NU - AutoAquaponics: Winter 2023 Update

AutoAquaponics Progress From Winter of 2023
Added by Bill Yen about 1 year ago

This quarter, AutoAquaponics made strides in all aspects of our project and welcomed David Kim and Emi Saegusa to our team. We also continued our involvement in community education by giving a tour of the system to middle and high schoolers from the Chicagoland area as a part of Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) Career Day for Girl event. Our team members showed them everything from the plumbing system we built to our software platform, which many of our visitors were especially excited about. We hope to impart to them that engineering is for everyone and demonstrate the importance of diversity in science with our own various backgrounds and identities. Read more about AutoAquaponics’ involvement in SWE’s Career Day for Girls at McCormick’s recent article here .

Our plumbing and software team representatives (Hannah and Talia) giving a presentation of our system:

AutoAquaponics is also honored to receive Northwestern community’s recognition this quarter by accepting the Wildcat Impact Award for Discovery . Our current Project Manager (Bill Yen) was selected for this award among the entire student body for his work on starting AutoAquaponics over the pandemic and transferring his leadership and engineering skills over to the next generation of student leaders. Our incoming group of leaders will be Marcos Sanchez and Lester Tai (AutoAquaponics Co-Project Managers), Kyan Shlipak (Plumbing Lead), Yanni Wilcox (Electronics Lead), Andre Chen (Software Lead), and Eduardo Andrade (Biology Lead).

On the project side, our software team focused on improving the security of our web app by implementing website login and authentication via Firebase. This includes secure writes for all of the developed pages on our control panel. They also improved our website's mobile performance and set up Google Analytics to monitor traffic so we can better understand how to improve our UI design. Next quarter, we plan to revamp the home page by introducing an interactive diagram of our AutoAquaponics system in place of the static image right now.

Mobile view of the dashboard:

As for electronics, we are in the process of replacing our current ultrasonic distance sensor with a more robust product that can sense water levels without getting corroded over time. We also continued our work in designing our electronics box PCB and fully reworked our outlet box code to get it ready for implementation. Some of our members began designing a window-cleaning robot, which we hope to use to keep our fish tank's front glass panel algae-free. We got the encoder working and fitted the motor shaft to our 3D-printed rim, and our next steps will be to laser-cut holders for magnets to sit in so the robot can stay attached to the glass. Winter Quarter likewise marked the official end to our fish feeder team's time in Northwestern's Interdisciplinary Design course, and they ended the project strong by creating a new prototype fish feeder featuring a custom-designed PCB that allows the feeder to actuate motors and record how much food was being fed with high degrees of accuracy.

Our members working on the outlet box:

Soldering components to the custom fish feeder PCB using a microscope:

Our plumbing team put their efforts into 3D printing a better intake screen for the solids lifting overflow (SLO) and also modifying the membrane filtration tank by installing a bracket to hold the filtering membrane. They also prototyped a new custom-designed bell siphon for the lower grow bed in order to improve flow and increase the water level in the grow bed so that seedlings can grow faster.

Waterproofing and removing supports from the 3D printed bell siphon:

Members getting laser-cutter trained and then applying their new skills to manufacture brackets for the membrane filter:

Some unfortunate development occurred on the biological side of AutoAquaponics. Namely, our fish became infected with camallanus worm, which is a type of intestinal parasite that will eventually starve the fish of nutrients and kill them. See the red worms exiting their recently deceased host in the picture below:

To combat this, we are dosing fenbendazole and levamisole in the form of medicated fish food, both of which are known to kill nematodes. The biology team spent most of their efforts this quarter trying to cure and save as many fish as we can, as camallanus worm is especially difficult to get rid of since they are unaffected by medication in the water. This means that if the fish stops eating due to the sickness, it becomes impossible to kill the worms.

Our biology team member putting medicated fish food into the commercial automatic fish feeder we use:

The parasites have mostly only affected our smaller fishes (tiger barbs and mollies), and larger fish like the Raphael catfish here seemed fine:

We also continued to grow our plant produce and added mint and spring onion to our crop list:

At the start and end of Winter Quarter, AutoAquaponics hosted harvest day socials for ESWNU to turn the plants we grew into delicious food and share them with the whole club. Here are some pictures of our team processing our produce into wheatgrass smoothies, mint creme brulee, and scallion pancakes:

And of course, we composted all of our waste at the designated bins run by Cats Who Compost :

That's all for this quarter, thank you so much for your continuous support, and stay tuned for more updates from AutoAquaponics in the Spring!

