Experience Engineering

Broken Bones

Broken Bones

Professor Robert Sah with bioengineering students

Fractured and broken ankles can be lots of fun...if you’re a bioengineering student. A new pilot course for the Experience Engineering Initiative at the Jacobs School challenges first-year bioengineering majors to problem solve like seasoned engineers.

This spring, first-year bioengineering students produced 3-D printed models of fractured ankles using 2-D images from real patients.

“As it stands, many doctors still use 2-D or paper images to help them decide how a fractured bone should be repaired. Having a 3-D model will enable them to make more accurate decisions,” said first-year bioengineering undergraduate Marisa Keller. She was part of a team of engineering students working on a project conceived by bioengineering professor Robert Sah (pictured), a world-leader in cartilage repair and tissue engineering. The students took part in a pilot course for the new Experience Engineering Initiative at the Jacobs School (see Dean’s column, pg. 2). The project challenged teams of freshmen to define an ankle fracture based on CT scans of normal, fractured, deformed and degenerate bones. The students generated models of the ankles in the CT scans using a 3-D printer and evaluated the accuracy of their work against the 2-D image.

“I knew the university offered endless research opportunities and a leading education, especially in bioengineering; but I never

thought I could have the amount of exposure that the class offered this early on in my academic career,” said freshman Julie Yip.

This early access to real engineering challenges is precisely the point of the Experience Engineering Initiative.

“Here at the Jacobs School, we are exceptionally good at instilling in our undergraduates strong engineering fundamentals. We are now more than doubling down on our efforts to pair the fundamentals with the practice of engineering,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School. “Engineering is nuanced. When students experience the nuances — the gray areas — they inevitably construct mental frameworks on which to hang the engineering fundamentals that will be coming their way fast and furious.”

Other teams from the same pilot course focused on brain-body-machine interfaces and on developing Ebola treatments using limited resources.

Mechanical engineering undergraduates are also part of the pilot phase of Experience Engineering, by way of updated robotics classes.

In spring 2015, students designed and

built robots to move items from a staging area into the correct recycling bin.

“Our students are free to print motor mounts, gears, pulleys, ball casters and anything else they can think of,” said Daniel Yang, a mechanical engineering graduate student and TA for the class. Early on, one group chose to print a modified motor mount with the hope of increasing the speed at which their robot performed its task.

“The idea came to us while we were solving a linear slider problem on a lecture assignment,” said Delta Caraulia, a first-year mechanical engineering major. “We realized that if we modified the width of the part, we could reduce the amount of friction: the wider base better supports the moments in the part and reduces the normal forces and friction in the bearings.”

The class is co-taught by mechanical engineering professor Nate Delson, a pioneer in hands-on engineering education, and Michael Tolley, a mechanical engineering professor working on bioinspired robotic systems, including soft and self-folding robots.

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