Senior Design in Biosystems Engineering at UT

The BSE senior design experience is very rewarding, as students get to work on a single real-world problem for a full academic year. A problem is chosen and the design begun in the fall semester, with the design completed and a prototype built and tested in the spring semester. The problem is usually very broad, and students make extensive use of design mentors, research staff, and a well-equipped shop in developing their design and prototype.  

The video below shows the 2019 BESS Senior Design Project:  

BESS Senior Design 2019 from Gigi Carrier Smith on Vimeo.

2018 – 2019 Projects

Hydraulic Fracking Sub-Soil for Stormwater Infiltration Enhancement
Matthew Johnsen, Christian Patterson, James Lewis and Ryan Watson

– First Place at ASABE Gunlogson Design Competition
– Second Place at EUReCA UT Engineering Design Competition

Rain gardens are common stormwater control measures that are essentially shallow depressions in the landscape created to capture impervious runoff and infiltrate it into the ground. Rain gardens installed above heavily compacted soil tend to become inundated with ponded stormwater that will not infiltrate due to low permeability. The ponded stormwater converts to runoff and carries with it the pollutants that would have been sequestered in the rain garden. The design team’s approach to mitigate rain garden failure is to emulate hydraulic fracking done by the oil and gas industry to induce fractures in compacted soil layers. These fractures offer multiple connected pathways for the infiltrated stormwater to enter the subsoil, greatly increasing the rate at which water can flow through a rain garden. Biochar was selected as a proppant for its ability to adsorb contaminants and its strength to resist compression. During testing of control and fracked plots, the designed system greatly increased infiltration from an average of 2 mm/hr to 88 mm/hr which is well above the Knoxville Stormwater Standard of 12.7 mm/hr for a functioning rain garden (City of Knoxville Stormwater Engineering, 2018). The results showed that a hydraulic fracking method is an effective means of increasing infiltration within heavily compacted clay soils that can often exist beneath rain gardens. Remediation of these stormwater control measures by hydraulic fracking represents an immense savings of cost and time as compared to demolishing and re-installing the infrastructure.

Matthew Johnsen, Christian Patterson, James Lewis and Ryan Watson with their Senior Project

Josh Benavidez, Lindsay Brown, Macy King, Bailey Langford with their Senior Project

Trash Removal And Collection Equipment (TRACE)
Josh Benavidez, Lindsay Brown, Macy King, Bailey Langford
Advisor: Dr. Daniel Yoder

Floating garbage in urban streams is not only aesthetically displeasing, but can also be harmful to ecosystems. This student team developed a semi-automated system garbage removal system for urban streams, which the team chose to call TRACE (Trash Removal And Collection Equipment). TRACE system components included: an angled boom to concentrate the garbage, a conveyance system to remove concentrated garbage from the stream, a storage component to both drain and store the collected garbage, and the electronics required to power and control the system. The PVC collection boom is made up of modular section and extends halfway across the stream at a 45° angle upstream, shown by experimentation to be the optimum collection angle. Experimentation with various designs also resulted in a basket conveyor system to remove the concentrated floating garbage and empty if into a storage container. Sensors were placed throughout the system to ensure the equipment functionality during high flow events and to alert city workers when the storage component needed to be emptied. The system operated using only solar power, enabling use in remote locations without connection to the power grid. The system was built and tested in a Knoxville, TN urban stream. By providing a cost efficient and effective solution to floating garbage, with TRACE urban waterways will be able to return to a healthier state and will better serve their functions of recreation and wildlife habitat.

