Shameless Promotion

Hey, you there! You should join the Olin Human Powered Vehicles team! (abbreviated HPV, but remember friends, "vehicles not viruses")

HPV is one of the many project teams on Olin's campus, amongst such others as Sailbot, Baja, REVO, and Aero. We build bikes. Well, bikes, trikes, monowheels...you name it. Last weekend, we took five days off to drive to Florida for the ASME HPVC East competition at UCF in Orlando. (The driving took up almost 3.5 out of the 5 days - Massachusetts and Florida aren't that close.)

We raced the vehicle we'd been designing and building since the beginning of the semester: Cheryl, a recumbent, fully faired tricyle (Fairing is the aerodynamic structure around the trike to reduce drag).

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We competed in events such as the women's and men's drag races (short speed sprints) and a 2.5 hour endurance race of laps around a course with obstacles, as well as a design and design innovation presentation. Cheryl and Olin did incredibly well: of the 36 teams in attendance, we took third in design, third in women's drag, fourth in men's drag, and third overall, as well as winning the team spirit award. We won that final award for the perseverence and dedication the team showed even when things got tough. In the final half hour of the endurance race, the bolt holding the rear axle of our trike sheared in half when we went over a speed bump, and the vehicle was out of commission. Not to be put out of the race, Kari picked up the bike to run the laps for the remainder of the race. And the rest of Olin's team, in an amazing display of camraderie and and Olin spirit, race with her along the sidelines cheering her on. Five other teams had broken bikes, but from what I saw, none had the rest of the team running with them until they saw us.

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P1050136.JPGBonding with four of the five teams who ran their vehicles around the course. (Wisconsin, Missouri S&T, Olin, Toronto)

Reasons why you, as a prospie or future student, should join HPV:

1. Building bikes! I'm not even a MechE and I love it. It's a great way to get fun engineering experience outside of classes.  Designing and machining is a great thing to know how to do no matter what your major is.

2. Learning how to build bikes! Maybe you read that first point and thought "Wow, I don't know how to build a bike; I can't possibly join this team." Fear not, the coolest part is that it's entirely a learning experience, and a fun one at that. I had no idea how to build a bike a year ago. This spring, I was on a subteam composed entirely of freshmen to design and build our ski/skate attachments that let the trike ride on snow and ice.

3. Making friends in other classes. Because trust me, once you spend 40 hours in a car with people, you get to know them pretty well.

4. Olin is a unique gender-balanced engineering school, and our HPV team has an uncommon 2:1 F/M ratio.  One of the requirements of racing is having a female rider in the endurance and drag races, and some other schools don't have that, so they "borrow" female riders from teams like Olin.  I think we had a total of four women on our team biking on another bike.  It's fun because it gives an opportunity to bike the course and see what another team designed.

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5. Obviously, going to Florida is pretty exciting. Transitioning from 50 degree heat to 85 degrees sure was nice.

6. Fun!

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EDisk-O? EDisco Ball? EDisk Golf?

While everyone out is freaking out because their 20 credit schedule is beginning to attack them (see: http://blogs.olin.edu/studentblog/2014/04/the-dreaded-twenty-credit-semester.html), I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the cool stuff I've been doing with one of the clubs at Olin.

EDisco is, surprisingly, not a club where we do disco dancing or play frisbee. (Though, that would be kind of fun...)

Engineering Discovery is a club at Olin for education outreach in the K-12 space. If you know nothing about this, don't worry because I'm about to tell you.

BotRockNov2013_0044.JPGA Bottle Rockets Workshop in 2013

The K-12 space is a really great place to work in and do research right now. There is tons of opportunity and a new movement toward integrating engineering and other hands on activities into the K-12 environment. Let's be honest, everyone's favorite activities when they were a kid were the ones where you got to actually do things. 

Anyway, in eDisco we basically meet a lot as a huge group at the beginning of the year while everyone tries to figure out what activities they want to do, and what fits into their schedule. After that, we break off into small groups doing outreach in different places.

This semester, I took charge of an activity in collaboration with JFK Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, a multicultural and diverse neighborhood in Boston. 

I was extremely nervous at first, but Kathy Wright, the 5th grade teacher we were working with, made my job really easy. 

