Bicycle thresher among ideas developed at international design summit

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On August 12, 2008

This summer, while political candidates (and Paris Hilton) have been arguing
about ways to address the nation’s dependence on oil, some ambitious college
students from around the world – including one student from Missouri University
of Science and Technology – have been actively working on projects designed to
solve problems in developing countries.  

The students recently spent four weeks at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology working on a total of 10 projects, including a device that decreases
the transmission rate of HIV/AIDS from mothers to babies, a rope system that
helps Himalayan women get products to market and an ergonomic threshing machine
that works like a

Michelle Marincel, a graduate student in environmental engineering at
Missouri S&T, was one of the people selected to participate in the
International Development Design Summit July 14 to Aug. 8 at MIT in Boston.
Selected students like Marincel joined professors and professionals in groups
of 10 to work on the various projects. Marincel’s group worked on the threshing

“A researcher provided panicles of pearl millet for us to roll up our
sleeves and destroy as we struggled to understand the best way to remove the
grains from the stalk,” says Marincel, a St. Louis native who already holds a
bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from Missouri S&T. “Ultimately, we
discovered the physics behind millet threshing. We tried numerous iterations of
threshing devices. We tried using rubber, brushes, vacuums, centrifuges and
many odd materials to remove the

Pearl millet is grown in Africa and India. The plant is very hardy and can
be cultivated in extremely arid environments without irrigation. It can be
ground into flour and made into porridge and breads. Women spend about four
hours preparing the millet for a

Traditional threshing techniques involve women pounding the plant with
mortar and pestle. The work is hard on backs, necks and

“The key we discovered is hitting the grains at high speeds in the right
direction,” says Marincel. “Our idea is that a woman on a bicycle could carry,
on her back, an extra wheel for the purpose of threshing. When she reaches the
field, she could turn her bicycle upside down and change out the back wheel for
threshing. This gives mobility to

All of the projects developed at the summit were designed to help reduce
problems associated with poverty. Marincel notes that 90 percent of the
population in developing countries lives on less than $1 per day.

During the summit, the students proposed ideas, conducted research, came up
with designs and made prototypes. Marincel, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. at the
University of Illinois, says members of her group will stay in touch in order
to prepare the bicycle thresher for field tests.

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On August 12, 2008. Posted in Research