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WERC Environmental Design Contest at NMSU becomes a 2020 IEEE Conference

The 30th WERC Environmental Design Contest, sponsored by the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, resulted in the publication of four team papers in conference proceedings by the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).


Zoom video meeting
New Mexico State University students met via Zoom to compete in the 2020 WERC Environmental Design Contest. Four team papers from the 2020 conference were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (Courtesy photo)

This year’s contest, held in April, was the first time being an IEEE conference, giving participating teams a chance to publish their technical report in the IEEE online database, IEEE Xplore.

The contest invites teams from across the country to compete in solving real-world environmental challenges that are currently facing government and industry. At the competition, teams submit a technical report, give an oral presentation, present a poster, and bring a working bench-scale model of their design. Some 17 teams participated in the contest and could address one of five specific environmental issues or an issue of their own choosing.

“The WERC Design Contest has been a great tradition to bring light to environmental concerns and the invaluable role of engineers in solving them,” said Lakshmi N. Reddi, dean of the College of Engineering. “This relationship with IEEE will bring even more attention to critical environmental issues and at the same time, further the education and experience of engineers.”

This year, judges were asked to recommend papers that had the potential for being published in the 2020 IEEE Waste-Management Education Research Conference (WERC’2020) Proceedings. Papers that passed this first approval step were sent to two additional reviewers in a blind review process. After reviewers’ assessments and revisions, the papers were published in WERC’s conference proceedings. The reviewers’ standards were high. Of the 17 technical papers submitted at the contest, four were accepted for publication. The papers are published at https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/conhome/9142866/proceeding.

The idea to associate the contest with IEEE came from Mona Elshinawy, assistant professor of engineering technology. As former program manager of the contest, she saw the opportunity to increase the visibility for the contest and provide teams an opportunity to publish their findings in refereed conference proceedings. She identified IEEE as the ideal venue for the design contest’s conference because, although IEEE is well-known as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the organization has expanded to advance all technologies for the benefit of humanity, including interdisciplinary areas such as environmental engineering. More information about the IEEE Environmental Engineering initiative can be found at https://environmental.ieee.org/about.

“While I was the program director, I observed the quality work done by the contesting teams. I envisioned that we could grow the recognition of the contest, and the team’s findings could be useful for other researchers/scientists. The perfect medium for such work would only be through published conference proceedings,” Elshinawy said.

Due to lab access restrictions and travel limitations as a result of COVID-19, the 2020 conference was held virtually, without the usual benefit of on-site independent testing of results. Nevertheless, the papers published in the proceedings reflect valuable literature reviews, innovative designs, and results of preliminary tests conducted prior to institutional shutdowns.

“We look forward to many successful years as an IEEE conference and the opportunity to provide a venue for teams to publish their findings in reviewed conference proceedings for the benefit of all who are researching the same topics,” said Ginger Scarbrough, current program manager.

The following four published papers listed were published in the proceedings: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo: “Effects of Phase Change Material on Solar Panel Power Output;” University of North Texas : “Wireless Soil Moisture Sensor Networks for Agriculture;” Louisiana State University: “Heavy Metal Removal via Phycoremediation;” and Ohio University: “Fluoride Removal from Calcium-Rich Mine Water by Steel Slag Adsorption.”

The 2021 WERC Environmental Design Contest is set for April 11-14. For more information, visit https://iee.nmsu.edu/.