Message From the Writer

Hi there! I'm Bill. This is the last blog post that I will do as the founder and Project Manager of AutoAquaponics since we are transitioning to new leadership in the Spring so I can (finally) graduate. To our dear readers (whoever you are), I want to personally thank you for reading this blog and keeping up to date with our project. I also want to thank all of my ESWNU teammates (past and present) for sticking with me and spending countless hours building an indoor farming system just because it’s “cool”. Because of them, we were able to turn this simple idea into a fully working system that improves our understanding of aquaponics and teaches children from the Chicagoland area about sustainable agriculture. When I started AutoAquaponics 3 years ago with just 1 other person on Zoom and a Raspberry Pi, I never thought it could’ve had this much impact on Northwestern and become the beautiful community it is now. I was initially motivated by my curiosity and drive to do something different in sustainability, but eventually I realized what made me step through the door of our meeting room week after week were the faces behind it, not the prototypes or circuits we built. It has been a privilege and a gift to lead such an amazing team to tackle this incredibly complex and interdisciplinary project, and seeing younger members’ eyes light up with excitement as they study our fish and the systems we designed to support them has been nothing short of magical. There is still more work to be done with AutoAquaponics, but I know the future is in good hands with our excellent group of new Project Managers and Sub-Team Leaders, many of whom I call my friends. It has been a crazy, rewarding, and at times, difficult ride, but I’m grateful for all of it because of how it shaped me as a person, leader, and engineer for a sustainable world. ESWNU - thanks for the last 4 years, and I love you all <3

Signing off,

Bill Yen


NU - SmartTree: Fall 2022 Update

Added by Fay-Ling Laures over 1 year ago

This past quarter, the team made substantial progress in construction and finalized a renewed electrical plan! We’ve been figuring out some new ways to structure and organize our work, including creating electrical and different construction project teams. This quarter, we had a sub team working on using the table side to miter the base piece walls, while another learned the router to be able to cut out triangular base piece lids. The electrical also drafted and approved a new plan, ready to wire next quarter!

team foto

On the construction side of things, this quarter we worked on mitering the side of all the base pieces so that they would fit flush against each other in a triangle shape. After brainstorming and consulting many different Shop Professionals, we determined that no tools could miter such thick wood to our desired 60° cut. The only solution was to build a support that held the pieces vertically upright when clamped to it, so that the table saw only had to cut at a 30° angle. The table saw team received formal training and guidance from Prototyping Shop Professional Scott Simpson, and spent the first few weeks building and testing this support. Once they were familiarized with the tool and setup, the rest of the pieces were a breeze to miter!

At the end of spring quarter, a couple of members received training on the router, however, the machine broke shortly after so we were unable to complete the base piece lids. Thankfully, we got to try again this quarter - some newer members got trained while old members refreshed from ship trainer Sarah Yung. We were able to practice before creating a file to router all 3 of the side base piece lids. We’re currently waiting to assemble and measure exact lengths before creating the middle piece lid (which also requires an indented rim to allow for insulation!).

The last construction decision made was regarding the benches. After realizing the work and materials required to create concrete bench legs using the mold and finding the resulting weight too heavy, we decided to switch to metal (likely aluminum) bench frames. This is both more sustainable and more convenient as it uses less material and can be moved more easily.

Regarding electrical progress, the team met with a professor to revise our out of date electrical diagram. We replaced our original 120V system with a 20V system (low enough voltage to not be harmful to humans), so we no longer have to worry about grounding our structures. Unfortunately, this means that we can no longer incorporate sockets into our design. However, we’ve come up with practical solutions like providing low voltage USB hubs and universal chargers in weather protection boxes. We’ve ordered the necessary components for testing, and can’t wait to start working on it in the winter quarter!

updated electrical

Overall, The project managers Fay-Ling and Thomas are both extremely proud of what the team has accomplished this quarter, and hope to keep the momentum going into winter quarter. Our goal is to finish the base pieces and start on the base plate, the other main component of our structure. We also aim to have a working electrical system by the end of the quarter, so be on the lookout!

Hope everyone has had a great school year and we will touch base soon!

NU - AutoAquaponics: Fall 2022 Update

AutoAquaponics Progress From Fall of 2022
Added by Bill Yen over 1 year ago

AutoAquaponics ended 2022 strong by significantly expanding our membership through increasing the frequencies of our social/recruitment events. In addition, we formed our new Biology sub-team, which aims to improve our understanding of the fish, plants, and microbes in our system so we can make better design decisions. We welcomed Seeley McGillis, Annie Ho, Daniel Soto, Edward Lee, Lianne Kim, Miya Liu, Varoon Enjeti, Zeeshan Razzaq, Andre Chen, Gracelyn Shi, Talia Ben-Naim, Calvin Davies, Jack Doheny, Hannah Wilks, Aliza Campbell, and Kyan Shlipak to our team. We are also honored to receive the continued support of Northwestern's Associated Student Government (ASG) and ESW Global this quarter with the ASG Sustainability Grant and ESW Global Project Grant. In September, we began our partnership with Northwestern's Segal Design Institute by turning the automatic fish feeding part of our project into the capstone assignment for the Interdisciplinary Product Design course.

