Published: Dec. 12, 2013

From compostable heat to a custom-built, sensory playhouse, CU freshmen at this year’s Engineering Projects Expo on Saturday, Dec. 7, had a lot to show off.

The projects displayed a wide range of creativity combined with unique class objectives. Among 11 sections for the course “Engineering Projects,” student teams collaborated on a semester’s amount of work while addressing their “class mission.” Awards were distributed at the end of the expo, in which teams could win either the “peoples’ choice” award or enter the running for best among their section. All who attended the event could vote for the peoples’ choice award, and a panel of judges -- practicing engineers from local engineering companies -- determined best project per section.

Derek Reamon, co-director of the Integrated Teaching & Learning Program and Laboratory (ITLL), mentioned that the expo – which started out as a small event in 1993 – is a great way for students to proudly display their work, think about their work by communicating their process and hopefully get other people excited about engineering.

“It’s important in their education cycle to reflect on what they’ve done and how far they’ve come,” Reamon said. “It sort of closes the loop by having them explain to someone who hasn’t seen their project growing what they’ve built and why.”

Each professor chose a subject for their class objective, and these ranged from heating homes for low-income families in Shiprock, N.M., to creating tools for clients with cerebral palsy. Several instructors now have a list of clients that they coordinate with to encourage projects that will satisfy a specific need.

As Reamon explained, more and more instructors are bringing in clients for their Engineering Projects class.

“And those clients are hard to find,” Reamon explained. The challenge, he said, is finding clients who will request a design or need but also allow students to be innovative. Some examples included an interactive design for kids to learn about fire safety, a radio controller for a woman with limited mobility, or home heating systems for low-income families.

All of the projects displayed engineering concepts, practical applications and lots of creativity. One team created a passive solar lens out of a protective screen from a TV, which collected and concentrated sunlight over rebar in a concrete-filled bucket.  The rebar could get as hot as 230 degrees in 30 minutes with the exposure to sunlight, which could extend underneath a home and add a significant amount of heat. Their mission was to heat a home out of renewable energy while keeping costs low.

Another team explored the benefits of transferring heat from a compost bin to heat a water system. As one of the students explained, exo-thermal chemical reactions occur in a compost bin and create a significant amount of heat. The team, who earned best in their section, aimed to collect and transfer that heat to a home’s water system, and they were able to retrofit this design by connecting the system to a back-up water heater.

One section’s entire class, comprised of 30 students, collaboratively created a playhouse with sensory features and a special design for client, Noah, a five-year old boy with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. Splitting up into three teams, students divvied up work based on structures, interior structures and sensory details. The final product was a modular playhouse with an elaborate jungle theme, a hanging airplane that spins from the center of the ceiling, a cave lit up by multiple, bright neon colors and a slide for both Noah and his 3 year-old brother to enjoy.

The “peoples’ choice” award went to team “Bad Intentions” for their project “RFID Liquid Dispenser.” The runner up was team “Humble Elephant” for their “Light and Music Box” project, and students from each of these teams received Golden Buff plaques and certificates to the book store.

The expo takes place at the end of every semester, so be sure to catch the next one in Spring 2014.

Photo by Patrick Campbell/University of Colorado.