From Mars habitat to little boy’s prosthetic hand, Design Day 2019 fascinates

Design Day projects this year took students and visitors on journeys both to Mars and into the world of a young boy born with a partial right hand.

Inspiration and innovation abounded as more than 70 teams of engineering seniors presented their final projects Monday. The annual event attracted hundreds of visitors from Vanderbilt University and the Nashville community to the Student Life Center.

Katie Nachtsheim and four other mechanical engineering majors took on a NASA-sponsored project to design a habitat to sustain five astronauts on Mars for 500 days. In working on concepts, Nachtsheim said she was inspired by a favorite childhood toy – a Hoberman sphere.  The sphere resembles a geodesic dome but collapses to a fraction of its size.

The design involves three domes connected by telescoping hallways. The largest dome, roughly 79 feet in diameter, is a three-tiered living area with communal space, kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms, plus exercise area and controls areas. The two smaller domes, about 30 feet wide, house a medical facility and a research lab.

“I had that toy growing up,” Nachtsheim said. “I just always remember having it.”

She and teammates Elias Germanakos, Vid Lutz Jr., Samantha Majumder and Harrison Vanderwort worked with an aerospace engineer and concept designer from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

NASA was among dozens of government agencies, small companies and household names that sponsored projects and provided advisers. The rigorous Design Day requirement provides engineering students with experience working with design constraints, budgets, reviews and deadlines.

Philippe Fauchet, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Dean of Engineering, commended the students, design faculty, advisers and sponsors for their hard work and creativity.

“This is the best day of the academic year for me,” he told the crowd.

Gage, a 9-year-old boy born with deformity in his right hand, likely would agree. A four-student team of mechanical engineering seniors went through multiple iterations to design and build a partial prosthetic hand that can easily be scaled up as he grows.

The team of Lin Liu, Kimberly Majumder, Lauren Saxon and Harrison Yan used 3D-printing and molded thermoplastic to create and lightweight, durable device that allows Gage to pick up items such as a screwdriver.

Passively activated by Gage’s own wrist, the prosthesis fell short on one design element. Gage had asked for camouflage patterned coloring but, Majumder said, the team had to settle for olive green thermoplastic.

Other projects included an app to help first responders assess burn trauma, a park that connects neighborhoods over a Nashville interstate and a rainwater filtration system that allows buildings to collect more water than they use.

Other sponsors included the Nashville Civic Design Center, Inventiv Tools, FedEx Express Nissan North America, Siemens, Metova, DENSO, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and NAVSEA. Multiple Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt University Medical Center departments also sponsored projects and provided advisers.

Written by Pamela Coyle