New lab gives College of Engineering students an edge.

By Christina Masciere Wallace

Make it better. Make it faster. Make it smarter. Dick Mooney '60 rarely was satisfied with the status quo. He loved the challenge of re-imagining and redesigning nearly every mechanical device he encountered. Engineering was more than a college major, more than a profession for Dick. It was how this inveterate builder and tinkerer approached his life.

In his quest to simplify and improve control valves for natural gas and other high-pressure fluids, Dick and his wife, Pam, founded Mooney Controls in 1984 to bring his ideas to life. The level of success that followed allowed him to pursue his passion for working on and racing vintage cars. The first-generation college graduate engineered his own success story, but always credited Bucknell.

Pam Mooney

Dick, who died of cancer in 2007, would have wanted to make a special gift to the University in honor of his 50th Reunion, says Pam. In his honor, she and her family established the Richard J. Mooney Innovative Design Laboratory. Formally dedicated on Sept. 12, the facility expands the space in which engineering students and faculty can bring their designs to fruition.

"This lab is a perfect reflection of the way Dick lived his life, and what his Bucknell engineering education allowed him to do," Pam says. "He truly felt that his ability to design products and solve problems represented the superb training he received at Bucknell."

The 2,200-square-foot addition, which essentially fills in the "U" of the footprint at the rear of the Breakiron Engineering Building, contains a large project development space, a design studio and a manufacturing space dedicated principally to welding, grinding and brazing. To support Bucknell's commitment to sustainability, the new structure is topped by an outdoor patio and reception area with a "green roof," which is covered with plants that allow the building to be heated and cooled more efficiently.

"We are extremely grateful to the Mooney family for this lab," says Provost Mick Smyer. "Engineering, like many fields, is a capital- and labor intensive endeavor. Space and equipment are crucial to ensure our engineering faculty and students can continue to focus on constant innovation."

Innovation is an important topic throughout the field of engineering, notes Keith Buffinton, dean of the College of Engineering, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Because innovative product development is so closely tied to United States' ability to compete in the global economy, it's a topic of national importance, he adds.

"At Bucknell, we need to be innovative in the way we provide education to our students, and we need ways to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship within them," Buffinton says. "We need to help people come up with the creative solutions to problems facing the world."

The Mooney Innovation Lab complements several other Bucknell initiatives that encourage creativity and new ways of solving problems — an innovation and entrepreneurship"ecosystem" that is growing across campus and in the greater Lewisburg area. This includes the Bucknell Small Business Development Center, currently housed in Dana, which works in close partnership with COE faculty and students to assist area businesses. The business offices of the SBDC are scheduled to move into the DeWitt Building downtown once renovations are complete, joining the new Bucknell Innovation Center and business incubator.

The right tools and opportunity are essential, says Brent Noll M'11, whose design work at Bucknell included a humanoid robotic arm and an award winning portable camping stove.

"I used the product development lab to complete projects for the SBDC and for my graduate work," Noll says. "It was an eye-opener to be able to walk into the machine shop and have the lab technicians help you learn to use the equipment — and then basically just let you go. The whole process is available here. You can take your idea and make it happen."

Tony Bruno '60 and James Scura '60 made gifts in Dick's honor to purchase new tools to complement the Mooney lab. The new space and the equipment available to engineering students — mostly biomedical, civil and mechanical — amaze Bruno, who is a product development executive.

"When we were students, there wasn't any product development. They had labs for chemistry and metallurgy and the like. That was instrumental on the materials side, but it didn't address the actual designing and building of new products," he says. "Understanding the hands-on craftsmanship part of the engineering discipline makes you a better designer."

The Mooney lab captures Dick Mooney's hands-on approach and constant quest for improvement, says President John Bravman, who is a professor of electrical engineering.

"We are fortunate that our engineers work in a liberal arts context, which is very important today. Solving real-world problems takes a whole team of people with different areas of expertise — people who are always trying new things and are not afraid of failure," says Bravman. "Our best legacy will be to honor Dick's memory in the way we instruct students and inculcate the values he held dear.

Innovative Design Lab ribbon cutting
Pictured from left to right: Rick Mooney, Heather Mooney, Pam Mooney and President John Bravman

Posted: January 19, 2012