Engineers keep cool while managing projects
by Courtney Maxwell
It was a busy day in the Bechtel Innovation Design Center on Purdue’s campus. Immediately after walking in the door, the sound hit — humming machinery, vibrating air compressors, and clicking fans seemed to hit unnervingly from all directions.
Morgan Burgett and Tyler Field quickly, calmly, and almost quietly walked through the building and went to the back corner. In this corner of chaos, the pair are working on a calming technology.
Burgett and Field are part of a team that is improving cooling pads that help keep sows (mother pigs) comfortable during the nursing process. The temperature regulation comforts them, so they produce more milk. In turn, that makes meat production more efficient. Burgett and Field love knowing that they are creating a safe environment for sows and their piglets.
“The idea behind the sow cooling pad is so simple, yet so effective,” explained Field, a master’s student in agricultural engineering. “If we can get the mechanics and electrical right, it would be really cool to sell the rights of the pad to a large pork producer; knowing we helped them increase their profit and productivity is a really satisfying thought.”
While Field was talking, Burgett, a sophomore agricultural engineering major from San Antonio, Texas, nodded along. It’s easy to see that they are problem-solvers and engineers. They have an impulse to fix everything around them.
It seemed, about every ten minutes during this discussion, a student worker would show up, asking the pair to help solve a problem. Burgett and Field always took a minute, ignored the sounds and chaos around them, helped the students figure out their next steps, and sent them on their way.
While he was working on his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, Field was a lab assistant in another lab, and he got to know the team of people working on the sow cooling pad. Field saw them struggling one day and asked if he could help them by looking at their electronic work.
“They told me their electronics work was three months behind,” Field said. “I figured . . . I couldn’t mess it up, and what did they have to lose? It only took me a day, and I had figured out the problem, and put them back on track for their deadline.”
After that, the original creators of the cooling pad asked Field to join the project full time. Field said he decided to pursue his master’s degree in agricultural engineering and has been working on a project he loves ever since.
Burgett’s mechanical skills complement Field’s work in electronics. She said her interest in engineering started in high school.
“We had a welding team that would participate in agricultural mechanics competitions at rodeos,” Burgett said. “That’s where I found my love for mechanics, and discovered that agriculture might be the fit for me.”
Together, they have improved the physical appearance of the pad and updated its electronics. And they are just getting started.
“I discovered that going into agriculture is the perfect combination of everything I have ever wanted to do,” Burgett said. “I can build machines to help animal production, feed the world, and increase food security.”
Back in the loud, fast-paced Bechtel Innovation Design Center, Field and Burgett haven’t stopped moving. They both ignore all the sounds and chaos around them, and quietly talk to each other, always planning out what their next step should be. It is apparent that they are on their way to solving all types of problems — starting with the sow cooling pad.