A conversation with a DCU Final Year Project Expo winner Aimee Shanley-Brookes

The mechatronic engineering student talks about her award-winning project

9 June 2023

Mechatronic engineering student Aimee Shanley-Brookes recently took home joint-first place in Intel’s ‘Best Engineering Project’ at the DCU 2023 Final Year Project Expo. TechCentral.ie caught up with Shanley-Brookes to discuss her prize-winning project, finding her path, and the Irish job market.

Congratulations on your win. What was the aim of your project and how does it work?

Thank you so much for the congratulations. The aim of the project was to create a mechanical nanogenerator to convert wasted mechanical movements (normal walking) into electrical power output. The project investigates manufacturing materials that are sustainable such as Bamboo and tries to optimise those materials. It uses piezoelectric and triboelectric properties that naturally occur from two materials contacting and separating to power the smart floor device.

So as two oppositely charged materials collide, they will want to attract each other and when moved apart they want to overcome that pulling force and increase their polarity by making one material increasingly negative and another increasingly positive. Once the materials collide again this large charge separation occurs from high opposite polarities who want to reach neutral charge equilibrium. This increase in polarity is what I want to take advantage of and harvest as this will create a large voltage difference.




I wanted to make something that could be put in place anywhere and be able to power small devices from streetlights to kettles to alleviate the pressure on our power grid. Pairing this device with other renewable energy resources could optimise their efficiency and could decrease our dependency on fossil fuels for energy sources.

How did you decide to focus on this issue?

My project was entitled A Smart Floor for Energy Harvesting which was conducted under the supervision of my supervisor Dr Shirley Coyle and was part of an Insight funded PhD project Self-Powered, Sustainable E-textiles for Truly Wearable Devices in the Internet of Things by KR Sanjaya D Gunawardhana.

I had the freedom to create any kind of ‘smart floor’ I would like to try and harvest energy from. Seeing as the project itself was based around using wasted mechanical energy and trying to lessen the burden on the energy infrastructure to power small devices, I decided that I wanted to make it as sustainable as possible and use natural biodegradable materials that were not going to become wasted resources. I chose to optimise the materials and create an efficient smart floor to widen the scope on how we can create clean energy.

Tell us a bit about where your interest in mechatronic engineering came from?

Honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I was younger and thought I’d like to try something different and fun. I had entered the common entry engineering in first year to try out all disciplines and quizzed a few of the professors and students in the older years to see how they felt about the course. The more I heard what they were doing and creating the more the course appealed to me, and I wanted to join them. So when it was time to choose our discipline, I picked mechatronic engineering because it looked challenging but rewarding and the career opportunities looked super adventurous.

Who are some people in the field that you admire?

I think the great thing about the area I study in is that anyone can be an engineer. If you create, you are someone to be admired and can call yourself an engineer. I grew up working with my dad on small projects around the house and constantly creating crazy gadgets and that was always fun. So, I admire my dad for his inventive nature and engineering skills. 

There are honestly so many people I’m inspired by in this field, and I feel lucky for that. My fellow peers are so driven and supportive of one another, the technicians in our department are so encouraging and I greatly admire my lecturers because they went the extra mile to not only educate me but also encourage me to love the areas they teach.

Do you feel optimistic about the current job market in Ireland?

I think there is always a need for engineers in every place of work and I hope there is room for me somewhere. I look forward to taking my next steps in the engineering world and finding out what excites me next.

What’s next for you?

I haven’t decided what to do next. I just completed my course, and I am now ready for my next step. As I wish to travel as well, it would be ideal if this involved experience in several different fields of expertise with the opportunity to keep my learning continuing. I am hoping to release an academic publication shortly on my project. I just encourage everyone to do what makes them happy and excited in life and to think sustainably as well.

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