Design of a Solar-Powered Non-Thermal Plasma Device for Microbial Disinfection
Luke Martin, Calvin Conn, Jordan Brewer and Cabot Anderson

As world population grows, access to clean drinking water is becoming scarce. This problem is especially prevalent in remote or underdeveloped areas, where traditional medium to large scale water treatment options are not available or too costly. Presented is the design of a completely solar-powered water treatment system that does not use consumables. Non-thermal plasma (NTP) ozone generation is a method of microbial disinfection used in water treatment. Such systems utilize grid or other stationary power sources. In this project, a water disinfection system consisting of an NTP ozone generator, ozone injection system, and solar-based power supply was designed and assembled. The system is using solar power, enabling deployment in off grid locations. System components and characteristics were optimized to increase practicality of the device. Functionality and safety of plasma generation and water disinfection were assessed through testing; results showed that the system is capable of achieving the World Health Organization and Environmental Protection Agency standards for clean drinking water based on E. coli concentration, suggesting strong potential for device implementation in remote areas.

Luke Martin, Calvin Conn, Jordan Brewer and Cabot Anderson with their Senior Project

As examples, the senior design projects in the 2017-18 academic year were the following: 

  1. ​2nd generation biochar – Dr. Abdoulmoumine and Dr. Tyner
  2. Landfill flare heat capture for wastewater treatment – Dr. Buchanan
  3. Scuba-mapper for deeper water – Dr. Ayers
  4. Automated plant height sensor – Dr. Wilkerson
Collage of pictures of 2017-2018 Senior Projects

The BSE senior design projects are entered in a national design competition, and they generally do quite well.  Examples of these include the ASABE Gunlogson Open Competition  or at the ASABE Agco Competition.

Below is a table listing the BSE Senior Design success for student participation in regional and national competitions: 


2017 Gunlogson Competition –
Onsite biochar generation using green waste


1st Place

Dr. Abdoulmoumine
Dr. Tyner

2017 AGCO –
EZ-Lift: A mechanical list assist for foldable roll-over protective structures (ROPS) project


3rd Place

Dr. Ayers


2016 AGCO National Student Design Competition, National ASABE Annual Meeting


1st Place Calf Health

Dr. Wilkerson

2016 Gunlogson Environmental Design Competition, National ASABE Annual Meeting


3rd Place Water Treatment

Dr. Buchanan


2014 Gunlogson

Montreal, Canada

1st Place “A Low-Cost, Digital X-Ray Machine for Underdeveloped Countries”

Dr. Wilkerson

ASABE Fountain Wars Competition, National ASABE Annual Meeting

Montreal, Canada

3rd Place Finish awarded for the best use of biological materials and the best sportsmanship award

Dr. Tyner

2014 EPA P3 National Design Competition in Sustainability

Washington, DC

“Eco-friendly Additives for Biodegradation of Agricultural Mulches”

Drs. Hayes, Debrium, Lee, and Wadsworth


2013 AGCO

Kansas City, MO

2nd place finish. “A systematic Approach to the Improvement of High Tunnel with Regards to their Ability to Withstand Wind” 3rd place finish. “Subclinical Mastitis Inline Detection Systems (S.M.I.D.S.)”

Dr. Hayes
Dr. Wilkerson


2012 International 1/4 Scale Tractor Student Design Competition

Peoria, IL

23 teams competing, BESS finished in the middle of pack which was excellent, considering we had not fielded a team in several years

2012 Gunlogson

Dallas, TX

1st Place “Vertical hydroponic masonry wall design for use in building Haitian homes”

Dr. Yoder

2012 AGCO, National ASABE Annual Meeting

Dallas, TX

1st place “Turf tire traction tester for use by a Tennessee industry”

Dr. Wilkerson

2012 Fountain Wars

Dallas, TX

1st Place Finish

Dr. Tyner


2011 AGCO

Louisville, KY

2nd Place Finish “Blue Crab Nursery Design”

Dr. Ayers


2010 Gunlogson

Pittsburgh, PA

1st place finish. “Cryogenic Weed Removal System for Organic Crop Production”

Dr. Hart

2010 AGCO

Pittsburgh, PA

1st place finish. “Integrated Solar Roof System”

Dr. Tyner


2009 Gunlogson

Reno, NV

2nd Place Finish. “Optimized Recirculating Sand Filter Design”
3rd Place Finish. “A Self-Actuating Foldable ROPS Design”

Dr. Buchanan

Dr. Ayers