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Students navigate the ups and downs of engineering design

December 6, 2019

 

Mousetraps and Rubber Bands 2019

IMAGE: MIKE CIESIELSKI

Each fall, first-year students enrolled in an introductory mechanical engineering course at Johns Hopkins University put their design skills to the test in a rite of passage known as the MechE Freshmen Design Competition. This year, they were challenged to design and build a device that could launch a small glider (also of their own design) across a room, propelled only by the energy of a falling 5-pound weight.

Nineteen student teams competed in head-to-head matches during the single-elimination tournament that took place in Levering Hall on the university’s Homewood campus. Some gliders soared high. Others crashed into pieces upon hitting the floor. And some never even made it off the launching device, leaving students scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.

Success and failure are both part of the learning process, says Steven Marra, an associate teaching professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering and the mastermind behind the annual competition.

“This was my first time asking the students to design a true aerodynamic projectile capable of generating lift,” Marra said. “This year’s assignment was especially challenging because each team had to design and fabricate both their glider and the energy-transfer device to launch it properly. And they did a fantastic job.”

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