Chemical engineering and molecular biology students combined efforts to solve water filtration problems.

Biology, Chemical Engineering students team up to solve water filtration issues

In groups, Chemical Engineering students were each asked to produce adequate water for one of the following purposes: cooling, potable, brewery, steam generation and irrigation.

Chemical Engineering and molecular biology students combined their skillsets to solve an open-ended water filtration problem presented jointly by Dr. Michelle Ammerman (Applied Biology) and Dr. Steven Nartker (Chemical Engineering) in each of their respective classes.

The premise: address biological problems in engineering projects and vice versa around the theme of examining the impact of microbes in environmental and industrial settings.

In groups, Chemical Engineering students were each asked to produce adequate water for one of the following purposes: cooling, potable, brewery, steam generation and irrigation. Using Flint river water as a base, students were responsible for designing a water filtration system to optimize the type of water that is required for their assigned purpose. Each of the water types have different standards and requirements based on its intended use.

“Water means microbes. If it’s wet, something can grow on it,” Ammerman said.

That’s where the Applied Biology students come in. The Chemical Engineering students were required to design a flow system for their particular water use after consulting with the applied biology students on the contents of the water. The Applied Biology students were the microbial consultants for  the chemical engineering flow project.

“We wanted to hit on connections in a client-customer relationship,” Nartker said.

Therefore, engineering students were required to explain their process and problems to the Applied Biology consultants and together derive a solution to purify the water for each purpose.

“We are trying to teach students collaboration and the idea that you might not know everything but you need to be able to communicate your needs to individuals from other disciplines,” Ammerman said.  

Ammerman, in partnership with Nartker, Dr. Cheryl Samaniego (Applied Biology) and Dr. Jonathan Wenzel (Chemical Engineering), along with other distinguished faculty members in multiple departments at Kettering University have received about $40,000 each, for a total of $240,000 over the last two years, from the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) to embed and incorporate various aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship mindset into their individual engineering and science courses. Additionally, Kettering granted six  internal topical grants valued at $7,500 each to faculty who creatively infuse entrepreneurial elements in their classrooms.

“This project fits with the entrepreneurship model because an entrepreneur is a person facing new challenges and finding ways to get through them,” Ammerman said.

The jointly developed project by Ammerman and Nartker focuses on expanding students’ curiosity by presenting and open-ended problem and creating connections for students with their peers in other fields. The students who participated in the project found it beneficial to work with students in another discipline with whom they weren’t familiar because it realistically resembled a customer-client relationship in the real world. Next term, Samaniego and Wenzel will continue this project jointly and with their respective applied biology and chemical engineering classes.

“Our goal as an institution is to help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset regardless of their choice of major,” said Dr. Massoud Tavakoli, professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Innovation to Entrepreneurship program at Kettering. “Whether it’s an engineering, biomedical science, business or liberal studies classroom – we want to make sure that it includes an entrepreneurial tilt so our students can develop a mindset that focuses on identifying opportunities for creating value for the world around them using the technologies that they learn and use every day.”