Published: Jan. 18, 2017

Carlye Lauff at a design workshop in the Idea Forge.

Carlye Lauff laughs during a design workshop in the Idea Forge.

Carlye Lauff, a mechanical engineering PhD student studying design, is taking her research to the land of kangaroos and koalas.

She has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) fellowship to spend a semester in Melbourne, Australia at the Swinburne University of Technology.

Design Prototyping

Lauff is researching the role of prototyping in product development. While prototyping is common in corporations, she says there is surprisingly little research on the subject.

"We know a lot about how college students do design, but there's a huge gap in the research with businesses. It’s easier to study how students work; with companies you have to be able to get in the door to see how they do things," Lauff says.

Working with the CU Boulder Design Center, which is led by her PhD advisors, associate professor Mark Rentschler and senior instructor Daria Kotys-Schwartz, Lauff has been able to build relationships with a medical devices company, a consumer electronics firm, and an apparel business.

“Surprisingly, these three different industries have many overlapping similarities in product development,” she says.

The goal of her research is to form an overall framework of how businesses conduct prototyping and develop strategies to improve the process.


NSF GROW is a unique fellowship designed to support international collaboration between researchers. The application process is competitive, and applicants must already be an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, which Lauff is. To apply, students must submit a formal project summary outlining intellectual merit and broader impacts, as well as a budget, and letters from the sponsoring and host institutions.

Under the GROW program, fellows can work in any of 18 different countries. Lauff chose Australia after discovering Swinburne’s Center for Design Innovation, which works with businesses on product design and development. It is exactly the kind of place someone researching prototyping would want to be.

"I love the design process. Product development has been my favorite part of engineering since I was a freshman," Lauff says.

Working with the center’s director, Kurt Seemann, Lauff has been able to find businesses in Melbourne willing to open their prototyping labs to her research.

"Studying product development on a global scale could be really enlightening. Does Australia do prototyping differently than the USA? What can we learn from them?" Lauff says.

More information about NSF GROW