In the shadows of the bridge overhead, they pulled the big, metal contraption into the shallow water of Cherry Creek. The seniors from CU Denver tied straps to anchor the device in place. The current turned the large water wheel, which got the auger to start spinning.

Then, the students dropped aluminum cans into the creek and watched their feat of engineering get to work.

“We’re working on this environmental machine that cleans the rivers from trash,” said Rida Ezznagui, the lead engineer on the project. “It took us about three, four solid months to build this thing.”

Ezznagui and his senior mechanical design class spent an entire semester on the design. This summer, he and his teammates have been tweaking the prototype.

“The beautiful part here is it’s all mechanical,” Ezznagui said, demonstrating the device. “It works by the flow of the water that moves this wheel.”

The device collects floating trash by trapping it inside a tube with a spinning auger. The auger carries the trash upward and dumps it into a trash bag.

“It’s a piece of art,” Ezznagui said. “And that’s the beauty of mechanical engineering.”

The 30-year-old came to the United States from Rabat, Morocco about 10 years ago. He leads a diverse team on the project.

“We have Muaath from Saudi Arabia, we have Muhammed from Kuwait and we have Aimin from Libya,” Ezznagui said, pointing out his teammates.

Even their professor brings an international perspective.

“I am from Mexico. From the northwest part of Mexico,” associate professor Rafael Sanchez said.

Sanchez said his class is made up of students from all over the world.

“When that happens, everybody provides ideas that are brilliant in their own, different unique way,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the project to design a trash removal device was an exercise in learning that he hoped would motivate students to work on projects benefiting the environment.

“This is an effort that I’m sure is going to continue,” he said. “It’s going to go and that something very good is going to come out of this.”

Ezznagui and his teammates see great potential for their prototype.

“This could be a bigger machine where we can clean rivers, lakes, even oceans and seas with this machine,” Ezznagui said.