First-Year Design Projects

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In Their Own Words

I loved the hands-on aspect of the freshman projects course. Being able to, as a freshman, sit down and design something and create it was really great. It was fun getting use all the cool tools and take it a step further and able to help someone else.
— Toni Kolpfenstein, chemical and biological engineering sophomore

As an engineering student you don't have to wait to dig into the fun applications of your major — get started designing, creating, and problem-solving in your first year at CU-Boulder!  The College of Engineering and Applied Science's First Year Engineering Projects course (GEEN 1400) is a fun way to apply the core concepts learned in the first-year engineering curriculum and a nice change of pace from the more traditional structure of calculus, physics, and chemistry classes. Students love this hands-on introduction to real-world engineering!

Upper-class and transfer students also can explore creative design possibilities through Invention and Innovation (GEEN 3400), a three-credit design course that introduces students to product development and entrepreneurship. Students work in teams to invent a new product with potential for marketplace success. At the end of each semester, students in both courses present their design projects at the ITL Design Expo.


When students in Jean Hertzberg's First Year Engineering Projects class were challenged to create a fun project, the A-Team decided to create a hovercraft "because what's more fun than riding on air?" Consisting of a wood platform, a lift fan, a thrust fan, and shutter controls, the team's gas-powered craft can cruise along at 15 mph and is able to climb a 20-degree slope with a driver on board.

Bike Water Screw

Students in Robyn Sandekian's First Year Engineering Projects class designed and built a bicycle-powered water pump using Archimedes' screw concept. The device both pumps and filters the water using a design concept that could be applied in developing communities as a means for clean drinking water.

Walking on Water

Thought it couldn’t be done? One group took on the challenge, creating fiberglass walking “shoes” designed to resemble the hull of a boat.

"After going through lots of ideas that wouldn't work, we finally came up with a general idea for our walk on water device," the students  wrote in their final paper. As the team designed and produced its "water shoes," it tackled challenges of buoyancy, stability, and propulsion with careful planning, creative problem-solving, and a  few mishaps too!

Rube Goldfish

Named after the late American cartoonist, a Rube Goldberg is a complex machine that uses many steps to perform a simple task. This colorful "Rube Goldfish" machine offers a fun and entertaining way for kids to feed their fish. The machine also includes a musical feature that enables children to play with and learn from the machine between feeding times.

The Masscillator

Keeping track of body mass during long space flights is very important to astronauts, who can't weigh themselves due to the zero-gravity environment. The Masscillator uses a spring-mass system similar to that used in space. By sitting on this oscillating bench, a student can estimate his or her mass based on the period of vibration — and make sure they're not gaining "the freshman 15"!

Briquette Press

Challenged to develop appropriate technological systems for the developing world, first-year engineering students created the Compactable Briquette Press to generate fuel from available materials such as discarded paper and sawdust.

The press is filled with a mash of burnable materials which are compressed into small bricks. Once dried, these bricks can be burned for fuel. The press is easy to assemble and take apart for convenient storage and transport.

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