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Senior STEM projects provide real-life experience before graduation

May 3, 2017

Each spring, NNU seniors are busy completing senior projects—both to fulfill a graduation requirement and, more importantly, to prove their ability to implement and execute everything they’ve learned during their undergraduate career. NNU’s STEM students then present their research to a panel of professors, industry professionals and peers for questions and assessment.

This year, 45 students from the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, and Engineering & Physics presented projects on topics such as tropical frog species, new vaccines, satellites, and computer software testing. Here are a few highlights from the 2017 senior seminar presentations.

Conserving endangered species

Knowing there has been an increased rate of amphibian decline, Rebecca Cossel (Marsing, Idaho), a double major in biology and studio art, conducted research on one of the largely suspected factors for the decline: the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Using the ranid frog Lithobates vibicarius as her test species, her goal was to determine if the fungus was present in remnant frog populations in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

She tested pond water and the skin of 57 frogs for evidence of Bd, but did not detect any. As is the case for many scientists, Rebecca determined conservation concerns still remain and more research is needed.

Determining the accuracy of breathalyzers

Chemistry major Ryan Malone (Nampa, Idaho) examined the accuracy of breathalyzer measurements on Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Breathalyzers are designed to calculate the concentration of ethanol—the alcohol found in beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks. By testing other compounds which may be found in the breath, Ryan’s research demonstrated inaccuracies in the science behind the machine’s design.

Ryan selected several organic compounds for testing, each of them conceivably present in breath, and prepared those solutions at the same concentration as a solution of ethanol which gives a 0.08 (BAC) reading (0.0247M), the common legal limit. Of the compounds tested, five gave readings in the breathalyzer—four gave a greater reading per molecule than ethanol.

Implementing rigorous software testing

During his internship at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, computer science major Nathan Emerson (Nampa, Idaho) implemented the use of Bamboo—a third-party system for running Continuous Integration (CI) testing—on Schweitzer’s commercial software package, Device Manager. This tool automatically builds and tests Schweitzer’s software product. It also starts itself automatically, either at a specific time each day or after new code has been added to the project.

The completed CI machine runs on each new build of the software, providing pass or fail values for tests that were run. This gives software engineers the knowledge needed to correct or maintain the software’s codebase. As one of the first in the company to work on this tool, Nathan had little guidance and documentation to use and often had to figure out how to use this tool on his own. His dedication and hard work were enough to secure him a job with Schweitzer as an Associate Software Engineer even before graduation.

Rescuing backpackers with drones

Engineering seniors Ryan Horton (Nyssa, Ore.) and Richie Grindstaff (Bad Axe, Mich.) combined to work on the Micron sponsored Rapid Response Rescue Drone Project. The drone project is a UAV platform designed to aid search and rescue teams by flying search patterns and GPS trail following while relaying live aerial FLIR heat-seeking video to the operator to locate immobilized victims stuck in rugged backcountry terrains. It will deliver a one pound emergency payload—such as water, a satellite phone or pain medicine injector—directly to the victim while avoiding obstacles using Lidar and ultrasonic sensors. This UAV platform is backpack deployable and will help rescue teams cover large areas in less time—something rescuers in Idaho Wilderness areas can well appreciate.

Operating in space with no power

RFTsat—a NASA-sponsored program—is comprised of senior physics major Lucas Schamber (Nampa, Idaho); senior engineering majors Curtis Garner (Nampa, Idaho), Brandon Pankey (Minden, Nev.), Daniel Slemmer (Nampa, Idaho), Hannah Thomas (Troy, Idaho), Cassie Wade (Boise, Idaho); senior computer science major Jordan Poundstone (Nampa, Idaho); and junior engineering majors Kaleb Davis (Castle Rock, Colo.) and Dakota Lindsay (Bend, Ore.).

The team constructed a small satellite to study the feasibility of using Radio Frequency backscatter tags (RF tags) in space environments. RF tags are useful for a host of distributed sensing applications because they do not require a wired power source; instead, they harvest power from the incident radio wave.

The satellite will be used to demonstrate the feasibility of these tags for low-earth orbit.. It will measure gyroscopic positional data, acceleration data, dosimeter data, and temperature data, remotely (over a distance of 1 meter) using an RF tag.


All of these projects have given the class of 2017 an opportunity to apply their education in real-life scenarios and take one step closer to transitioning from the classroom to life post-graduation. Congratulations to all of our seniors on the completion of their senior projects!


Thumbnail photo: Biology major Stephen Davidson (Nampa, Idaho) presents his research on producing a vaccine that could effectively fight Staphylococcusaureus (commonly referred to as staph infections).

Banner photo: Team Life Light Liberia designed an easy to manufacture biomass gasification system that can affordably generate power for people in Liberia. Team members from the Department of Engineering & Physics were Andrew Bertram (Nampa, Idaho), Kelsey Martin (Salem, Ore.) and Caleb Wolf (Colville, Wash.).