WSU Students Learn about Business in Boeing’s Animal Transport Project

PULLMAN, Wash. — When biological systems engineering senior Emily Larson returns to school this fall, she will step into a project that has drawn international attention to Washington State University.

Larson, one of 11 Boeing Scholars at WSU, just completed a summer internship at the aerospace company. She will now participate on an interdisciplinary team of about five students who will work on the second phase of Boeing’s live animal transport project in the fall and spring semesters.

A team of WSU students in engineering, science and business started the first phase of Boeing’s “Live Animal Transport Computational Tool” project in the fall of 2000. They developed computer software that freight managers can use to calculate how much heat and carbon dioxide animals produce when carried in an aircraft’s cargo area. The computational tool, which greatly speeds calculations and assists in decision-making, has data for 10 animal species. Data about other animal species will be added in the next year.

Larson’s group will focus on an aircraft’s capabilities of removing heat and replenishing oxygen inside the cargo area. The information will be matched with the number of animals a specific aircraft can accommodate.

The project will help freight managers to make proper decisions about animals’ safety and comfort on an aircraft, said Marvin Pitts, associate professor of biological systems engineering and the project’s technical adviser. Workers often do not have time to use thick manuals and to calculate information by hand. They then base their decisions on previous experience.

“Even if animals survive a flight, they may not thrive when they are exposed to too much heat. Especially in Europe, the comfort of animals is becoming very important,” Pitts said.

Denny Davis, chair of WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, said the animal transport project offers students the opportunity to address a real business problem. They also learn how to work in a team and to understand the customer. “Emily and other Boeing Scholars return to a challenging and exciting learning experience that prepares them for success.”

In addition, students come to understand the importance of both technical and business issues in developing a commercial product. They have a good chance of employment with companies that deal with this problem, and they see how people in the industry formally and informally network, Davis said.

Last year, the first group of students working on the animal transport project had several meetings with Boeing and made a presentation at the International Air Transport Association in Montreal. Airline representatives from around the world showed an interest in the project, Pitts said.

“The animal transportation project shows that engineering is not only for very analytical people who love math but also for warm, caring people who are working to improve the lives of animals and society in general,” Pitts said.