University of New Orleans electrical engineering student Michael Flot Jr. took second place in a national science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competition. Flot delivered an oral presentation about an automated growing system for plants that does not require soil and uses dramatically less water than normal farming methods. It is the focus of a senior design project for Flot and four classmates.
Flot, a New Orleans native, presented the team’s senior design project at the 2015 Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM in Washington D.C. from Feb. 19-21. The conference is hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation. His conference participation was funded by the Louis Stokes Louisiana Alliance for Minority Participation (LS-LAMP). Other electrical engineering students involved in the project are Daniel Braun, Roger Calix, Brandon Allen and Ozgur Aydogan.
With the high cost associated with traditional farming practices, there is a need for a more cost effective and efficient method of agriculture, according to Flot. Aeroponics is the practice of growing plants without using soil; instead the method uses mist to provide nutrients and requires up to 98 percent less water than normal farming practices. Aeroponics is one way to reduce the stress that agriculture causes to the environment.
The goal of the project is to design an automated aeroponic growing system that will use sensors to simulate the ideal growth conditions for a particular plant, Flot said. It will do that by accessing information on a variety of plants from a database. The device will include a touchscreen and proprietary software to make aeroponics a more user-friendly experience. According to Flot, the team expects to have a prototype of the device completed by May.
The Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM is aimed at college and university undergraduate and graduate students who participate in programs funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Human Resource Development, including underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities.