It was the night before the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Annual Student Design Competition and NJIT senior Mike Lowry, of Parsippany, was stumped. His single-stream recycling machine, Rufus, nicknamed after NJIT’s green mascot, couldn’t distinguish cans from bottles, a possible cause for disqualification.
The words of NJIT lab technician and mentor Jack Gidney came to mind: “There are no problems, only challenges.”
An hour passed and still no solution. Finally, a thought: The machine had only one sensor. Perhaps adding another would enable it to distinguish can and jar heights. Lowry went to work and added the other sensor. Sure enough, he was right. The machine began sorting cans from jars. Rufus placed first. Lowry was thrilled. It was the first time he had ever won such a major award. “I lifted the award above my head as if it were the Stanley Cup,” said the future mechanical engineer.
(ATTENTION EDITORS: Rufus and Lowry are available for interviews and photos. Please call Sheryl Weinstein for more information, 973-596-3433).
Aside from receiving $500 and the trophy, Lowry earned a place at the Society’s upcoming national design competition next November in Vancouver. He also gained more time to tinker. “The national competition is going to be really rough, he said. “But I intend on winning.”
The competition offered all students the same challenge. They were asked to develop a prototype for an autonomous material sorter that could distinguish between ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, ceramics and other solid materials for recycling. Lowry’s winning entry, which sits about two feet tall, features a cardboard sorter, glass bins for different materials and a one-inch wide conveyor belt—that looks as if it once belonged to a long-forgotten toy truck.
“This is an annual competition in which NJIT has taken first place for eight of the last 13 years, said advisor Harry Kountouras, a university lecturer.
“And, it’s no cakewalk,” Kountouras added. “Mike defeated designs from City College of New York, Drexel University, The College of New Jersey, Rochester Institute of Technology, Stevens Tech, Tufts University, Villanova University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Widener University.”
Lowry also competed against a team from NJIT. “But I have to tell you,” he added, “We helped each other a lot. I became a source for them and they a source for me. They were supportive with ideas, resources, time and encouragement.” Team members were Tina Narine, Phong Pham, and Faizan Naqvi.
Lowry, who is also editor this year of the NJIT student newspaper, the Vector, noted similarities of planning whether people were being managed or a single-stream recycling machine was being built. Both have available, but limited resources: time needed to manage; deadlines; the process of creation as well as the feasibility of ideas. Lastly, you must implement your ideas and there will always be unforeseen problems.
“It makes no difference,” he said, “whether we’re talking about writing a new column or building a single-stream recycling machine. The process is the same.”