New Technology to Expand the Use of Energy Harvesting (2023-2024)


Small electronic devices like wireless sensors, transmitters and monitoring units have been improved to require less energy to run, which allows the possibility of pairing them with ambient energy harvesters to make them self-sufficient for extended periods. However, even though energy harvesting can replace the use of batteries, the process of designing a clean energy-efficient solution is still in its experimental phase. Although this technology has been studied for some time, there is still a gap between theory/experiments and practical application for a broader community. 

Project Description

This project aims to develop a computational tool that can calculate the best geometrical and operational conditions for a vibrating structure to enhance energy harvesting. The study will also explore electronic and environmental requirements for this technology to be economically viable for small energy applications and study how it can be implemented in practice. 

The group will be divided into three subteams with the following aims:

  1. Create a tool that can compute the amount of voltage to be generated on a vibrating surface.
  2. Focus on the implementation of a mathematical optimization technique that will allow the input of various parameters, such as possible geometries, limiting the weight of the components, minimum voltage required, etc. 
  3. Facilitate the transition of this technology into real-world application. 

The first two subteams will include both graduate and undergraduate students. The third subteam will be geared more toward graduate students. 

The final phase of the project will be the construction of a small prototype to validate the parameters computed by the computational tool developed by the team.

Anticipated Outputs

Computational tool for design selection of energy harvesting device; database of potential applications for the technology; conference or journal paper; physical prototype

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 3 graduate students and 4 undergraduate students in disciplines such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and environmental science. Students will need experience with coding; students who have some experience with mechanical vibrations, prototyping, dynamic responses and optimization implementation are preferable. At least one team member with an interest in the intersection of energy system planning will come from the Nicholas School of the Environment. Graduate students with high technical skills or the willingness to begin developing them will take on a leadership role. 

By the end of this experience, students should be able to implement complex algorithms and work with optimization tools; engage with team-based problem solving; convert theoretical and/or innovative knowledge into a practical solution; and explain the fundamentals of the optimization process in engineering.

The graduate students will take on leadership roles and be responsible for the day-to-day work of the project. They will assist the project lead by keeping the group on track with deadlines, guiding the project’s research direction and assisting with group member needs. One graduate student will be selected to serve as project manager.


Fall 2023 – Spring 2024

  • Fall 2023: Conduct study on potential application for the technology; explore optimization methods for the system; assess best geometry/conditions for each case
  • Spring 2024: Conduct possible technology conversion for the technology to broader community; prototype potential configurations and data collection; improve computational tool


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters


Image: Solar Panels, by Jonathan Cutrer, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Solar panels.

Team Leaders

  • Earl Dowell, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science
  • Luisa Piccolo Serafim, Pratt School of Engineering–Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science––Ph.D. Student

/graduate Team Members

  • Yu-Ting Hsueh, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
  • Shixi Jin, Mech Engg/Materials Sci-MS
  • Harumi Koga, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Henri Gavin, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Lawrie Virgin, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science