Beach social:

Making our ESWNU club banner for Homecoming:

Recruiting freshmen at the Morning with McCormick event:

Photo from our Sunday whole-team meetings:

Students hard at work to design our automatic fish feeder for their design capstone;

After their continuous effort over the course of the past year, the software team has successfully launched the AutoAquaponics 2.0 platform, which is a web application that anyone with an Internet connection can access to monitor the state of our system in real-time through the Dashboard tab. Check it out at! Note that the website currently does not support mobile devices or Safari, so users accessing it through these methods may experience some bugs for the time being.

Home Page of our web app:

Dashboard with live data:

The team behind this magic:

Next steps with the AutoAquaponics 2.0 platform would be to add control capabilities in the Settings and Control Panel pages and also a live video stream of the system. The software team will be working closely with the electronics group to make this happen in 2023.

Speaking of the electronics team, they have been focusing their efforts in integrating more sensors into our system and improving their accuracy. They've installed two hall effect flow sensors and a number of analog signal isolators to prevent our pH, TDS, and dissolved oxygen sensors from interfering with one another.

On the plumbing side, we worked on enhancing the performance of our solids removal system by building a bracket for our membrane filters. This is intended to ensure that the filter pads tightly fit around the edge of the filter tank so sediments won’t bypass them through those gaps. We also began using an additional water pump with custom 3D printed outlets to push solids from the corners of our fish tank to the solids lifting overflow (SLO) intake so they can end up in the settling tank. Furthermore, we have been continuously redesigning components like our SLO intake and overflow intake screen to prevent fish from entering while allowing sediments to go through.

New SLO intake screen CAD design:

Installed new overflow screen with side grates:

Members working as a team to prototype their membrane bracket design:

Last but not least, the Biology team made a lot of progress this quarter by introducing a number of new aquatic species to our system. Namely, we've added a red-tailed shark, Raphael catfish, firemouth cichlid, snails, and a number of mollies to the fish tank. We also successfully grew wheatgrass in our media bed to test how different plant types grow in AutoAquaponics while making some healthy green juice at the same time. Due to aggression from some of the fish in the tank, we have seen a couple injured occupants, so we set up a separate quarantine tank to allow them to recover and receive medication if necessary.

Red-tailed shark and Raphael catfish being transported to the tank:

Our new mollies playing with the tiger barbs:

Firemouth cichlid patrolling his new territory:

Wheatgrass' journey from seeds to lawn and finally juice:

Quarantine tank:

We are excited to continue working on AutoAquaponics in 2023. Please stay tuned on our project and feel free to reach out with any questions. If you would like to contribute to our software platform or see our code, take a look at our AutoAquaponics v2.0 GitHub repository. This is an open-source project, so any idea you have would be very welcomed!

Happy New Year from all of us :)

PSU Hydroponic Vertical Farm: Progress Report

Added by ESW PSU almost 2 years ago

Penn State- Vertical Hydroponic Farm Project Progress Report

Description: The club met every Thursday night for an hour, mostly at Penn State’s Student Farm Greenhouse. The hydroponics project is still in the prototype phase. The prototype has two tiers and can hold 4 plants. We designed the prototype like this because it reduced size and pricing while keeping the main factors that we need to test of the final project in tact. The PVC reservoirs are held in place on the wooden frame by J-hooks. The reservoirs have rubber caps with drilled holes for the solenoids to go into. The solenoids on each end are connected to a hose that uses a 3 way connector to connect the hose back into one stream into the water container, creating a water cycle loop. Our original time line aimed to have the prototype running by February, which did not happen. An aspect that we struggled with was the PVC connections. The solenoids, pump, and reservoir endings were all different sizes, which required us to use many converters. During this time, PVC was hard to come by due to a shortage, but more expensive metal converters were available some of the time. This is one aspect that pushed our timeline back due to the unavailability of essential parts. We also ran into some issues with the electronic aspects. Our group is composed of a wide variety of engineering students, however this does not include an electrical engineering student. We ran into the problem that our pump turns on and off when it is or isn’t plugged in, instead of having an “ON/OFF” switch. Due to this, we needed to create an electrical box to allow the project to function as planned for if the pump did have a switch. This took us a month worth of meetings in order to figure out. Another problem that we ran into is voltage requirements. The solenoids require at the very least 6 volts to open, however, the arduino or raspberry pi were only delivering around 3 volts (we had an arduino donated to us). After trying to work through this problem and reaching out to a few people outside of our group, we attempted to sauder the connection and to use a MOSFET. We found that the metal on the solenoids do not sauder and the MOSFET only barely increased the voltage. This brought us to the end of the school year. With all of these electrical problems, I aim to recruit electrical engineering students to the project during ESW’s general body meeting at the beginning of the fall semester, since this meeting usually brings in a large group. We still plan on donating the structure to a local family or school once it is complete. This will allow more people to be exposed to the practice of vertical hydroponic farming, provide fresh produce, and encourage learning.

Finances: Description Amount Ras Pi $ 49.99 Seeds $ 10.90 Net Pots $ 14.95 Hose Connectors $ 8.15 Hydrogen Peroxide $ 9.16 pH balance $ 15.99 hose adapter $ 8.99 pump $ 54.10 ph meter $ 11.99 Y hose splitter $ 15.99 drilling set $ 9.99 drill $ 34.99 j hooks $ 5.20 pvc pipe $ 14.24 end cap $ 2.60 pvc cement $ 5.94 hose $ 19.98 pvc adapter $ 1.71 rubber cap $ 9.10 adapter $ 4.12 rubber cap $ 5.14 electrical $ 12.66 solenoids $ 39.63 adapters $ 7.01 wires $ 7.49 SD card $ 12.49 relay $ 5.50 hose $ 12.99 wire connectors $ 8.99 adapter $ 7.99 power supply $ 9.99 mosfet $ 8.99 adapter $ 15.98 wire connectors $ 6.79 Pre tax total $ 469.72 Post tax total $ 497.90

Remaining: $503

NU - SmartTree: Spring 2022 Update

Added by Thomas Hoang almost 2 years ago

Transitioning to new leadership has led to SmartTree having a slower start to a quarter. However, both the new PMs, Fay-Ling and Thomas, quickly found their rhythm and excellent progress was made, especially on the construction side. While still trying to finish off the base pieces from last quarter, the team also started focusing on the manufacturing process of benches and top pieces.

Regarding progress toward the base pieces, the team has shifted their focus to making brackets reinforcing and connecting the side pieces. We drilled holes into the 90-degree brackets and metal sheets cut to size last quarter, countersunk them, and bent said metal sheets into 60-degree brackets.

Bending the metal sheets was especially challenging due to an oversight of high-strength galvanized steel used as stock material. It was too thick and tough for the machines available in the Prototyping Workshop at Ford Design Center. After consulting with the shop professionals, we were directed to Salomon Rodriguez, the director of the Research Workshop at Technological Institute, who aided us through the building process and granted us access to a more powerful machine that could get the job done. Here we also realized the problem of not having a clear angle to screw wood screws directly through the brackets into the base pieces, so we quickly came up with a new plan to use machine screws and acorn nuts instead.

The construction team also worked on the top pieces, which are 4 simple triangular-shaped pieces with one of them having a special indent from the side to create a removable lid (see drawing below).

Due to the size and shape of the piece, we had concluded that the best way to manufacture the part was to use a router. None of the members had used it before, so we enlisted the help of formula team member Sarah Yung. Because of our inexperience, we entered the wrong measurements for the drawing fed into the machine, so the piece that was cut had incorrect dimensions. On the day that we tried again, we heard news of the miter going under maintenance for the rest of the quarter. Though unfortunate, we are still looking forward to next year when we will successfully manufacture the top pieces.

Good progress was also made on the benches. We started the quarter off by cutting rectangular wood pieces into long, thin slats using the vertical bandsaw. Then, we enlisted the help of the campus’s Concrete Canoe team with creating concrete slabs acting as support for the benches according to the mold bought. A concrete mixture was created and poured into the mold at the last meeting of the quarter. The mixture is now being cured over the summer and we are expecting to return to fully cured, sturdy concrete supports ready for decorations next fall.

In terms of electrical, progress has been slow due to the waiting for ordered parts to arrive. Furthermore, due to inexperience, there was hesitation to wire anything together with a power source for safety concerns. However, we have connected the solar panels together in parallel and tested the DC/DC converter and its capability to charge phones. The electrical team members have been tasked with doing more research on solar power over the summer and are hopeful to have major development upon return.

Overall, Fay-Ling and Thomas are both extremely satisfied with the results achieved throughout this quarter as first-time project managers. Both are excited to continue leading the team and to advance the project further throughout the next year.

Hope everyone has had a great school year and we will touch base soon!

NU - AutoAquaponics: Spring 2022 Update

AutoAquaponics Progress From Spring of 2022
Added by Bill Yen almost 2 years ago

After 2 years of hard work, we are happy to announce that AutoAquaponics is officially growing fish and plants! At the same time, we welcome Alejandra Almonte, a third-year mechanical engineer, to our electronics sub-team. We are also honored to be featured in Northwestern's Earth Day special this quarter as a student group that works to build innovative technologies to improve sustainability on campus. Here's a picture of our (now operational) system as well as our fish friends:

We introduced 35 tiger barbs to our system and will likely add more to up our nitrate production:

Centerpiece fish - a South American cichlid known as the green terror cichlid! Our fish is a juvenile and will grow to around 10".

