Research & Innovation

Senior Project Brings Water Tunnel Back to Stevens

Seniors are expanding the school’s ability to test hydrodynamics of marine equipment

The university now has plans in hand to build a new water tunnel on campus, thanks to a team of mechanical engineering students. Their senior design project featured at the Spring 2022 Innovation Expo involved designing a new water tunnel for research.

Water tunnels are small-scale models that let engineers test objects underwater in a controlled environment. In the absence of such a structure, students typically use the school’s towing tank, which is located in the Davidson Laboratory. But it can be hard to book time because there are a lot of teams conducting other experiments at the same time.

The plans in place give future students the opportunity — and the groundwork — to build one going forward.

A brand new experimental resource at Stevens

James Riley ’22, who earned his B.E. in mechanical engineering this past spring, was one of five students who worked on the project. His team collaborated with Kevin Connington, a teaching associate professor who specializes in fluid dynamics and flows.

When built, their tunnel will serve the Stevens community for years to come. It was designed to be constructed in the basement of the Edwin A. Stevens building, so space was a consideration when putting together the plans.

The tunnel is set to be 14.5 feet long, 6 feet high and 2 feet wide. It’s a one-piece design that will be constructed on wheels for added mobility.

“We designed the different sections of the tunnel and made sure they could fit in that basement,” Riley said.

It may look simple in nature, but coming up with plans for a water tunnel that can create a steady and uniform flow speed was quite a challenge.

The team evaluated water tunnels from across the globe to come up with their design. They narrowed it down to their top three contenders before settling on the final concept.

“We took the best things that we thought would be the most useful for Stevens,” Riley said.

They also had to perform research on existing water tunnels to determine design parameters and define desirable fluid flow conditions. They chose a low-speed laminar flow tunnel would best, which is a straight and smooth flow. The team also conducted analyses on fluid flow, force, diffusion section design, and other factors.

Even though the entire tunnel is not yet constructed, Riley and his team completed all the plans needed to hand off to the next team so it can be built.

Attendees at the this spring’s Innovation Expo got a sneak peek at the water tunnel plans along with a test section that already had been assembled.

Looking ahead

Constructing the tunnel likely will have its own set of challenges, but Riley is glad that the plans are in place. The water tunnel will give the university a place for students and faculty to optimize and observe flows, conduct experiments, and test prototypes.

“It’s going to be very expensive to create the full system,” he said, adding that it could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

To help defray costs, the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering donated a pump.

Riley hopes another senior design team will take over the building phase next year.

The completed water tunnel will add a useful testing facility on campus for students.

“It’ll open up a lot of doors for testing senior design projects,” he said.

Having the water tunnel will also give faculty a place to conduct their own experiments, Riley added.

The Stevens advantage

Meanwhile, Riley is set to start work as a mechanical engineer at Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. The company works closely with the Navy on nuclear power and systems. He will handle project engineering tasks such as reviewing and approving supplier designs, establishing testing requirements and participating in negotiations.

Looking back, Riley is grateful for the experience with the water tunnel project.

“My senior project helped me a lot with systems design and project management,” he said.

The water tunnel had many components that needed to work together to create a final product working precisely.

Designing each of these components and ensuring they all work together was an excellent learning experience for everyone on the team, according to Riley, and one they successfully figured it out. (And left future students with a foundation to continue research using the water tunnel.)

“These things helped me secure a job as a mechanical engineer where both of these things are paramount to my success in that position,” he said.

Though classes at Stevens can be tough, they equip students for thriving careers, he noted.

“It may require some hard work, but you'll learn a lot throughout the course of your education at Stevens,” Riley added.