Argentinian student awarded $5,000 grant for research at MPCC

Monday, February 13, 2023

Mid-Plains Community College student Juan Zanguitu works to build a data logger Friday after applying for and receiving a $5,000 grant from Nebraska’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

Mid-Plains Community College’s Mathematics and Science division has received an approximately $5,000 grant to assist in the development of an affordable data logger that farmers can use to monitor soil moisture content.

The grant will cover the cost of prototype parts and about 400 hours’ worth of development and testing.

Funding came from Nebraska’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), the mission of which is to build the state’s research capacity and competitiveness, invest in workforce development - especially for underrepresented groups, and foster public-private partnerships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as biomedical research.

Juan Zanguitu, a freshman at MPCC, started the project as part of an Engineering Communications course. He wrote the grant proposal with assistance from math and physics instructor Jared Daily and Kristin Borman, grants coordinator.

“Agricultural producers depend on data-driven decision making more than ever before in this technologically dependent world,” Zanguitu said of why he embarked on the project. “New and improved, commercially available sensors and data loggers flood the market each year, and the prices reflect the profits to be made. However, smaller producers and farmers in developing nations tend to use technology less, in part due to economics.”

His thought was that a low-cost, open-source, universal data logger would allow small producers and farmers in developing nations to implement technology into their operations at a cost conducive to more efficient and effective farming and business practices.

“This project involves the development of such a data logger using existing microcontroller technologies and readily available components to limit cost of materials and production,” Zanguitu said. “The data logger will be designed to interface with a variety of existing sensors and products, and it will also be customizable for use with other devices. All of the devices and software developed in the project will be maintained as open-source products for anyone to use and improve.”

Assisting producers in developing nations is something near and dear to Zanguitu’s heart. He was raised in the Argentinian town of 30 de Agosto, which has about 7,000 residents.

“I’m inspired to help countries like mine with limited agricultural resources.” Zanguitu said. “This data logger will allow researchers and farmers to monitor field conditions and make better management decisions at an affordable price.”

Zanguitu has been using computers since he was 2-years-old and started coding when he was 14.

“I have always wanted to come to the U.S. for the high amount of competition and academic opportunities,” Zanguitu said. “When I was 12, I decided I wanted to come here as an exchange student. I became an Argentinian cultural ambassador and a Rotary exchange student in 2019.”

He had to leave early due to the COVID-19 pandemic but was able to return in the summer of 2022.

“I graduated from North Platte High School and from Secondary Education School Number 7 in my hometown in Argentina,” Zanguitu said. “Then, after creating powerful bonds with my host families, Jeff and Janel Foust and Greg and Michelle Kring, they offered to host me again to go to college in North Platte. Since I was little, I have always wanted to change the world with my computer software, and as a result, I am currently attending college to become a software engineer.”

Zanguitu is on track to graduate from MPCC in the spring of 2024 with an Associate of Science degree with an emphasis in engineering. After that, he plans to transfer to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and pursue a bachelor’s degree in software engineering.

His goal is to work in the areas of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. His hope is that one day his inventions will have a positive impact on the world.