On the produce side, we planted kale on the top grow bed and basil + cilantro on the bottom:

This quarter, we completed building the floating raft necessary for our deep water culture grow bed and 3D printed various components to keep our hydrocorn growth media from entering our PVC pipes for our bottom media grow bed. Below is a top view of the system showing both our grow beds, and a closeup of what the bottom grow bed looks like before planting with our two 3D printed screens keeping our inlet and outlet pipes clear of the media.

Speaking of 3D printing, our plumbing team also created a number of custom parts for our fish tank that does everything from improving our solids management to keeping fish and fish food where they are supposed to be! They made a fitting for our 1" solids lifting overflow that lets us suck water from the very bottom of the tank where fish waste sinks to. The team also designed a feeding ring that we placed under where our automatic fish feeder dispenses food so that the floating flakes wouldn't get sucked into the overflow skimmer in the tank. On top of that, a carefully designed screen on the overflow prevents our fish from making their way into the filter bottles without throttling our flow too much (can be seen in top view above). Lastly, by taking advantage of our fluid mechanics knowledge, we designed a venturi aerator for our top grow bed that can keep the deep water culture plant roots oxygenated without adding any moving components/electrical parts to the system.

Feeding ring:

Venturi aerator that injects small bubbles into the water whenever the pump forces water through it:

In addition to 3D printing, the plumbing team leveraged other rapid prototyping techniques like laser cutting to build larger screens for our biofilm reactor bottle. Earlier in the quarter, we ran into issues with our moving K1 media clogging up the reactor's drainage pipe screen as we increased flow, so we decided to cut a large screen to segregate the media to the top 2/3rd of the bottle. Since the surface area of the new screen is so big, the relative hydraulic resistance caused by the media pushing up against it became much smaller, allowing us to nearly double our flow rate without causing the tank to overflow.

Team member operating the laser cutter to cut a large sheet of acrylic into the exact shape we need:

Finished product:

Screen installed with some spare filter pad to fill the gap and zip tie to put everything together:

A couple weeks into the quarter, the plumbing team also realized that the Home Depot bucket we used as the stand for the biofilm reactor tank began to crack. Despite trying to salvage it by riveting acrylic supports to it, the cracks kept on growing:

After careful assessments, we decided to scrap the bucket and build a custom stand out of wood instead. If anyone is interested in using 5 gallon water jugs as filters for aquaponics/aquaculture, this is what we recommend since the Home Depot buckets we tried earlier are much more flimsy (though they do look cooler and are less time-intensive to build).

Members draining the biofilm reactor to remove the bucket stand:

Cutting wood and drilling holes for new stand!

Spot our beautiful orthographic drawing on the bottom left corner of this picture :)

Coated with more epoxy and let it cure to make the stand waterproof:

On the software and electronics side, we continued to make improvements on our control system. Right now we have our smart outlet box running numerous lights and motorized ball valves on timers to automate the flood/drain and lighting cycles. However, we currently cannot toggle these settings from our GUI, so our electronics team members are continuing to build the version of our software that will allow us to toggle our devices and adjust their timer settings through the GUI itself so that remote control can be possible. Because the front end of our Python GUI is mostly done, our software team is pivoting to creating AutoAquaponics 2.0, an exciting new version of our software that upgrades our graphical user interface from a Python application to a full-fledged website! With AutoAquaponics 2.0, anyone would be able to log onto our website with their Google accounts and check out how AutoAquaponics is doing at Northwestern by seeing our live sensor plots and live stream video. Members who have advanced access associated with their Google accounts would also be able to adjust system parameters on our website and see that change happen in real time. The biggest benefit this shift from a local Python GUI to a website has would be offloading the GUI processing task from our little Raspberry Pi to the cloud, which will drastically improve system performance. It would also allow for more flexible layouts and new exciting features, so stay tuned for more as we continue to work on this next iteration of our software!

Sneak peek to what 2.0 will look like:

Since AutoAquaponics' ultimate goal is to become a resource for those interested in learning more about automation and aquaponics, this quarter we conducted a tour for a junior chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and invited middle schoolers from Evanston to check out our system. It was amazing seeing their reaction to what we built together, and we thank NSBE and McCormick for this awesome opportunity!

Furthermore, the one and only Dean Ottino asked three of the leaders in AutoAquaponics to present our project and how we grew from the small team we had during COVID to our present state to the McCormick Advisory Council, a group of prominent alumni who advises the dean to shape McCormick's strategy. We are beyond honored to be able to show them AutoAquaponics, and we appreciate everyone's enthusiasm on our project!

