Capstone Award finalist project offers food for thought during COVID-19 pandemic
29, Jul, 2020
EDMONTON, July 29, 2020 – When former NAIT students Sebastian Potoniec and Noah Neiman chose the automation of an indoor farm as their qualifying project for the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta’s (ASET) 2020 Capstone Project of the Year Award, they had no idea of the significance it would hold when a global pandemic descended on the world, possibly threatening local supply chains.
The team, recently recognized by ASET as finalists for the Capstone Award, sought to develop an efficient way to grow lettuce indoors. Potoniec and Neiman constructed a physical prototype using the Nutrient Film Technique, a hydroponics growing method, that could be controlled through automation. In the process, they discovered that LED lighting - more energy efficient than alternative lighting sources - also produced ideal wavelengths for photosynthesis. They performed a lighting study using 3D modelling and identified the perfect lighting conditions for the best possible results for each of the three growth stages of lettuce.
By combining the principles learned from the physical model, lighting research, and automation efforts, the engineering technology duo created a template for growing potentially massive amounts of food at optimal growth rates with minimal human interaction.
According to Potoniec, this template can be applied to a variety of crops, such as herbs, vegetables, and flowers. As the global population continues to increase exponentially, this technology could prove crucial to human survival. Furthermore, it conserves energy and offers flexibility in terms of growth locations.
Indoor farms can be constructed in urban centres, reducing the reliance on growing seasons and the costs associated with importing vegetables from warmer climates. This would enable consumers to purchase fresh produce year-round.
“The primary goal of our Capstone project was automating an indoor farm. And while automation ideas may not be relevant for most people, it introduces the idea of indoor farming and provides a basic framework on how to accomplish it,” said Potoniec. “Additionally, as part of our project, we designed and built a scaled-down prototype that has enough simplicity for anyone to use as a starting point.”
“This ASET Capstone Project of the Year Award finalist project embodies a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, which is especially vital now given the societal impacts of COVID-19,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh. “It also confirms how engineering technology professionals touch on all aspects of everyday life, and are in the business of making things work, no matter the challenges or circumstances.”
The Capstone Awards were established by ASET in 2017 in response to overwhelming member interest in back-to-school stories about Capstone projects undertaken by teams of engineering technology students from NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer College, and Lethbridge College as part of their end-of-program requirements.
About the Capstone Project of the Year Award finalist team
Potoniec was born and raised in Edmonton by a family of tinkerers. He enjoys learning about the inner workings of things and has always been fascinated with how electricity can be conducted to billions of people and used in a staggering variety of ways. He was searching for a program that suited his lifelong interest in modern technology while offering him the resources to pursue his goals and support his family. He was drawn to NAIT because of its stellar reputation in industry-leading education. In his spare time, he enjoys working on cars, toying with electronics, playing games, and competing in sports.
Neiman was born and raised in Fort McMurray. He likes playing music and spending time with friends and family. He chose to take the electrical engineering technology program at NAIT because he thought it would be fun to learn about working with electricity, and the high probability of finding good work after graduation.
In addition to handing out the Capstone Project of the Year Award to deserving engineering technology students, the ASET Education and Scholarship Foundation provides scholarships, bursaries and educational funding to enhance and support the education of students pursuing engineering technology studies.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 16,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET