In Trinity’s MakerSpace, a dedicated machine shop with state-of-the-art engineering equipment, there’s always room for a new idea.
Walk into the space—housed in the Center for the Sciences and Innovation—and you get a sense of how many different types of tasks Trinity engineers are tackling. Students are welding, 3D-printing, and CNC-machining pieces that turn into locks for skateboards, laser-projected turn signals for motorcycles, even electric guitars.
In 2021, two projects that will immediately catch your eye are a military-grade exoskeleton and a Formula SAE racecar. Meet Kelly Liu ’21, an engineering science major from Houston, Texas, and Antonio Domit ’21, an engineering science and finance double major from Mexico City, Mexico—the students behind these impressive creations.
Liu is working on a field-improvised exoskeleton, known as the FIX project, which aims to help soldiers in the field with wrist injuries stay in the field until air support arrives. The project is a joint effort with the Department of Defense, which is the exact type of connection Liu says she came to Trinity to experience. “I like that Trinity gives us opportunities to collaborate with organizations outside of school, which gives you that real-world experience before actually having a job,” she says.
Domit, on the other hand, is the perfect student to work on the racecar. “At five years old, my father made the mistake of putting me in a go kart and was not able to get me out of it,” he says. “At 14, I switched over to racing cars. And now at Trinity, I'm in charge of a racing team, and I'm still involved with designing and engineering this racing car.”
Both projects, like countless others before them, rely heavily on Trinity’s extensive physical and technological resources.
Liu—along with a team of Trinity student engineers including Duncan Dang, Kelly Liu, Emi Mondragon, and Karla Penaloza-Escareno—has been tasked with building a “surrogate” (replica) arm with a modified splint attached. Inside this fake arm is a 3D-printed bone that uses a unique sensor to measure the displacement between the fracture and the rest of the bone. The more Liu’s team improves the splint, the better this reading will be.
“With the resources available at Trinity, a lot of our materials came from 3D printing some bones so that we could emulate the distal radius fracture that a soldier would have. Another part that we really used was accessing the electronic shop to borrow their Arduino (a circuit programming device), so we can program a code to help determine the distance that can be seen when a fracture has incurred,” Liu says.
And Liu has been able to do just about all this work at the MakerSpace, Trinity’s one-stop machine shop. “I’ve spent so much time there ... like too much time, to be honest.” Liu says.
You can also find Domit constantly in the MakerSpace. “I started with the race car project my freshman year as a consultant, since I'm one of the only students with racing experience and with race car engineering experience,” he says. “Ever since then, I've evolved from a consultant to be more hands-on.”
The SAE car is an ongoing project, which continually gets passed on to future classes to keep improving. It's powered by a four-stroke, two cylinder, 500 cc Yamaha phazer engine, which actually came from a snowmobile given by a Trinity donor. “The logistics of getting a snowmobile to Texas were very fun,” Domit laughs. “We got some Hoosier tires on there, a nice radiator, and that's a pretty basic car, actually, but we are hoping to be able to achieve fast acceleration, quick times of around maybe three seconds for zero-to-60.”
Domit and the team of student engineers—Brandon Fischer, Jack Harvell-DeGolier, Darryl Ooi, Stan Shao, and Benjamin Witt—are currently working on new body panels for the car, which will streamline the vehicle for a big advantage over other college teams with similar projects. Domit is also excited to announce the car will have an energy recovery system. “It’s going to be similar to a Formula One style (system),” he says, “but a bit more tricky and clever, is what we're going for.”
All that hardware requires a long list of equipment. “But [Trinity has] given us a lot of the basic and advanced equipment we need. Some of that stuff, you don't really think of how fortunate you are, because there's so much available to you,” Domit says. “We've been able to use CNC mills to fabricate parts that in most other scenarios would have to be shipped out and would not be able to be designed. We'd have to buy them pre-made. We've been able to have multiple types of welders to be able to design and build the chassis that we want. Trinity has supported us and either getting us those tools, or getting us the resources necessary to be able to use them in one way or another.”
But tools, parts and machines aren’t Trinity’s most valuable resources. Domit and Liu both say the faculty and staff supporting their projects are just as crucial to success.
“(Machine Shop Technician) Ryan Hodge helps you with whatever you need, whether it’s just where to physically look for things, or learning how to use them,” says Liu, who also points out the help she got from administrative support coordinator Clayton Mabry and instrumentation technician Ernest Romo.
Domit says that plenty of schools give student engineers the chance to explore their creativity. But having experts like Hodge are critical for success once you start actually building and have tough questions. “He answers all of my questions, some dumb, some less dumb. And I’m able to get that advice, get that previous experience that he has, and use it seamlessly and adapt it into our project,” Domit says. “Being able to bounce ideas back and forth with somebody that is not only more experienced than me, but still willing to listen to my ideas and openly be able to tell me, ‘That could work, you just have to consider this, X, Y, Z.’ That's been the biggest help for me, having that kind of experience and expertise.”