Week 1: Consumerism

The first week, the Kathy designed an activity so that we could focus on getting to know the kids. Cecelia, Jess, and I worked with groups of 5th graders turned "consumers." Using vocabulary words, the groups came to a consensus about which version of a product was the best. For example, they had four lunch boxes, and they decided which was best based on cost, durability, insulation of hot/cold, and aesthetics.

The hardest part of all of it was remembering their names. They all have insanely cultural and really cool names... that are really, really hard to remember  i.e. Jeysa, Cheyris, Jael, Idalis, Jonahira... 

Week 2: User Oriented Design

April2014_2213.JPGPoster board of the projects the kids made during week 2 in the JFK hallway.

The second week, we actually designed curriculum for them. We decided to try user-oriented design on them, and we chose Kathy as our user. 

It was like suddenly all of the creativity these kids were not tapping into in a normal classroom setting came pouring out. They designed everything from noise-canceling headphones to cushions for the legs of their classroom chairs. They prototyped their designs with basically the whole eDisco stockroom, things like paper plates, pipe cleaners, plastic cups, cotton balls, etc. 

An interesting thing I noticed was how much they identified with their home-life cultures. When asked "where are you from?" I don't usually answer Caddo Nation or Germany, but when I asked these kids, inevitably their answer was "the Dominican Republic," or "Puerto Rico," even if they had never lived there. 

Week 3: Working Prototypes

April2014_2223.JPGRahil working with a group of six students to develop one idea.

The third week we did another design activity with them, with a focus on working prototypes. They had to design something to get a key out of the bottom of a coke bottle. We used it to segway into E&M. We let them do the activity first with a magnetic key ring on the key, and they almost all used magnets. It took them all about 10 minutes to make a prototype to get the magnetic key out. When we took the key ring off, the activity became much harder and it took most of them the rest of class to do.

For those who finished early, Cecelia challenged them to use clothespins to pick up the key. This is shockingly hard to accomplish, and Jess spent two hours making her own prototype with clothespins. 

Week 4: E&M

April2014_2233.JPGCeline working with 5th graders. She joined us around week 3.

We did E&M with them for week 4. I have to say, I think it was the most successful. 

We first taught them about static electricity by rubbing a balloon on our hair and then picking up iron shavings. With the same shavings we then showed them magnetic fields by placing a magnet under the plate holding the shavings.

Next, we talked about closed loops in circuits by having them hook up a lightbulb to a battery. Then, we pulled out a bunch of random materials and tested conductivity and magnetism. They learned that not all things that conduct electricity are magnetic, and vice versa. 

Finally we showed them motors. We showed them a big motor that looked like a fan, and we showed them Cecelia's modcon project which had both motors and LEDs. 

Some of the most fun was how excited they got about what happens when lightning strikes your car. 

Cecelia almost cried when Joselyn came up and told her, "Maybe one day I'll go to college and invent things like you."

Week 5: Rube Goldberg

We did Mechanical Engineering by having the kids make Rube Goldberg machines.  

The first class was disappointed because almost none of them completed the activity. We noticed that the only group that did finish was the one who had only one mentor working with them directly, so for the second class we adjusted and each of us worked with one group.

Week 6: Materials Science

I was really sick this week, and I didn't attend, but I know that the kids worked with Gold Nanoparticles, Magic Sand, and Nitinol wire. They learned about waterproofing, flexibility, and durability.

Week 7: Final Project

To incorporate everything we learned, we had them design water turbines as their final project. 

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We gave them a large motor, and they had to design an attachment that would allow the motor to spin fast enough when water was poured on it that it lit an LED. 

April2014_2273.JPGTwo of the boys working testing their design.

Overall, JFK was an amazingly rewarding experience. 

The kids were allowed to come to engineering if they did all of their homework and behaved for the whole week. As a result, the kids worked really hard to do both.  Mrs. Wright said she saw an improvement. Some kids who never did their homework suddenly did. One kid tried to stay in school even when he was throwing-up sick because he wanted to go to engineering. 

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Six of the girls in the class decided to enter Raytheon's Make It Better contest.

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So today, on our final day, we were all really sad to leave. But all of the hugs and art we got made us really happy. 

photo.JPGA penant that Jeysa designed and everyone signed.