Our three presenters all dressed up:

After the presentation, we received an invite from one of the board members present to visit Farm on Ogden , a nonprofit commercial scale aquaponic system in Chicago that is affiliated with the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was super cool seeing how their system works, and we got a ton of useful insight from the professionals there on the O&M of an aquaponic system and ideal plant parameters.

To further build the camaraderie on the AutoAquaponics team, we did two pizza sales to raise money for some cool ESW-AutoAquaponics hoodies for our members.

Sale 1 (slightly colder weather):

Sale 2 (we could finally be outside now!):

Hoodie design front & back (ESW logo in the front, AutoAquaponics' official logo on the back):

hoodie1 hoodie2

End of the year team photo featuring our new hoodies:

Before we wrap up this end of the year blog, we want to congratulate our friend and team member Sandra Chiu for completing her last quarter on Northwestern campus! Sandra will be studying abroad next year in Copenhagen and graduating in Spring of 2023. She has been an integral part of AutoAquaponics' development and contributed ever since our fully-remote days by designing/building our electronics box, secondary containment berm, fish tank, and grow bed. Sandra also served as the main lead for our automatic water tester sub-project, which we hope to complete next school year. Last but not least, Sandra was the aesthetics consultant of AutoAquaponics, and is responsible for not only the color layout of our fish tank/grow beds but also our official logo. We are grateful for the time Sandra spent with us, and we wish her the best in her future endeavors!


That is it from AutoAquaponics this school year. Thank you for your support as always, and keep an eye out for more from us in the Fall!

NU - SmartTree: Winter 2022 Update

Added by Katie Lev about 2 years ago

Between the first two weeks being virtual and the shop being closed off to non-DTC students at the end of the quarter, SmartTree made excellent strides in the construction and electrical groups. The construction team was only permitted 4 shop sessions, so we'd use the other weeks prior to review the construction plan and decide what needed to be done in the shop. In the shop, the team became increasingly independent, which made SmartTree PM's Cally and Katie extremely proud. Members returned to the table saw to cut the final base piece wood sheets to dimension as well as cut the bench slats using a 96" piece of wood!! Learning how to use the machine to the full capacity, members gained they'll be able to take with them to future shop builds. Additionally, all members learned how to use the jigsaw to cut out the circular shapes for wire holes as well as the complex geometries for the inner face of the base pieces (blueprint seen below).

The center hole of the circle requires a smooth finish because members may need to fit a body or an arm through the holes to fix wiring. Thus, members tried multiple methods to find the best method for sanding. At first, they tried to use a classic orbit sander, but this became hard around the edges. After consulting a shop specialist, we tried to use an oscillating spindle sander. This machine had functional issues, so then another shop specialist directed us to a small handheld belt sander which did the job very well. Now, all the wood pieces requiring the smooth finish are sanded. A video is attached below as a shared link to our drive

In our last session, members learned how to cut metal sheets and brackets. Each wooden connection requires a reinforcement in form of metal brackets. We have 90 degree angles and a metal sheet we plan on bending to a custom 60 degrees to reinforce to converging wooden base piece faces. A foot shear was used for the metal sheet, and a metal bandsaw was used for the 90 degree angles. After cutting the angles to dimension, we smoothed them with a belt sander.

Then, there was a whole lot done for the electrical side as well. We reviewed and finalized plans with hopes to construct at the beginning of the Spring. The team reconfigured and simplified an old bill of materials that optimized cost and reliability. We are very excited for the electrical team to get the same hands-on experience as the construction team when the materials arrive.

Finally, we have appointed two new project managers. Cally and Katie are very honored to announce new PM's Fay-Ling Laures and Thomas Huang to continue SmartTrees progress! Fay-Ling (Class of '25) is a natural leader and has been part of our construction team. She takes what she is taught and runs with it, asks the necessary questions and will be starting as a shop trainer next quarter. We are excited to have her expertise spread to our entire team! Thomas (Class of '25) is another natural leader and has been one of the most committed of SmartTree upon his arrival. He's part of both construction and electrical teams, holding great knowledge in both fields. Having knowledgeable leaders in both fields will allow for more effective meetings and progress.

Cally and Katie could not have been happier with the commitment from our team, having multiple applications for the role of project manager. As time progresses, members have gained confidence and autonomy, which has leading to a more cohesive, close-knit team working together with a common goal of assembling SmartTree!

Follow the link to view a few videos recorded over this past quarter: .

We will check back after the Spring quarter with another update on construction and electrical. Have a great Spring, everyone!

