Increasing Chemical Engineering K-14 Involvement by Tackling Water Conservation Using Human-Centered Design

Anays Hernandez

Authors:  Anays Hernandez, Rumana Ali, Jose Rodriguez, Sindia Rivera-Jiménez

Faculty Mentor:  Sindia Rivera-Jiménez

College:  Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering


The U.S. Geological Survey reports that old showers may use up to 5 gallons of water per minute and water-saving shower heads produce about 2 gallons per minute. The agency recommends that taking a shorter shower using a low-flow showerhead saves a multitude of water. A water consumption/quality sensor that relatively anyone can install in their shower head can help to solve this problem. In addition, with an increased amount of pollution in water quality, this will not only aid consumers, but the environment to retain sustainability. Global market research reported that the environmental sensor market was valued at USD 1.22 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach USD 2.19 billion by 2023. The use of sensors in the K-14 classroom has shown to be of significant educational value since they can help address societies problems while integrating many STEM disciplines. The primary objective of this pilot project is to create a water consumption/quality sensor that is easy to use and cost-effective for the everyday individual. The integrated sensor system uses simple electrical equipment including photo-resistors, light sources, 3D printed parts, and the Arduino. Ideally, this work will become an instructional module that can be used to increase the interest of K-14 students into the chemical engineering field by tackling environmental problems using a human-centered design approach, and may even be taken to 3rd world countries to improve water quality in general.

Poster Pitch

Click the video below to view the student's poster pitch.


Click the image to enlarge.
40 Responses
  1. Yelaine Linares

    How can consumers install the water sensors onto their shower head in order to check the water quality?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Yelaine!

      The water sensor would preferably be attached through the pipe system leading from the shower tub to your local sewer system. Since the 3D printed material (PTEG or PLA) is water resistant, it will act as a lining to your regular pipe line. The LED light and photo-resistor will be encapsulated with a glass/water resistant casing to protect the system and wires. The installation should be an easy process, as it can be inserted directly through the drainage hole. Depending on how big/accessible the drainage hole is, consumers can easily insert the water sensor through the hole as it is small enough to fit through any regular one!

  2. Yelaine Linares

    What inspired you to come up with this idea and what do you hope to accomplish with this device ?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Yelaine!

      The inspiration to this water sensor came from an idea that Dr. Rivera and I had to decrease the amount of water consumers use daily. As seen in any relative household, water is a necessity from showering, drinking, and washing. We wanted to create an easy sensor system that can be adapted to any shower for consumers to decrease their water intake, aiding not only themselves but the environment. The neopixel indicator lights can let the consumer know when their water intake has increased based on a set amount that they can place into the coding, or a generalized formula we can put into the code. We hope that this sensor becomes integrated into many households and truly aids in our efforts to create a more sustainable planet. In addition, we hope to teach more students how to create this system to increase chemical engineering efforts and have them be the future STEM individuals we need as our world changes by the second.

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Andres!

      The fluid mechanics related to the sensor and pipe-system work on a simple process. As the showerhead runs water, it’ll run at a pressure based on various factors such as viscosity, resistance, and the flow resistor. If the water flow is increased within the system, the pressure difference between the showerhead and pipe is altered. For a maximized flow rate, the resistance must be decreased. The sensor adapts to these changes quickly as it tracks the amount of water flowing relative to time, where if the pressure were to change, the sensor will quickly adapt to the changes and track the amount of liquid (L) per second. This change is sent to the neopixel, where the consumption will depict an increase.

  3. Kamila Hernandez

    I’m curious about the coding process! Do you think kids will be able to replicate this?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Kamila!

      The coding process is relatively simple enough as to where a young student and adult can replicate the sensor system. We will give the children a code system that they would likely fill in the missing pieces or adapt it to their own system. Using a handout that we will give them, it shows all the steps and basic coding knowledge necessary to understand what goes behind the coding in the sensor system. They wouldn’t built it from scratch as that takes more knowledge such as from a high-school/college/university level, but they will be given the steps to follow and make it their own. High school kids will definitely be able to replicate it as the coding is easier than that of other systems, it integrates C++ language and other basic functions/methods.

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Matthew!

      We wanted to create a cost effective, simple water sensor that can be integrated within any water system and created. by children and adults alike. We believe that through these efforts we can increase consumer satisfaction as their water intake will be lower, and increase retainment in STEM fields for younger children.

