Event provides forum for undergraduates to demonstrate design skills

More than 300 undergraduates participated in the fourth annual Design Expo at the University of Delaware on Monday, May 18. The event was held in the Design Studio, a “maker space” in Spencer Laboratory.

Hosted by the Department of Mechanical Engineering in partnership with the Department of Art and the Biomedical Engineering Program, the expo showcased student design projects from four spring semester courses, one each at the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior levels.

“The Design Expo is a great opportunity for our younger students to show off their design skills,” says Jenni Buckley, assistant professor and organizer of the event. “We’re known for training engineers to be great designers here at UD, and part of that training involves hands-on construction each and every year.”

Students taking the freshman-level Statics (MEEG112) course competed in a four-week challenge that involved designing and testing a portable bridge made entirely from PVC tubing.

“The challenge was a great way to encourage our freshmen to get creative and work together to solve an open-ended problem,” says Dustyn Roberts, assistant professor of instruction.

Sophomores had the opportunity to get creative with Ikea-inspired furniture in the Computer Aided Engineering Design (MEEG202) course. After conducting intensive end-user research on campus to identify furniture and fixture needs in the residence halls, they designed and built working prototypes of new dorm furniture.

Danielle Gerstmann and Carolyn Hall created a shelving unit that used vertical space for over-the-bed storage and incorporated various attachments, such as a foldable desk and phone and cup holders, offering users the ability to customize the unit by placing any of the attachments on any of the rungs.

“Although I’ve been told many times that mechanical engineering is known for its rigorous academic schedule, I’m persistently intrigued by all the opportunities to put the work learned in the classroom to great use in real life,” Gerstman says.

At the junior level, students in Biomechanics II (BMEG311) created new surgical tools to allow total knee replacement surgery to be performed more efficiently and cost effectively in developing countries.

“I was impressed by the students’ unique and innovative solutions, which ranged from designing new multi-use tools to incorporating the use of novel materials to improve tool functionality and sterility,” says assistant professor Elisa Arch. “The Design Expo is a terrific forum for the students to present their hard work to a multidisciplinary audience, and we were delighted to be a part of it.”

For seniors, the Integrated Design (MEEG467) course brings together mechanical engineering upperclassmen and visual communications students to study and design commercial products. Their project this year involved envisioning the next generation of plumbing products for the Speakman Company, a major manufacturer of showerheads and plumbing fixtures.

“The class was hugely beneficial to me as a student in the visual communications department,” says Chip Keever. “I have so many ideas, but I lacked the technical skill to actually make them a reality. The engineers were able to learn brainstorming techniques for creativity from our department, and we were able to learn about programming and the physics of constructing our prototypes.”

“The expo was a great way to showcase the collaboration that had taken place all semester long,” he adds. “People from Speakman gave us feedback — real-world insights — about our prototypes. These types of collaborative learning environments are what is going to propel education to creating innovation. It was hugely important in my college career. During the expo, our professors even made a custom plumbing set up so we could showcase our work. They went above and beyond because they believed in our ideas.”

About the Design Studio

The 5,500-square-foot Design Studio in Spencer Laboratory, UD’s mechanical engineering building, includes workspaces for rapid prototyping, digital fabrication (e.g., 3D printing, laser cutter), electronics, health care-focused design (wet lab for tissue work and physiology stations), and design validation and testing.

The maker space was designed and built by students, with financial contributions from alumni, the College of Engineering, and the University.

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