Engineering on the international stage
After winning a national engineering challenge, Kansas University student Cole Bittel and his team will travel to Denmark to compete in the international Grundfos Challenge.
Bittel, a Basehor-Linwood High School graduate, formed his team of three engineering students at the last minute for the Grundfos Challenge, which took place in mid-November. Grundfos, the world’s largest pump manufacturer, sponsors a competition annually, but this year was the first time it was offered in the United States.
“We had no idea what it was,” Bittel said. “We went in knowing nothing.”
Bittel’s academic adviser, associate professor Lisa Friss, said it was an honor just to be invited to compete in the first competition, as only a few schools were invited. Each school was allowed one team of three students, and Bittel chose his roommate John DiBaggio, and DiBaggio asked graduate student Dave Minnick to join.
“Initially we weren’t taking it very seriously,” Bittel said. “We were just having a good time with it.”
There wasn’t pressure to win because it was the first competition, Bittel said, so his team saw it as a fun opportunity to take a break from the stress of class work and finals. Although it was a creative competition, it was far from an easy task to win.
About 15 teams from universities around the country competed in the challenge, which took place in Kansas City, Mo. Engineering competitors were charged with the task of solving the world’s water shortage by engineering a solution for one of the major sources of water usage.
With 25 hours to develop a complete solution, including detailed plans, designs and implementation strategies, teams worked throughout the day and night to prepare extensive presentations, Bittel said. His team chose to tackle the problem of treating wastewater in residential homes.
Their plan devised a way to separate grey water, which comes from a sink or shower and is easier to treat, from black water, which comes from a toilet. There is just one pipe to carry both grey and black water, but the team devised a plan to recycle grey water to save resources. Using filters, the grey water would be treated at the house and recycled to use as black water before all black water then went to a main treatment facility.
The team’s plan, which even incorporated specific Grundfos pumps, impressed the judge’s panel enough to send them to the international competition in Denmark in April.
Competitions such as the Grundfos Challenge are excellent experience for students, Friis said, because it’s a great way to use abstract techniques and skills in real-world problems.
“It gives them more of a sense of the professional world,” she said, adding open-ended problems like solving the water crisis are daily problems engineers work with.
Competing against mostly graduate students, Bittel and DiBaggio seemed to be the only undergraduates, Bittel said, and he didn’t think other teams saw them as a threat.
“We were definitely the underdog,” Bittel said.
In Denmark, the KU team will compete with the second-place U.S. team, University of Missouri, as well as two Chinese and two Danish teams.
Bittel is expecting some difficult competition abroad, he said, but he and his team plan to approach the competition with the same easygoing attitude that helped them win in the U.S.
“If we lose, we’re going to have a great time anyways,” he said.
During the week-and-a-half trip, which Grundfos pays for, teams will get to sight-see in addition to competing, Bittel said. And if they win in Denmark, they’ll come away $12,000 richer.