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I especially loved that Jonahira, who didn't seem all that interested in engineering each week, went out of her way to draw us a thank you note. 

So basically, join eDisco. 

Crunch Time: The Last Stretch

          Well, it's that time of year again. Crunch time. For me, the crunch is quite literal. I am building a bridge out of spaghetti. When everything starts breaking down into late nights of gluing strands of spaghetti together to make compression members for my bridge, trying to hit that high A note in PowerChords on minimal sleep, designing and redesigning a Rubik's Cube that can solve itself, it can get people pretty down in the dumps, it can make people lose confidence in themselves.

Bridge Truss Members

           Truss Compression members for a spaghetti bridge design project in Mechanics of Solids and Structures

          All of that in mind, it's tough. I'm tired. I know I over committed this semester. But I can't wait. Because the work pays off. After everything that I'm going through, after all of the hard work, the accomplishment that follows rivals no other feeling. The feeling of crossing the finish line in a race you thought you couldn't win. I know that at the end of all of this, I will have conquered some truly challenging tasks, things that I never thought that I would be able to do, and that makes everything worth it. Because instead of banging my head against a textbook late at night, cramming for a test which I'll probably forget all about, I am doing things that I love, no matter how much time I spend doing them. I am being the creative and innovative person that I want to be, instead of the bogged down, stressed out student with too many tests to study for.

Robox CubeThe external view of a self-solving Rubik's Cube I am designing, in which a user can pick it up, scramble it, and watch as it unscrambles itself.

          I just came back from a late night of designing and assembling a bridge made out of spaghetti. By Monday, I will have finished the full design for a self-solving Rubik's Cube that someone can pick up, scramble, and put down just to watch as it solves itself. I am neck deep in post-its, working to design a collaboration space for recreational mathematicians. In Olin's Robotic Sailing team, we are pushing through some of the final steps it takes to complete our boat, and every member of the team is giving it more than they've got.

Olin Robotic SailingThe Robotic Sailing Team's boat from last year: Blackbody Radiation

          No matter how late I stay up, I can't wait. I can't wait until I have the memory of picking up the Rubik's Cube I designed, scrambling it, and watching it work. I can't wait until I watch the bridge I built out of spaghetti spectacularly fail under the load I worked to calculate. I can't wait to treasure the moment when I help put this year's robotic sailboat in the water, push it off, and watch it sail off with a mind of its own. Even though these memories haven't happened yet, these moments are the ones that affirm my passion and love for engineering, innovation, and creativity. These are moments I know I will treasure because I helped make the impossible possible.

-Alex

The Dreaded Twenty Credit Semester

Although this topic may not be super relevant to those of you who are checking out the blog at the moment, I still wanted to write about my current experience with five courses. 

First, I am going to review what I was thinking coming into this semester, then explain how it didn't work out the way I was imagining things. Read and be warned.

 

                                       Me going into this semester.

My current classes and my logic going into them:

Real World Measurements - Required course and I've heard that it makes Modeling and Control from the Fall semester make sense, which I was excited about.

Introduction to Mechanical Prototyping - This class I was really excited about because it was a very Solidworks and Mech:E heavy course, and I already knew I was interested in both of those areas. 

Linearity IRequired course and I had heard horror stories about the course. I had no idea what to expect going into this course. It was math, though, so it was something that I had never done at Olin before. I was relatively hopeful.

Mechanics: Modeling and Simulation Approach - According to Sophomores, this class promised to really strengthen my Matlab skills while getting my physics requisite out of the way. I was looking forward to both of these things. Also, Mark Somerville is an awesome guy.

Software Design - I had never really gotten the opportunity to explore the programming side of engineering. I was really excited to learn Python and finally be able to say that I know a language.

Okay, now before I go into details on the pains that have come along with this semester, I will list my current take on my five courses. I also want to say that overall, I have really enjoyed my time here at Olin so far. I am highlighting some of the shortcomings that I was not expecting from a twenty credit semester, but I still have learned a lot from each of these courses and am really looking forward to the courses and adventures that I will experience here at Olin!

