Engineering students at the University of Sheffield take on global engineering challenge

Teams of engineering students from the University of Sheffield took on a global engineering challenge by attempting to improve the quality of life for a rural Indian village community.

About 900 students from the University's nine engineering disciplines worked in teams of six on projects throughout the weeklong event, which was the first time Sheffield students have taken part in the Engineering Without Borders Challenge based project.

The problem solving students faced challenges including providing low cost rainwater capture systems; identifying a method to improve water quality; and finding methods for improving processing and treatment of toilet waste, for people living in the Devikulam community in the Panchayat region, Tamil Nadu, India.

Residents in the Indian village have to collect water from taps, have intermittent electricity supply and poor sanitation facilities. The first year students researched existing solutions and then adapted and developed them to the residents' resources.

The students' solutions included water collection and storage, water purification by filtration, energy generation using biogas from agricultural waste and using the remainder for fertiliser, solar and wind power, and developing methods to improve IT education.

Professor Stephen Beck of the University's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Faculty Director of Learning and Teaching said: "Some of the week has been concerned with student employability and communications skills and the students got the chance to work with students from other departments.

"Being able to interact effectively with a wide range of workers and using the strengths of all the members of a team to achieve a goal is a vital skill for the workplace. This experience will help the students to be better prepared for their future careers."

As well as searching for solutions to real-life engineering problems, the students developed skills including working effectively in groups with different expertise, cultures, problem-solving, and design, which will benefit them in the future.

At the end of the challenge the students were asked to present their ideas, showing they considered the social, environmental and economic impacts. Alumni and industry experts, including TATA steel, talked to the students throughout the week offering guidance and support.

The winning teams are eligible to submit summary reports of their ideas from which eight will be selected to be put forward to the national Engineering Without Borders-UK Challenge. The national final will be held in the summer.

The Faculty of Engineering is planning to run a similar project for second year students next year (2013).

Notes for Editors: The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield - the 2011 Times Higher Education's University of the Year - is one of the largest in the UK. Its seven departments include over 4,000 students and 900 staff and have research-related income worth more than £50M per annum from government, industry and charity sources. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) confirmed that two thirds of the research carried out was either Internationally Excellent or Internationally Leading.

The Faculty of Engineering has a long tradition of working with industry including Rolls-Royce, Network Rail and Siemens. Its industrial successes are exemplified by the award-winning Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the new £25 million Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC).

The Faculty of Engineering is set to ensure students continue to benefit from world-class labs and teaching space through the provision of the University's new Engineering Graduate School. This brand new building, which will become the centre of the faculty's postgraduate research and postgraduate teaching activities, will be sited on the corner of Broad Lane and Newcastle Street. It will form the first stage in a 15 year plan to improve and extend the existing estate in a bid to provide students with the best possible facilities while improving their student experience.

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