NU - AutoAquaponics: Winter 2022 Update

AutoAquaponics Progress From Winter of 2022
Added by Bill Yen about 2 years ago

Though Northwestern began the quarter with a 2-week quarantine period due to the threat of Omicron on campus, AutoAquaponics continued our momentum by finishing out the plumbing build of our system, a fully-functional version 1.0 of our software prototype, and most of our smart outlet box build. We also got a new recruit, Natalie Brewster, who will be joining our software team to begin creating an exciting new version of our current GUI program starting Spring Quarter. On the plumbing side, we spiced up our fish tank and grow beds by spray painting them a very Northwestern purple (color scheme designed by Sandra Chiu):

Our final product looked like this:

In addition, our plumbing team also built the 3-stage water filtration system we designed last quarter (see the blog post from Fall 2021 for the detailed diagram) and plumbed the fish tank, grow beds, sump tank, and all three of our filter tanks together. We are currently in the process of “cycling” the overall system, which involves dosing controlled amounts of ammonia in the water to build up the nitrifying bacteria population in the filter so that they can support the bioload our fish will apply on the system once we introduce them in the Spring.

Our members drilling the fish tank to get them ready for bulkheads:

Building a wooden stand to bump up the filter tanks:

Filter stand in the middle of being coated in Pond Armor for waterproofing:

Cutting up 5 gallon jugs to turn them into our settling tank, membrane filtration tank, and biofilm reactor:

Assembling the system bit by bit with PVC cement:

Almost there…

Little adjustments here and there…

Completed system:

The tank closest to the fish tank is the settling tank, and it has a minimal amount of flow (only through that 1” pipe) coming from a solids lifting overflow (an overflow pipe that takes water from the bottom of the fish tank) to allow large solids to settle. This water (now free of larger solids) then overflows from both the top of the fish tank and the top of the settling tank into the membrane filtration tank (middle tank with pink floss in it), which removes the smaller solids. Finally, the now solids-free water goes into the biofilm reactor (tank on the right, empty in the picture) where a fluidized media with nitrifying bacteria growing in it removes ammonia and turns it into nitrate, which our aquaponic plants will uptake as their nitrogen source. The settling tank is a critical part of the design because it removes the larger chunks of fish waste from the fish tank that would’ve otherwise clogged the membrane filtration tank, which will greatly extend the longevity of our filter and allow us to go longer without cleaning the filter.

Team members water testing the system, hunting for leaks, and generally having a great time :)

Biofilm reactor with fluidized media (K1 filter media) inside:

While our plumbing folks were busy finishing out their part of the system, our electronics team put their focus on building our smart ESP32 controlled outlet box. We designed a CAD of the box and laser cut it out of acrylic, which houses not only the outlet strip itself but also a number of transformers, screw terminals, and a 3D printed switch that allows the box’ integrated ESP32 to be either plugged into a micro USB connector (enabling users to reprogram it) or be directly powered by the outlet box internally. Our NodeMCU ESP32 breakout board does not allow it to be plugged into a micro USB cable and a 5V power supply at the same time, so this clever workaround will allow future members to improve the control system of the outlet box without having to open it and take out the microcontroller. The screw terminals on the outlet box will be used to power actuators such as our electric ball valves, which have since replaced our original solenoids for indexing water to the grow beds due to the fact that they are much quieter, have significantly less pressure loss, and can close slower to eliminate water hammer. The box also features a laser-etched AutoAquaponics logo:

Because laser-etching is so much fun, we also spiced up our Raspberry Pi enclosure with our new logo:

Lastly, our software team worked on fleshing out the format of the weekly update email that our program sends subscribed users, which includes a plot of each of our system parameters (not shown in image below) and also a table detailing their weekly high, low, and average values:

We also finished the BLE code on the Raspberry Pi side, allowing users to send BLE messages from the Raspberry Pi that encodes what devices should turn on when for the outlet box. The outlet box side of the code is projected to be finished early Spring Quarter, allowing us to run lights, valves, pumps, and other devices on various types of timers (daily timer, interval timer, etc.). More detail will come in our wiki upon the completion of the system. Finally, some of the Control Panel pages have been restructured for better user experience.

AutoAquaponics will introduce fish and plants at the start of Spring Quarter after the cycling process, and we hope to produce our first batch of crops around May of this year. We are also happy to announce our new sub-team leaders: Marcos Sanchez and Aymen Lamsahel (Plumbing sub-team), Ben Caterine (Software sub-team), and Yanni Wilcox (Electronics sub-team). They are all driven, dedicated members of AutoAquaponics who have a proven track record of leadership and success on our team, and we can’t wait to see where they will take our individual subsystems Spring Quarter and beyond!

AutoAquaponics team, Winter 2022

First row: Vianey Guadian, Bill Yen, Marcos Sanchez

Second row: Raymonde Council, Kobe Chamba, Natalie Brewster, Johnny Chen, Sandra Chiu

Third row: Kaitlyn Hung, Ben Caterine, Lester Tai, Yanni Wilcox

Last row: Aymen Lamsahel, Spencer Huie

Not pictured: Niv Landau

More fun laser cut products featuring our logo (wooden and acrylic keychains for our members):

wooden keychain acrylic keychain

Thank you for your support as always, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions! Keep an eye out for more from us in the Spring!