  4. Leyda Marrero-Morales

    Hi, could you please tell me more about how specifically you’re planning to teach the kids about circuitry, soldering, the mechanics, etc?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Leyda!

      Using an Arduino microchip which can be ordered online, an LED light, a photo-resistor, a Neopixel indicator (or any other preferred indicator) and jumper wires, the sensor circuit is created. We created a handout that is given to the children, in which they can follow the picture depicted and plug in the wires accordingly.

      The soldering process would only be given to older children as the soldering iron reaches high temperatures, but with electrical tape, the led light and photoresistor can be linked to the jumper cables as well. In addition, using a breadboard can facilitate the process as well since using the breadboard, you can line up which electrical components will connect to each other.

      The circuitry system is simple and will be depicted on the handout as well for the children to follow. But, we will teach them basic knowledge on which resistors to use to maximize the electricity flowing through the system, making sure it doesn’t burn out. In addition to that, we will be teaching them the importance of which wires can be connected with the ground pins versus other analog pins.

      Ultimately, handout will summarize all the processes needed for the students to complete the sensor. Using small breakout workshops, we will teach them how to do it as they follow along the handout. Following up to this, the handout will be in both english and spanish for inclusivity!

  5. Steffano Ruta

    How would this sensor aid the individual in terms of the pollution in the water quality? Will it just be to inform them or would it provide some sort of extra benefit.

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Steffano,

      Great question! The Neopixel indicator light works both ways, in which it can be programmed to assess the water quality based on the minuscule pollution particles, or water consumption in general through the water flow. Since it is an indicator, this system just informs the consumer how polluted their water is/how much is being consumed.

      From there, the individual can take the correct steps to either decrease their water intake, or stop using the water system that is being polluted and reach out to individuals that can fix it for them.

  6. Elizabeth Vasquez

    why do you believe working with K-14 students will acquire a greater impact as oppose to just college students ?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Elizabeth,

      College/University students can easily work on this as it is accessible within any engineering program or just if they buy the materials necessary to make the system. K-14 students are not as exposed to these types of projects as college/univeristy students are. We want to improve retainment efforts in STEM fields by teaching students that they can invent anything that they’d like and that it can be learned easily and replicated. Our goal is to inspire and motivate students to go into STEM fields and be the future of our changing society. By learning this, they have more experience under their belt to see if they truly want to pursue a career in STEM. Not many K-14 students have access to these types of projects, and we want to be the ones to expose them to it!

  7. Leslie Rodriguez

    Are you and your team thinking about moving this into consumer products? Do you think it would be inexpensive to make in a manufacturing plant?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Leslie,

      Yes! For now, this can be replicated in any home as the Arduino system is relatively cheap and it is easy to make. But, in the future, we would love to manufacture this and have it in every home. My team and I believe that this is incredibly important for not only consumers, but for the environment. An increased amount of water intake is an issue in the United States, where millions of gallons of water are being wasted every second.

      All the items are extremely cheap, since it is only a 5 component system, including the microchip itself. Since we use the Arduino system, we would have to talk to the Arduino company themselves and see if we can possibly combine both of our ideas and efforts into manufacturing this product in a wide-scale. Right now, we are working on perfecting the system for individuals to replicate at home, but in the future, this can definitely be integrated into every household through mass production.

  8. quinn zacharias

    How cheaply could something like this be made? Do you have any numbers on that, and can it really be produced at a low enough cost to be practical in the developing world?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Quinn!

      Great question! It is a very simple, cheap system. If buying the Arduino kit, which is around $70, you have access to the microchip, jumper cables, LED lights, photoresistors, a breadboard, batteries, phototransistors, and more. This would be beneficial as you can create many of the same sensor or more projects as you’d life. If buying the items separately, such as the Neopixel, jumper cables, LED light, Arduino microchip, and photoresistor, it would cost around less than $40.

      If bought it bulk, this can be produced easily for under $20-30 for each sensor. Only one sensor is needed per water system, and can be taken into other systems as it is a reusable mechanism. In developing countries, this is beneficial as it can track the intake/pollution of various systems within one specific area. We would love to take this to developing countries and aid them with their water systems!

  9. Rumana Ali

    As a team member on this project, I can say it was a very enriching and wonderful learning experience! Working with Anays and Jose was a pleasure especially since we were learning a lot of new practical skills (coding, 3D printing, Arduino, soldering, etc.) AND doing something that impacts future engineers and scientists.
    Great work Anays!

    1. Anays Hernandez

      I loved working with you, Rumana! I look forward to continuing this research and perfecting it with you, Jose, and Dr. Rivera.

  10. Isabella Campbell

    Great work Anays! How do you plan to train teachers so they can further motivate K-14 students? Also, what made you interested in this project? I believe this would be a great project for underdeveloped countries since clean water is not something everyone has access to.

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Isabella!

      Thank you, I appreciate it! We have created handouts in both English and Spanish to be more inclusive to both communities and increase the efforts in retainment towards STEM fields. We plan to give teachers the handouts in addition to a quick video in which we explain the basics behind the circuit system/coding so they can be knowledgable in the subject and further teach their students.

      Ideally, we would love to to take this to underdeveloped countries and integrate it into their own water systems!

  11. Lisa Duran

    It is always very important to educate the next generation of STEM students, especially doing so through such a good cause. Amazing research Anays!

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Thank you, Lisa! I hope to continue teaching younger students about the importance of the STEM field through future research.

  12. Andres Pulido

    Hi, I am curious about the 3D printed enclosure. You mentioned it helps to waterproof the board inside. How was your sealing method to ensure no water can penetrate? Would this design be able to resist submersion in water?

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Hi Andres!

      Thank you for the great question! We are studying to see which material is the best to use for this project. In the 3D printed prototype shown, we use PLA filament. The PLA material by itself is not fully waterproof (it is about 98% resistant), but there are treatments that can be used alongside with the PLA material to ensure a waterproof system. A waterproof epoxy, such as XTC3D can be used to ensure a tight seal. The PLA material itself would essentially be used as a lining to a preexisting pipe in the showerhead system, to have a successful sensor that will not be damaged by any water flow.

      If you have more questions on this feel free to email/message me! I am currently doing more research behind the 3D printed aspect of the project and would love to hear more questions/comments.

  13. Valentina Martinez

    Hi Anays!

    I loved how you chose a topic that affects all of us. In your research you mentioned that the casing is made out of a “biodegradable” material, however for a polymer to “biodegrade” it has to be under very specific conditions, including temperature, moisture, etc. Therefore, I think this, being an activity shown to kids, creates an opportunity to educate young people on reduce, reusing and recycling.

    How would you suggest educating kids on this topic?

    Great job!

  14. Jose

    Going through all the stages of this project with Dr. Rivera, Rumana and Anays was an amazing experience. We definitely challenged our creativity and improved our problem-solving skills while bringing awareness to our community about STEM careers. Excellent work Anays!

    1. Anays Hernandez

      Working with you was a pleasure, Jose! Thank you for everything that you do as an amazing team member.

  15. Anays Hernandez

    Hi Valentina, thank you!

    I love your comment! It is very true that there has to be specific conditions under which the polymer biodegrades, in addition to it taking many years for this to occur.

    Along with teaching the children about the circuit system and sensor itself, it’s definitely important to bring in the environmental implications that comes from using the material. I would love to create a second handout, emphasizing how important it is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. In addition to that, my team and I can even come into the classroom with trash bins that promote recycling to further implement this into their classroom. Doing this, they can become exposed to the benefits of being environmentally friendly from a young age, and continue their efforts in making the world a better place.

  16. Gabriel Rodriguez Torres

    Amaze by your work Anays! I strongly believe a product like this would not only educate kids in Chemical Engineering but also be the gateway for finding unknown talents like programming/and connecting multiple majors to solve a real-world problem.

    How effective are the sensors being used and how much of a lifespan each would approximately have? If the lifetime could be expanded to last over years, this could be a game-changing project for underdeveloped countries to finally have the access to clean water they deserve.

  17. Merari Flores Saldana

    Hello Anays,
    Your work is so interesting and you did an amazing job explaining it. I believe the research you are doing will be highly beneficial.

  18. Andres Pulido

    Cool if you are looking for more permanent solutions I have used polymers such as polyurethane that can be inserted in a 3D printed mold of any material to completely seal electronics and make it waterproof to depths of more than 100ft.

  19. Isabella Montoya

    Hi Anays!

    I really enjoyed reading your research and learning more about the importance of water conservation. I believe your model is both scalable and feasible and students interested in STEM would really enjoy learning about your project. Amazing work!

  20. Geraldine Pierre

    This work is really interesting and inspiring. You mentioned bringing this idea to third world countries in the future, do you think that this type of technology could be sustainable in other countries? Also will it be prototype the same way or would there be possible modifications if used in other countries?