SOCORRO, N.M. April 21, 2011 – Two of New Mexico Tech’s bright, ambitious and innovative engineering students won a statewide contest for their independent design project through the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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Tyler Bushnell (left) and Austin Silva with their awards they earned from designing a survival kit.
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A rendering of the unit that Bushnell and Silva designed.
Senior Tyler Bushnell and December 2010 graduate Austin Silva won $6,000 for their survival kit project. Both have won numerous awards previously, both at Tech and through other professional organizations.

The statewide project asked university students and early-career professionals to design a compact and lightweight survival kit that can generate electricity, provide shelter, generate heat, and purify water. The competition had strict parameters, including that the kit be no more than 1.2 meters-cubed, be able to float, provide light and include a GPS unit.

“It was a lot of work and very technical,” Bushnell said. “We had to verify all our models with calculations.”

Bushnell will pursue his master’s at Stanford University, where he will research design methodologies and design optimization.

Silva will be attending Harvard University in the fall. He is a master’s fellow at Sandia National Laboratories, working in the field of cognitive modeling. He is examining cognitive science and human-computer interaction, which mixes his interests in engineering, psychology and computer science.

The duo had worked together before, earning semifinalist honors in the Disney Imaginations Design Competition in 2009.

Silva, an electrical engineer, and Bushnell, a mechanical engineer, never had the opportunity to work together on an academic project, so they decided to partner on extracurricular events.

“We went outside of school to look for an interdisciplinary project,” Silva said. “We’ve always had a love for design; we know each other’s style; and we work well as a team. This fit the bill, so we sketched some ideas out and got the design all figured out.”

Silva and Bushnell designed a box that, when disassembled, could be re-assembled as a basin that acts as a large solar still salt-water desalinator. The box also contained a light, stove, GPS unit and a small solar panel that could charge electronics, like cell phones or laptop computers. The unit had to be able to purify five liters of water per 24 hours, and provides shelter, which could be heated by solar power and the heat produced by the propane stove. Efficiency and heat recycling drove the design.

The competition judges awarded Silva and Bushnell the grand prize, beating the runner-up team from Sandia National Labs, and other entries from around the state.

Bushnell and Silva worked for less than a month; the competition requirements were released in mid-January, with a deadline of mid-February. They were notified of their award in late March, when they attended the New Mexico annual meeting of the Society of Professional Engineers in Albuquerque.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech