sealPurdue News

April 23, 2002

Purdue engineering students take honors at national contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A team of civil engineering students from Purdue University won top honors in a national environmental design contest, creating an innovative method to purify soil that has been contaminated with concentrated toxins from explosives.

Another Purdue team at the same competition won a special judges' recognition for outstanding achievement for designing and building roof-support trusses out of wood that would ordinarily be used only as scrap.

A total of 23 Purdue civil engineering students in four teams competed against more than 350 students from 25 universities in the International Environmental Design Contest, April 8-11 in Las Cruces, N.M. The contest is sponsored by a consortium called WERC, which promotes environmental education and technology development, headquartered at New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces.

The contest challenges students to solve various real-life environmental problems, and the judges are from academia, government agencies and industry.

The Purdue teams were made up of students taking a civil engineering senior design course taught by Loring Nies and Inez Hua, both associate professors, and Graham Archer, an assistant professor of civil engineering.

All of the Purdue students who participated in the contest were seniors.

The contest was broken down into 10 "tasks" within two tracks: waste management and sustainability. A team of five Purdue students won first place in the "explosives separation task," which was within the waste management track.

"Their task was to come up with a physical separation method to remove explosive particulates from contaminated soil," Nies said. "Other criteria were to do it in a cost-effective, safe way that generates as little waste material as possible."

Such cleanup technologies are needed to cleanse soils in areas that have been used for military target practice. Concentrated toxins from explosives such as TNT and RDX often contaminate ground water and pose dangers to wildlife.

The students designed and built a scaled-down system that blows air through a perforated pipe to "liquefy" soil so that lightweight explosives particles move to the surface where they can be skimmed off.

"They had to do a complete design paper, with economic analysis for full-scale implementation," Nies said. "They also had to put together poster and oral presentations, and they had to demonstrate their device at the contest."

The team won $2,500, which will be used to help finance next semester's senior design class.

The students on that team were Mark Morris, of Lafayette; Jason Sierman, of Orland Park, Ill.; Eric Ortman, of Greensburg, Ind.; Curt Sprunger, of Lafayette; and Jeff Frechtling, of Hamilton, Ohio.

"The contest provides the opportunity to address real-world environmental scenarios that require innovative approaches," said Ortman. "The experience cannot be paralleled to those encountered in the normal academic environment.

"We applied engineering skills learned in the classroom to undertake an experience that better prepared us to practice the profession in years to come."

Another Purdue team won the Judges' Choice Award for Best Integration of Technology Environmental Requirements.

"The students had to build a structure out of waste wood material," Nies said. "The whole purpose of their task was to devise an economically feasible use of trees that are thinned from forest, very small diameter trees that are just scrap wood."

The students designed and built roof trusses from the waste wood.

"They had an outstanding design," Nies said.

The students on that team were Janel Crosier, of Orangevale, Calif.; Jon Sheidler, of Ames, Iowa; Scott Singleton, of Wadesville, Ind.; Melissa Hardy, of New Lenox, Ill.; Tricia McCord, of New Palestine, Ill.; and Zac Shelton, of Cicero, Ind.

The team won a cash award of $750.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Sources: Loring Nies, (765) 494-8327,

Inez Hua, (765) 494-2409,

Graham Archer, (765) 494-2227,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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