When Professor Nate Siegel was growing up in the 1980s, he, by nature, built things.
"Lincoln Logs, Legos, Tinker Toys or just going outside," he says. "Future mechanical engineers are supposed to do that."
So when he began to notice students spending too much screen time with their handhelds and too little time making things with those hands, he decided he would try to change that. With donations, he bought a laser-cutter and 3-D printer, and encouraged students to start actually making what they had designed with their computers.
"It is hard to believe, but students come here and haven't thought about hands-on work with hardware," says Siegel. "Potential mechanical engineers used to work on cars or radios when they were growing up. We have to get back to making things."
His own latest research involves trying to produce fresh water from the air using a device that would be powered by solar energy. If successful, he says, it could make more dry areas everywhere useful. He thought of the idea driving through the Southwest and seeing miles of barren land.
"I thought it would be neat to come up with a system to get fresh water so people could produce food in areas where they don't currently live," he says. Knowing that the world's population will grow by 30 percent by 2050, he feels that if his idea works, it will mitigate issues surrounding fresh food and water.
Siegel expects to work with students on this project, as well as other ideas that come up in the meantime.
"I spend a lot of time with students on short-duration projects," he says. "It is not that I have a short attention span, but I like finding a problem and solving that problem quickly. You can come up with lots of solutions — the key is picking one and getting to work on it."
Posted Sept. 29, 2017