News Release

Windmill kit provides introduction to structures and design

December 10, 2020-- This fall, students in the Introduction to Structures and Design course at the Jacobs School of Engineering were able to get hands-on experience designing aerodynamic, efficient and earthquake-safe structures even during a quarter of hybrid in-person and remote learning. This was made possible by a take-home windmill kit designed by a local startup company CORI. The curriculum using these building kits was developed by UC San Diego structural engineering teaching professor Lelli Van Den Einde as a design-build competition to meet the learning objectives of the course.

While 120 of the 140 students in the introductory structural engineering course opted to take it in-person, the traditional team project builds of years past weren’t realistic due to campus social distance policies. To make it possible for students—remote and in person-- to still get a hands-on design and build experience during the lab class, students each received their own CORI windmill kit containing cardboard, dowels, string and 3D connectors. 

The goal? To design a windmill capable of raising a water bottle off the ground, and a supporting tower to resist wind and seismic loads as efficiently as possible.

“My class is about introducing students to fundamental structural engineering concepts that they will learn more deeply during their education at UC San Diego, as well as introducing the possible tracts they can take in structural engineering,” said Van Den Einde. “We want them to be exposed to the four different focus sequences they could choose. We have civil structures which are bridges and buildings; aerospace structures which include airplanes; geostructures which are foundations and retaining walls; and structural health monitoring which assesses the integrity of all structures in real time.” 

Van Den Einde initially contemplated developing a term project and sending each student a different project kit for each of the four structural engineering tracts, but the costs for that quickly added up. Instead, she teamed up with CORI to design the windmill project, which focuses on the Civil and Aerospace tracts.
“Students have to use aerodynamic principles to design the blades for the windmill—they design the shape of the blades, number of blades, and angle of inclination to get the most efficiency out of their windmill.

Additionally, the windmill sits on top of a tower, and we want them to design the tower in a way that can resist what we call lateral loads like earthquakes or wind loads. So it’s a cool project because it uses simple cardboard material, but students can apply the principles they’re learning in class about loads, material properties, structural analysis, and aerodynamics, getting that basic intro to engineering intuition.”

The course had been meeting in the EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Space, but went remote during week 9 and was moved to an outdoor classroom during the last week of the course, so that the structures could be physically tested. The students had have a competition to see whose design is the most efficient based on a predefined performance index that includes the amount of materials used as a proxy for cost, the efficiency of lifting the water bottle, and the maximum strength that the windmill tower can resist under lateral loads.

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with Professor Van Den Einde and the UC San Diego Jacob School of Engineering on this lab experience, and how the flexibility of Cori allowed us to develop the ideal kit for their needs and budget,” said Howard Chan of CORI. 

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering