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Alumna Engineers a Solution for Rural Farmers in Africa

Alumna Engineers a Solution for Rural Farmers in Africa

Bianka Quintanilla-Whye '13'09 is constructing a solar powered egg incubator designed to increase poultry farming productivity in one of the poorest countries in the world. This summer, Bianka and three classmates hope to raise enough money to travel to Burkina Faso to implement the project.

Bianka Quintanilla-Whye '13'09, who joined Convent as a kindergartner, will complete her degree in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University in mid June. Through her major, Bianka is working with a company in Burkina Faso, West Africa on a solar powered egg incubator designed to increase poultry farming productivity. Along with three classmates, Bianka plans to travel to Burkina Faso this summer to show rural farmers how to implement and manufacture the egg incubator.

What was your experience at Convent?
My experience at Convent was one I would never change. I went to Convent K-12 so it was truly a home for me. When I describe Convent to my college friends they sometimes cannot believe it, just because it is such a unique experience with all of its traditions, the beautiful campus, the class size, the extracurriculars, and all the other great things I was privileged to have access to. I had so many leadership opportunities from student body president, to team captains, to volunteering — I absolutely felt set up for success. The small student body help me develop one of a kind relationships with faculty and staff, and it was these relationships and the rigor of honors and AP classes that made me feel ready for Stanford.

What are a few highlights of your time at Stanford?
A few highlights at Stanford include being an RA in Ujamaa, the African and African American themed dorm. Working on this incubator has been a highlight because it is a nice change from the weekly problem sets. Not every college student has a chance to work on such an impactful project that means much more than a grade.

What sparked your interest in mechanical engineering?
I have always been interested in science, but arriving at Stanford, I found I wanted something more hands on and was led towards engineering. I felt Mechanical Engineering would allow me to exercise my creativity, while still being very technical and giving me a broad range of career options upon graduation.

Briefly describe your latest design project to bring a solar powered egg incubator to Burkina Faso.
Rural farmers in Burkina Faso, West Africa face challenges in poultry farming due to the inconsistent availability of grid electricity, making it difficult to use commercial poultry egg incubators. Solar-powered egg incubators would alleviate this challenge. Our efforts lie in designing and constructing a low cost, solar-powered poultry egg incubator prototype for use in places like Burkina Faso. In our design, a pan of water of specified cross-sectional surface area is placed on the floor of the incubator. The water in the pan will evaporate over time at a rate that depends on the temperature, the relative humidity, the velocity of any air currents inside the incubator, and the cross-sectional area of the pan of water. By heating the inlet air to selected temperatures and varying its volumetric flow rate, the relative humidity and temperature inside the incubator can be controlled to the specified conditions for most ambient conditions. We developed a thermodynamic model that predicts conditions inside the incubator (air temperature, relative humidity, and amount of water evaporated) given the ambient conditions, volumetric flow rate of the air entering the incubator, and the cross-sectional area of the pan of water inside the incubator. We used the model to aid in the design of the incubator, in particular to determine the temperature to which the ambient air supplied to the incubator must be heated in order to overcome the cooling that occurs inside the incubator when the water in the pan evaporates.

We also designed a prototype incubator sufficient in size to handle 200 eggs as well as a mechanism for rocking the eggs. The assembled prototype is instrumented with equipment to measure temperature and relative humidity so that we can validate our model predictions and develop algorithms for automatic control of the incubator temperature and humidity. By implementing our egg incubator, we could help support poultry farming practices.

Bianka and her Mechanical Engineering classmates explain why the project is important to them.

How will additional funding support your trip?
Because the team will have graduated by the time we travel to Burkina Faso, we are unable to get funding through Stanford. These funds go towards air fare and shipping incubator parts. By raising money, you can help us realize our goal of traveling to Burkina Faso this summer to work with our community partners in the town of Koupela - to implement a program to increase poultry productivity through solar powered appropriate technology.

With your help we will:

  • Test a prototype of a 200 egg capacity solar incubator students designed to increase poultry farming productivity
  • Launch local assembly of the incubator — and local assembly of solar panels from components
  • Initiate a new Center for Clean Energy and Technology Innovation in Koupela, Burkina Faso
  • Visit the project's GoFundMe page to support Bianka's trip to Burkina Faso

What does a sustainable future look like to you?
To me, a sustainable future must include more collaboration between engineers of the African Diaspora with the mission of strengthening and rebuilding our communities. In the context of the incubator development, sustainability means local manufacturing of this project within Burkina Faso long after our team leaves. Before we started working on this project, Professor Dena Montegue at UC Santa Barbara brought this challenge to her students. It was later brought to us to learn from and build upon. As the project did not start with us, it will not end with us and our partnership with Energie Rich entails creating an incubator with enough documentation that it can be reproduced by those who poultry farm locally. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world having only received independence from French colonization in 1960. After finally receiving sovereignty, wouldn't it make sense to want to decrease dependence on European and Western aid? This is what the project means: a chance to become more self-sufficient. As a team of all black engineers and members of the African Diaspora, we are using our education and privilege as Stanford students to help move towards a sustainable future by correcting the flaws of an unacceptable past.

What advice would you give younger students hoping to pursue a career in science and/or technology?
As someone who did not have any engineers in the family, and did not really know exactly what "engineering" meant growing up, it seemed daunting to me. I would tell younger students to not be scared by the unknown. Instead, explore its depths and allow room for failure and growth, because if you didn't, you would never know where your true interests lie. Engineering has been far from easy for me at Stanford, but having upperclassmen to talk to about these things and seeing what incredible projects they accomplished made it easier for me to realize that I could achieve the same success. Being in a field that is predominantly male pushes me even more to excel, and as an alum of an all girls school, I know we are all empowered and capable of doing exactly that.

What is your plan or vision for life after college?
I am class of 2017 so after-college life is approaching quickly! Afterwards, I will be working at Advanced Prototype Engineering (APROE), a design firm in San Francisco, where I will have hands on experience working on some really cool projects before returning to school to complete my masters. In the far future, I would love to pursue my passion for education and teach design workshops for high school students in underserved communities to help them realize their creative and entrepreneurial potential.