Pratt Students Tackle Tsunami Damages

Water works: seniors Tyler Brown, left, and Jim Garnevicus restore shrimp hatcheries in Sumatra

Water works: seniors Tyler Brown, left, and Jim Garnevicus restore shrimp hatcheries in Sumatra. Matt Edmundson

Five engineering students from Duke's Pratt School of Engineering spent part of their summer in Indonesia repairing shrimp hatcheries damaged by the 2004 tsunami and helping villagers stabilize an airstrip to prevent erosion. The Lord Foundation and Pratt provided support for the two projects, which were conducted in collaboration with local nongovernmental organizations.

The Pratt team--civil-engineering seniors Jean Foster, Jim Garnevicus, and Emily Wren; biomedical/mechanical-engineering senior Tyler Brown; and Deirdre McShane B.S.E. '05, who majored in civil engineering--spent two-and-a-half weeks in Indonesia in August. They were accompanied by David Schaad, adjunct assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The projects were part of a student-led effort to launch an Engineers Without Borders chapter at Duke, and to provide engineering students with year-round opportunities for hands-on engineering experience and a chance to help others. The emphasis for both projects was to use locally available materials to create sustainable technologies.

The students first traveled to the northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, where they worked to restore local shrimp hatcheries. Using materials at hand--including PVC pipes and rope--they adapted a prototype for a wind-powered mechanical aerator based on a design developed and tested at Duke by a larger student team.

The students also helped villagers reinforce eroding hatchery walls made of dirt by designing and building a retaining wall out of plentiful palm fronds, bamboo, and fishing nets.

The students' second project involved stabilizing an airstrip in a remote and mountainous area on the island of Papua. The engineers showed villagers how to construct "rock boxes" to prevent erosion and runoff, and where to place them.

Engineers Without Borders, a five-year-old Colorado-based nonprofit, links engineering students and professionals with disadvantaged communities in the U.S. and abroad to undertake environmentally and economically sustainable engineering projects that will improve the quality of life in those communities. Foster says she had been thinking about starting a chapter at Duke for a long time and visited the organization's headquarters during her winter break last year. When she returned in the spring, she began talking to McShane about the potential for getting something started on campus.

They quickly compiled an e-mail list of more than seventy interested students and faculty members that included Schaad and faculty adviser Dan Vallero, an adjunct professor of engineering ethics, and put together plans for their first project.

The tsunami recovery and rebuilding effort provided a natural entrÈe.

"The tsunami has really galvanized interest in sustainable development in engineering," Schaad says. "EWB encourages students to look at engineering projects and the world in a new way. Design engineers have to fit the appropriate solution to the problem, and that's why low-tech solutions are frequently the best solutions--they are easy to implement and sustainable. Students will have to look beyond the boundaries of the U.S. and preconceived ideas of how technology should be used."

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