Engineering Students Exhibit Senior Design Projects

Students in Engineering Sciences 100: “Engineering Design Projects” exhibited their senior design concepts in a series of presentations that took place from Tuesday through Friday of last week.

The year-long class, required for engineering sciences bachelors of science concentrators, challenged students to identify and respond to real-world engineering challenges, according Robert J. Wood, ES100 lecturer and an associate professor of electrical engineering.

“For the engineering students, it’s a direct application of the knowledge they have accrued over their time here,” Wood said. “They’re able to take the theory and put it into practice to make optimal design choices.”

“I can remember seeing [computer science] lectures from the past come into play during my design and thinking ‘Oh, that’s what that really meant. That’s why that was useful,’” said Tabaré A. Gowon ’12, who created computer software to help dance choreographers during rehearsal.

Following a growth trend that has occurred in many of the courses in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, ES100 saw the number of students enrolled double this year to 31 students. In a departure from the traditional lecture-based class model, the class employs a heuristic and interactive pedagogical style.

Time in class was split between student presentations of their progress and workshops that introduced topics required for engineering accreditation, such as securing a patent, understanding engineering ethics, and obtaining a professional license. Students spearheaded each step in the process, from their choosing the area of research to implementing their designs.

“Class time was really used to teach us the skills we’d need for work as engineers,” said Rashid M. Yasin ’12.

Yasin’s project—a cranial drill that allows neurosurgeons to penetrate the skull more safely—actually built on a design that had originated from a student group’s work the previous year in Engineeering Sciences 227: “Medical Device Design.”

Other students such as Gowon drew upon personal experiences for inspiration.

“During my dance fellowship in Washington, D.C., I noticed that technology for dancers was really limited to basically cameras,” he said, “I wanted to create something technological that would assist choreographers in their creative work.”

Rachel D. Field ’12 travelled to Ghana in January to conduct research and determine the design specifications for her project, a sustainable device for recycling circuit boards at electronic waste sites.

“It’s really all up to you. You determine what comes out of your project and how far it’s going to go,” Field said.

Students emphasized the sense of community that developed throughout the year.

“It was a great experience. We were all really supportive of one another, urging each other to keep working and helping each other even when everything just broke down at 2 a.m.,” Field said.

Students noted the challenges of creating their own designs including unexpected explosions, missing pieces, and having to modify and rethink their designs repeatedly.

“We have to think about every last detail, every nut and bolt. It’s unreal to be able to graduate from College having made a working, functional device,” said Kristina M. Barile ’12, who created a portable sand-cleaning device for oil-contaminated beaches.

“We praised our successes and lamented our failures, but nonetheless we learned what a typical design process is like and will be in the real world,” she added.

Some students have plans to expand their projects beyond the scope of the class. Field said she hopes to continue working with some non-governmental organizations and government contractors she met in Ghana to develop her project further.

“It really develops into a passion and something you’re really into,” Field said.

—Staff writer Akua F. Abu can be reached at aabu@college.harvard.edu.

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