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Intellect

No place to hide: BYU students enhance method of tracking underground water

  • Willowstick Technologies can detect underground water for projects such as drilling wells, fixing leaky dams or managing water in mines.
  • BYU students enhanced the technology so technicians can do their jobs faster and more accurately.
  • The solution involves a portable 14-foot pole and ground level sensors in a backpack. 

It’s not exactly a divining rod, but a BYU project does involve a unique pole, magnetism and the search for underground water.
One group of students in BYU’s Capstone, a two-semester engineering course that charges students to create solutions for real-world clients, partnered with Draper, Utah, based Willowstick Technologies to improve a set of tools that detects water underground. Since 2004, three Fortune 10 companies have called upon Willowstick, employing this technology for a host of water projects such as drilling wells, fixing leaky dams or managing water in mines.

The Capstone team’s enhancements allow water-tracking field technicians to chart the course of hidden water with greater accuracy and in much less time.

“They designed an instrument that would go up in the air and better characterize the depth of the water. And they improved the quality and accuracy of the measurement through a new filter that they designed and tested,” said Willowstick President Val Kofoed. “This is our second Capstone project. And we are really pleased with the quality of students at BYU. We can’t say enough about them.”

A clearer view. The new instrument collects data from magnetic coils that the students fixed on the top of a 14-foot carbon-fiber pole. Combined with basic readings from a ground-level unit, the data from the pole coils helps paint a precise 3-D picture of underground water routes.

Saving time. Before the BYU team got involved, field technicians lugged a tripod and sensory equipment to every survey point, setting up and breaking down each time. While Willowstick engineers hammered out a few improvements to reduce repetitive recalibration, the BYU team outfitted a backpack with the ground-level sensors and designed the pole to be easily portable. Soon field technicians will move faster while collecting twice as much data.

Curtis Stimpson, a student on the team — joined by Brock Zobell, Jacob Delimont, Loren Johnson and Tim Ashworth — said he felt they reached their goals. “We increased the robustness of measurements and improved ergonomics for the technicians. And that’s what we wanted to do.”

The Capstone course began at BYU in 1990 with just four projects and has expanded to include approximately thirty industry-sponsored projects each year with a total of 545 completed projects over the past twenty years. The program has worked with more than 200 companies from 25 states and 11 different countries with ongoing international efforts.

Writer: Nat Harward

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