My thoughts on my courses as of now:

Real World Measurements - This course did do a good job of connecting back to Mod Con and filling in some blanks, but I just don't have too much interest in what we are doing because I am more interested in the Mech:E space.

Introduction to Mechanical Prototyping - This course has been a lot of fun. I have explored new areas of fabrication such as 3D printing and Sheet metal, and it is a ton of fun to have an idea in your head and then see it turn into a solid representation over the course of a week.

Linearity I - This course has been the most trouble for me, because a lot of its curriculum is designed around self-discovery and exploratory learning, and I really have not had the time to sit down and let things click. The concepts are things that I have never seen before and it is a struggle a lot of the time.

Mechanics: Modeling and Simulation Approach - This course was approached in a very different way than it was last year, and although that meant less work, we have barely opened up matlab this semester. We look a lot at preparing the system to be entered into matlab, and although this is interesting, it wasn't what I was mainly looking for in the course. Also, similar to Linearity, I have not had the time to really get the most out of the course.

Software Design - This course has also been really great. I have really enjoyed exploring the computing branch of engineering and although I had a few hiccups in the beginning with the language, the course has since turned into a type of Software Proto where you have week long projects that feel really rewarding upon competion.

 

Okay, time for the issue with five courses if it has not yet been made evident. If you ask an Oliner about five courses, they will warn you about the amount of time that you will have to put towards your coursework. They say that you will have less time to hang out with friends and you will feel really overloaded at times. As we are approaching the end of the semester, I am starting to look back over the semester and realize that I am not taking advantage of a lot of the courses I am in. 

Because you have no extraneous time, you are not able to delve deep into the curriculum of any one class, or in my case, you delve deep into the two classes you are really passionate about, and the rest just fall to the wayside. I feel BAD that I have not been able to really explore the curriculum offered in Linearity or challenge myself to understand all aspects on the labs that we do in RWM.

I just ask that before you decide to take five courses, think strongly about not just how much time you will spend on coursework but also the different ways that this limited time will affect all aspects on your Olin life, including the coursework itself.

                                                   Me now.

 And with that, I say NEVER AGAIN!

Spring has Sprung

Spring has Sprung

Something has changed around Olin's campus. Instead of it being completely silent, with only a few heavily-clothed students rushing between the dorms and the Campus Center, it appears that people have actually started to venture back outside!

Hallelujah! The snow has melted, I can see the beginnings of green on the trees and in the grass, the thermometer on my window currently reads 75.7 and I can go outside and sit on the great lawn without a coat on!

This, of course, means the annual Olin tradition of "moving the entire 1st floor lounge onto the Great Lawn" will shortly begin again:

Hey, we're engineers. Of course we can take 5 sofas outside, and set up a way that all of our computers can still be plugged in while we enjoy the wonderful sunshine. Obviously.

However, along with the warming weather and increasing temperatures also comes the dreaded increase in workload--and a score of other shenanigans. Final projects are beginning to be assigned in all classes, and particularly us sophomores are realizing how very little time we have left to finish our UOCD designs. Eeek.

On top of that, the dreaded room draw begins next week. Zach Holmes wrote a brilliant article about this particular event in the school newspaper Frankly Speaking (http://franklyspeakingnews.com/), which I invite everyone to read. I feel it completely necessary to insert a personal anecdote here: the biggest problem I have with room draw this year is that everyone seems to think that the 1st floor of West Hall is a crummy place to be. As someone who lives here, I must just quickly insert the fact that it is quite lovely--it is not nearly as cold or dark as people seem to believe.

And, finally, with the end of the year comes the knowledge that next year is starting far too soon. Registration for next years' classes is coming up shortly, which just adds another set of stresses, especially for 2nd draw rising sophomores (that was me last year: you pretty much cross your fingers and hope that people don't take your spot).

But, it is important to remember with all of these class and school-related stresses that the outside world is now open again for people to enjoy it. If your matlab code is simply being MADE OF TERRIBLE, take a break. Go outside and enjoy the multitude of small birds that have taken up residence between the dorms. Remember that sunlight is, in fact, a thing--there is not just light from computer screens. And everything will hopefully be working when you go back to it again. And hey, the arrival of spring means that summer vacation isn't too far away!

Happy Spring Everyone!

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