Water Center, computer science students dive into Nebraska groundwater | Nebraska today
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is developing a new project that highlights Nebraska’s international leadership in water research.
Working with the Nebraska Water Center, part of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, a team of senior design students from the school of computer science are revamping the current data systems of the Nebraska Vadose Zone program.
The Nebraska Vadose Zone program standardizes the collection, processing, analysis and sharing of vadose zone surveillance data. The vadose zone is the gap layer between the root zone of crops and the water table that acts like the skin of the earth, regulating the storage, transport and transformation of agrochemicals. Changes in this area can impact the quality of Nebraska’s groundwater, which is used for drinking water, livestock and crop production, industry, and other economically important purposes. With a better understanding of this area, water managers can better predict contamination and how to implement source interventions.
The program’s website currently hosts an extensive database of agrochemical results collected from hundreds of sources dating back to the 1980s. The website is an essential resource for state natural resource managers, growers and citizens, but its information is not always easily accessible or manageable. Since data is submitted from multiple sources in a variety of formats, most of it must be manually reviewed and entered by staff.
“As we discovered throughout their process, everything was done by hand, emailed to them, or printed as copies,” said Cody Binder, a senior software engineer on the Senior course. Design. “We are implementing ways to manage these different data sources and automate them to save time.”
Senior Design is a computer capstone course in which students spend a full academic year working closely with a faculty or industry sponsor to create a product that meets an organization’s specific technology goals. The main objectives of this project were to improve the user experience of the site, to allow the downloading and verification of data and to share the results via an interactive map function. Determining the best options to achieve these goals required extensive brainstorming and feedback from sponsors.
“Being able to connect with the people who are directly involved and have access to these resources has been very beneficial,” Binder said. “That kind of experience is really good if you’re building something from scratch.”
Although the project plans evolved significantly throughout the creative process, the students felt that the result was both a better product for the program and an educational opportunity for them.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of being flexible and willing to try different technologies and designs,” said Patrick McManigal, a senior software engineer and team member on the project. “It was a massive learning experience to move on to new ideas without tunnel vision. This helps to find the best solution.
Not only did the project offer students the chance to develop new skills and build a new technological system from the ground up, but it also allowed them to better understand previously unknown aspects of the agricultural industry.
“I’m from Chicago and I didn’t grow up near farms or anything, so I had no idea about fertilizer seeping into the water table and nitrate levels,” Will Swiston said. , a young software engineering student. “It was completely new to me, and it was cool to learn.”
Binder agreed that the project also provided him with a new perspective on how the industry impacts on many levels, from global to personal.
Bill Browning, project manager, was fascinated by a different aspect of the project: the way the students worked together.
“I’m always impressed with how five students who don’t know each other can come together to work toward a common goal,” Browning said. “Any time you can get five students excited to work on a project like this team’s, you’ll definitely see results.”