[COMPLETED] Akron - Educational Wind Turbine: Fall 2021 Update

During the Fall 2021 semester, much of the construction of the wind turbine was completed. This includes the the base, tower, and nacelle with generator, blades, and tail. The
Added by ESW Akron OH over 2 years ago

Progress made during Fall 2021:

  • Turbine blades purchased and acquired.
  • Wind turbine base materials purchased and assembled.
    • The base is made from plywood with 2x4's for reinforcement.
    • Two elbows and a T-fitting are used to attach tower to the base.
  • Tower assembled.
    • Donated piping was used for the tower
  • Nacelle constructed with blades, generator, and tail.
    • Blades were attached to hub of the generator.
    • Generator was attached to nacelle through multiple pipe clamps.
    • Tail was fabricated using donated car fenders.
  • The electrical system was completed.
    • This consisted of connecting the generator to the battery with a diode in line.

In the Spring 2022 semester, the Wind Turbine Team plans to:

  • Reinforce the way the current nacelle is fixed to tower.
    • Current system is weak and susceptible to fatigue.
  • Add stability to tower through the use of guy-lines.
    • Current tower is secured by rigidly fixing base.
  • Test power output during operation.
    • The wind turbine will be assembled in open field on windy day.

A big thanks to the graduating seniors for all the work they have put into this project!

First raising of the wind turbine.

Construction of the nacelle.

Completed base with wiring being fed through tower to be connected to generator.

NU - AutoAquaponics: Fall 2021 Update

AutoAquaponics Progress From Fall of 2021
Added by ESW NU over 2 years ago

AutoAquaponics kicked off the year with a strong start and greatly expanded the number of first and second year students on our team. This quarter we welcomed Spencer Huie, Lester Tai, Yanni Wilcox, Ian Viegas, Vianey Guadian, Anabel Sanchez, Ellie Lind, and Ally Lazar to the team, and we were finally able to have in-person meetings for the first time. We were also recognized in a variety of Northwestern press such as the NU Declassified: Exploring Engineering podcast, The Daily Northwestern's article on climate advocates on campus, and the official McCormick School of Engineering Fall 2021 Magazine for the unique projects and welcoming communities we created. As a result of increasing membership and the solid foundation established by our existing member's research and design, AutoAquaponics was able to achieve the following in each of the sub-teams:


  • Reattached a glass panel to the fish tank and successfully water testing the tank (it holds water with no leak!!!)

  • Completed a secondary containment berm around the entire aquaponic system with a combination of laser-cut clips, waterproof tarp, 3D printed brackets, and leftover plywood to prevent minor spills from reaching the carpet

*Big thanks to SmartTree members for helping us clear the room so we can slide the containment berm under both of our shelves!

  • Plumbed the grow beds and the fish tank together with PVC pipes and bulkheads

  • Redesigned the water filtration system to decrease the flow rate to the settling tank to boost efficiency

  • Designed a color scheme to paint the grow bed and fish tank (stay tuned for next quarter's blog to see what it looks like :D )


  • Resolved the common issue of TDS sensors shorting pH ion selective electrodes and affecting each other's values

  • Created a concept and began 3D printing parts for a 2-motor design for the automatic water tester

  • Generated part of the CAD for a new outlet box enclosure that will allow for energy monitoring and a switch to enable "programming" mode for the ESP32
  • Tested mixing mechanism with magnetic stirrers for the automatic water tester reagents
  • Debugged automatic fish feeder stepper motor issues


  • Resolved GUI crashing issue and memory build-up from matplotlib
  • Reduced system lag by decreasing plotting frequency
  • Created a branch of the main repository to experiment with using blitting to speed up plotting speed
  • Train new members on Python programming, specifically how to use TKinter to create graphical user interface

The system design went through quite a few changes due to our recent discovery that indexing valves do not work as well as we thought (special shoutout to Kaitlyn Hung for leading the team on troubleshooting the valve and communicating with the manufacturer!), so we will instead be using two solenoids to control which grow bed gets water. Luckily, our electronics team was able to make the necessary (although slightly painful) adjustments to accommodate for the additional actuators we need to control. Next quarter, the team will aim to completely finish the outlet box (software and hardware portions), solenoid installation, and water filtration system so we can do a trial run of everything before Spring Break.

Photo of a now in-person AutoAquaponics whole-team meeting:

ESWNU team photo (includes our friends from SmartTree and the ESWNU exec board!):

Fun picture - the new official AutoAquaponics logo (designed by Sandra Chiu) on vinyl stickers that our members can use to show off their ESW pride:

Thank you for your support, and keep an eye out for more from AutoAquaponics in the Winter!


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