Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Report

Degree Name

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MS)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Advisor 1

John Gershenson

Committee Member 1

Michele Miller

Committee Member 2

Blair Orr


For rural farmers in Senegal, West Africa, pulling water for irrigation can be a laborious but necessary task during the dry season to earn income from vegetable gardening. Traditional water pulling methods are inexpensive but require great physical effort, while modern machines decrease the labor burden but at a high financial cost. This study looked at an intermediate water pulling technology, the treadle pump, and how it could be improved to become more desirable for use in agricultural irrigation. A treadle pump was built and tested during field work in a rural Senegalese village. Observations from field testing prompted a single component of the treadle pump, the piston seals, to be further investigated for improvement. Locally available materials were procured to make novel, experimental piston seals that were preliminarily field tested. Problems arising during field testing created the need for more consistent tests in a controlled environment. Laboratory testing was performed to draw conclusion about the new materials regarding operation force and performance of the piston seal. Results showed that three of the six materials tested had the potential to serve as functional replacements for the standard treadle pump piston seals. These materials shared similar properties as they were all foams and performed within a close range of one another. A financial comparison showed these materials to cost 97.3% less than the standard seals leading to a 16.4% reduction in the overall cost of the treadle pump. While the recommended materials could presently work as functional piston seals, future work is recommended to determine the lifetime of the materials.