January 19, 2012

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By Andy Hirsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. — For Bucknell University sophomore mechanical engineering major Evan Colarusso, the winter break included a lot of homework, coming back to campus a week and a half early and spending 10 to 12 hours a day in the new Richard J. Mooney Innovative Design Laboratory working on a project for which he won't receive any class credit. 

"It's been a lot of work, but it was a great experience, and I wouldn't hesitate to do it all again," Colarusso said. 

He was one of 23 first- and second-year engineering students selected to take part in the KEEN Winter Interdisciplinary Design Experience, or K-WIDE. The first-time program was created to get young engineering students from different disciplines working together.

"They're going to get the depth of their discipline later on, but this is an opportunity to get some breadth and to appreciate that hard problems require people in different disciplines to be able to talk to each other and work together," explained Joe Tranquillo, associate professor of biomedical and electrical engineering.

Tranquillo and Charles Kim, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, accepted applications for the program last fall. Under the theme of restoring and improving urban infrastructure, one of 14 Grand Challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering, the selected students spent part of their winter break putting together a photo essay identifying  problems. Once they were back on campus, they began conceptualizing and constructing actual solutions. 

"One of the more frustrating things that they had to do was to identify problems when they're usually given problems to work on," Kim said. "The fact that they've been able to identify these problems within a few days, devise solutions for them and be as far as they are in building is very, very impressive. These students are very motivated."

The projects range from small water wheels which could be installed in city sewer systems or on skyscrapers to generate power from rain runoff, to bus seats that fold into the roof during rush hour commutes, mimicking the open space of some subways and allowing more people to utilize public transportation.

"That's a great thing about this, it's an actual problem that you could see in the real world," Colarusso said. 

Sophomore biomedical engineering major Sarah Talbot called her time at K-WIDE an invaluable experience.

"It prepares you for your future at Bucknell and your future career," Talbot said.  "When you go out in the real world, you're not going to just be working with a group of biomedical engineers, or a group of mechanical engineers. You're going to be working with all different disciplines. And you have to learn how to see things from other people's points of view."

A grant from the Kern Family Foundation helped make K-WIDE a reality. Both Tranquillo and Kim hope to offer the opportunity to more students in the future. 

"They've been able to think more critically about their own experiences and have been exposed to a design process that's much different than what they've seen so far. It's been worth it," Kim said.

The K-WIDE projects will be on display at a public expo on Friday, Jan. 20, from 4:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. in the Dana Engineering Lobby.

Contact: Division of Communications


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