Freshmen engineers show off projects on Design Day

Cameron Woods, center, fills his engineering design team's concrete canoe with stones to test its buoyancy during the Freshman Engineering Design Day on Nov. 26. Teammates Mason Kilbourne, right, and Taylor Burns watch.
Cameron Woods, center, fills his engineering design team’s concrete canoe with stones to test its buoyancy during the Freshman Engineering Design Day on Nov. 26. Teammates Mason Kilbourne, right, and Taylor Burns watch.

The Bubble Trouble team was aptly named.

Just minutes before Lexi Beaver and her three teammates put their project on display in front of parents, classmates, judges and professors, the team was making final adjustments to their bubble-blowing machine. Lots of duct tape. Even more glue.

But the Bubble Trouble team wasn’t the only group fine-tuning their project. The North Carolina State University freshmen engineering students comprised one of the more than 300 design teams taking part in the annual Freshman Engineering Design Day held Nov. 26. In total, 1,220 freshmen participated.

Each fall, first-year engineering students team up to work on a project as part of E101 – Introduction to Engineering and Problem Solving. The course is a starting point for all engineering students, and projects are put on display the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Hanes Brands Inc. sponsored this year’s event.

Engineers in training — and on a budget

Bubble Trouble’s invention, one of the project options for E101 teams, involved a plastic container of bubble solution, a bracket, a hair dryer, bubble wands, glue and duct tape. To get started, Beaver, along with Casey Nordcliff, Ruchee Shorey and Keng Moua, could use any material they could find within a set budget. They also could use the traditional bubble wands that must be fished out of bottles of bubble solution, but every other component had to be engineered. They even had to mix up their own bubble solution.

Along with the bubble blowing machine, other project competition categories were: arcade game, concrete canoe, fabric bucket, Hovercraft race, GE precision launcher, Rube Goldberg machine, ABB turbines and water fountain.

And the skills the students learned — persistence, teamwork and efficiency — will take them through future semesters of engineering at NC State.

For one of the teams designing a Rube Goldberg contraption, the biggest challenge was finding a place to assemble the machine. Named after a cartoonist and inventor, the Rube Goldberg machine is a device that performs a simple task in an overly complex fashion.

In this case, the team — Jacob Cartee, Thomas Hall, Mark Denton and Akshit Patel — started with a golf ball. The ball rolled down a ramp, landed in a cup on a pulley, rode the pulley down, and knocked a soup can onto an apple juice container before ending up at the bottom. The cost to make the machine: $10.

The four-man team made up of Thompson Rowe, Cameron Woods, Mason Kilbourne and Taylor Burns had to be enterprising to make a concrete canoe for $28. They got a deal on a bag of cement mix that had a hole in it and bought a can of paint that hadn’t been mixed correctly for a discount.

The team crafted a mold from Styrofoam and molded the cement mix around it. They put their mold, prototype and final product on display, and a laptop was set up to show a multimedia presentation on how the team worked on the project.

When their turn came, team members carried the canoe to a container filled with water. They later showed the judges how their canoe could be filled with small stones without sinking.

Rowe said the team learned by doing and benefited from a chance to put ingenuity into action.

“We can sit down and draw it out all you want,” he said. “But just doing it is the best way.”

There was no shortage of support and guidance for the budding NC State engineers. Parents snapped photos and volunteer judges from local companies ABB, Cisco, Duke Energy, DuPont, GE, Plexus, Qualcomm Technologies, Teleflex and Volvo checked out their work.

The McKimmon Center was a bustle of activity. For Dr. Laura Bottomley, director of Women in Engineering and K-12 Outreach for the College of Engineering at NC State and an E101 instructor, this is the essence of Freshman Engineering Design Day.

“We want students to learn what it means to do engineering design, not through trial and error, but through the deliberate application of knowledge to the solution of a problem,” Bottomley said. “We also want them to practice team management and time management in the college setting. Most of all, we want them to learn what to do when they fail. One of the most important lessons they can learn as freshmen is that failure is a normal part of the design process, and that it should be expected and planned for.”

First-, second- and third-place winners in the competition categories received T-shirts. First-place teams received medals.