Driven to Design

by Michael Mullaney on October 15, 2009


I recently met with professor Mark Steiner for a tour of The Design Lab, and was mightily impressed by what I saw: lab benches covered with machine parts and components; one-of-a-kind device prototypes, white boards with scribbled equations and observations; and – less surprisingly – student engineers hard at work.

Here’s how it works. Primarily occupied by sophomores and seniors, the students work in teams to design or refine products and devices for real-world companies and organizations. Research and development can be hugely expensive, and there are many companies who recognize the value of handing off a particularly tricky or stubborn engineering challenge to a team of eager, innovative students. It’s also excellent resume fodder for students, as most of the companies who partner with the Design Lab are names that you would definitely recognize.

I anticipate that student exploits from the Design Lab will make regular appearances on The Approach. Without giving away the farm, here are a few projects that are particularly cool:

  • Design, build, and test a junction for a two-piece wind turbine blade
  • Designing and building a collapsible, easier-to-transport walker for the elderly
  • New blades for orthopedic surgery equipment
  • More sustainable PCs and printers
  • Customizable fonts for social networking sites
  • Airflow test equipment for competitive sports
  • Aircraft design, jet engines, and balance systems for boats
  • Immersive digital design environments

This is all great stuff. Keep an eye out over the coming semesters for more in-depth posts about these excellent examples of student-driven design and innovation.

For more info on the Design Lab, check out this story on a past group of students who worked on wind turbine design, and this story about a team of students who worked on a “morphing rocket” for Northrop Grumman. Then there’s the lift-assist walker, Saturn Ion redesign, “strippable” wine corks, and plenty of others …