S&T Engineers Without Borders prepares for trip to Bolivia

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On January 15, 2010

The student chapter of Engineers Without Borders at Missouri University of Science and Technology will make its fifth trip to Bolivia on Jan. 21 to help bring clean water, agricultural irrigation and access to markets and health care to the remote village of Tacachia.

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The community of 100 people located on a steep valley south of the city of La Paz is nearly inaccessible to the city. During this trip, the EWB team will make its final assessment to determine whether it can feasibly construct an 800-foot-long pedestrian footbridge across the Rio Palca River. The bridge would provide access to health and educational facilities on the opposing riverbed during the rainy season.

“The current of the river during the wet season has the ability to move boulders the size of cars,” says Matthew Schultz of Ellisville, Mo., a senior in civil and architectural engineering. “It’s obviously a dangerous river and this plays an important role in the design of the bridge. A long-span bridge with piers will need protection from such rocks.”

The team will also help the community increase its agricultural output by increasing the capability of a previously installed irrigation pumping and distribution system. In May 2009, the S&T EWB team installed a system that used two hydraulic ram pumps. The pumps used zero electricity to transport water from the lower irrigation canal 150 feet up in elevation to an upper irrigation canal. The team plans to make minor adjustment to that system and determine where two additional ram pumps could be installed.

Before the group returns to Rolla on Jan. 26, they plan to implement a pilot program of 10 small-scale, point-of-use biosand filters and educate the community on how to properly use and maintain the filters. Otherwise known as slow sand filters, the biosand filters are designed to remove heavy metals and clean water to a drinkable state, Schultz says.

“The sand is naturally ionized and ‘catches’ tiny organisms, pathogens and bacteria when the dirty water is poured into it,” Schultz says. “A miniature ecosystem of this organic material slowly forms on the top of the sand and created a predator-versus-prey situation. Organisms eat each other and eventually die off from lack of food. This is what makes the filter so effective.”

Students traveling to Tacachia, Bolivia, include:

  • Brock Curtis of Harrison, Ark., a junior in mechanical engineering
  • Jennifer Hoffman of Chesterfield, Mo., a junior in aerospace engineering
  • Patrick Lancey of Kansas City, Mo., a senior in ceramic engineering
  • Anna Osborne of St. Louis, Mo., a senior in civil and architectural engineering
  • Matthew Schultz of Ellisville, Mo., a senior in civil and architectural engineering
  • Michael Throm of Arnold, Mo., a senior in civil engineering
  • Michael Wieberg of Rolla, Mo., a senior in civil engineering.

Dr. Mark Fitch, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri S&T, and David Hoffman, associate research engineer in civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri S&T, will accompany the students on this trip.

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