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Engineering Design Days: Student Projects in the Spotlight

May 11, 2009

After months of brainstorming, building and testing, teams of engineering undergraduates put their projects on display last week at two daylong Design Day events.

Although senior design or capstone projects are a common assignment in the Whiting School, two of the most elaborate showcases for these student inventions are traditionally organized by the Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering departments. This year, their events took place on consecutive days on the Homewood campus.

Projects ranged from the microscopic (stem cell- carrying surgical thread) to the mammoth (a device to help utility crews position a power pole).

Edward Scheinerman, the Whiting School’s vice dean for education, says he is impressed by what the students can accomplish. “All of our departments have some type of capstone projects like these, where the students get to apply the things they’ve learned from their lectures and textbooks,” he said. “Engineering is about being creative. These projects give students a chance to design and build. This is the experience we’ve being building up to.”

Design teams differ among departments. Biomedical Engineering teams typically include nine or 10 students, ranging from freshmen to seniors. Mechanical Engineering teams usually include three or four students, all seniors.

By working on these inventions, participants gain real-world experience in topics such as team organization, budgeting, design, manufacturing, testing and developing a long-range business plan.

Projects are usually sponsored by industrial companies, nonprofit organizations and researchers in other university divisions, including the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.

In some cases, student inventions that emerge from these design courses have served as prototypes for commercial products or as devices to assist people with disabilities. Depending on sponsorship arrangements, some students have retained patent rights or received inventor’s credit.

At last week’s events, team members presented technical reports and fielded audience questions in a Hodson Hall lecture hall. They also participated in poster sessions and demonstrated their work to fellow students, faculty members, alumni and other visitors. Teams of judges selected the top three projects for each design day.

For Biomedical Engineering Design Day, the top award went to a team that developed a way to place stem cells in surgical thread to speed healing after tendon surgery. Second- and third-place honors went respectively to projects called “Stem Cell Immobilization for Orthopedic Surgery” and “Improving Laparoscopic Partial Nephrectomy.”

For Mechanical Engineering Design Day, the first-place award went to the Project BORN2FOLD team, which developed a paper-folding mechanism for a Pitney Bowes machine. In second place was the Project ASTRO team, which built a system to help a “throwable robot” climb stairs. The third-place winner was the Project DIAPER team, which designed enhancements to help parents avoid errors when they install child safety seats in vehicles.

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