. Another challenged a team to develop an unmanned autonomous drone to sample water in Mexican cenotes, which are natural water-filled sinkholes and that are difficult to access.

Faculty in the College of Education is working with two teams on an intelligent stepping exercise mat and a better heart rate monitoring device, while faculty in the College of Health and Human Services challenged a team to design and build a low-cost calibration device for audiometers.

For more information about Senior Design and project sponsorships, visit

• Donald Peterson, Ph.D., is dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology at Northern Illinois University.