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‘I am more prepared to work as an engineer’

December 20, 2018
students gasp and hold their hands over the faces while looking at a fragile tower made of balsa wood slats in the foreground.Mechanical engineering seniors Haley Wohlever, Leo Liu, and Crystal Kim “walk the plank” in Rettner Hall to see how much force their balsa wood structure can bear before snapping into pieces. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

“Bending bad; axial good.”

Chris Muir, professor of mechanical engineering, says he would be satisfied if that’s all his students remember from his mechanical design course, ME 204. Translated for a non-engineer: a structure is sturdier when each of its beams bear weight along its axis, without any bending.

However, judging from the comments of Muir’s students this semester, they learned much more than that. One of the toughest courses they experience, ME 204 prepares seniors each fall to design and build prototype devices to solve real-world problems the following spring in ME  205. These culminating design projects, required of all seniors, are often suggested and sponsored by outside companies and agencies.

In ME 204, however, the students had to do four projects, some individually, some in teams.

For example:

  • Each student fabricated and built an air engine—essentially a steam engine that runs on compressed air. For many of the students this was their first exposure to machine shop tools and turning a design into a fully integrated device that actually works.
  • Each student created a piece for a giant 75-piece team puzzle, which serves as a “metaphor for design team.” If all the pieces fit properly, the whole class gets credit. If even one piece doesn’t fit, the whole class is penalized.
  • Students defined “everyday” problems that annoyed them, then designed and created devices to address them. This resulted in a wide range of innovations, from a cup holder that could be attached to a crutch to improved floss-pickers and even a pen that makes a less annoying noise when it is clicked.
  • For the main event, students competed in teams to see who could construct the most efficient balsa wood structure. In a two-hour showdown, teams took turns “walking a plank” to prove which structure could survive the most force before snapping to pieces.
professor speaks to class while standing in front of a large collection of different balsa wood towers.

Muir’s “dry humor keeps everyone entertained and focused in class and reminds us that we are all in this together,” says Chris Seely ‘19. Cole Sonett ’19 appreciated that Muir “provided endless advice and aid to the student teams and went above and beyond by checking data and re-running simulations to make sure no small errors held a group behind. This was easily the highlight of my semester.” (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

“We learned a ton and if nothing else, it taught us how to handle multiple projects simultaneously,” says Andrew Gutierrez ‘19. “ME 204 has been very busy, but because of that I think I am more prepared to work as an engineer.”

Shira Katz ’19, took a year off from school last year to work in industry, doing internships at Battelle and Honda. “It was cool to see how much of what we did in this class was important and applicable to future work we’d be doing,” she says. “It’s a jam-packed course with all types of engineering applications,  including manufacturing, simulation, prototyping, design, laser cutting, casting, and 3D printing. And I loved how hands-on the course was.”

“The best part for me has been the camaraderie built between the senior class through it all,” says Mira Bodek ‘19. “We’ve gone through it together, especially the last week when we were all in Rettner slaving over our balsa structures. The moments we’ve had laughing and crying and complaining together have been great.”

Read more here.

See more photos from the ME 204 final competition on the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences website

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Category: In Photos