Engineering Students Design and Build Windmills

January 03, 2013

ALLIANCE, Ohio — Students enrolled in the Introduction to the Engineering Profession course (EGE 110) at the University of Mount Union had a unique opportunity for hands-on learning this fall.

As part of the course, taught by assistant professors of engineering Dr. Hans Tritico and Dr. Helen Muga, students applied the design process to energy production by designing and building windmills. Students worked in teams of four or five with each team being given a specific assignment such as designing windmill blades or the tower. Other tasks that teams were charged with included building a foundation that ensured the tower would not fall over, connecting all of the components together and building a rotational base that allowed the windmill to turn with the changing wind direction. In the end, all of the teams had to come together to ensure that their component worked with the windmill as a whole.

Students were provided a generator and a $100 budget for each of the three windmills.

“We didn't want the students to be able to go online and buy windmill components,” Tritico said. “Instead, students formed their blades out of PVC pipe, there was a rotational base made out of a lazy susan and the towers were hand built out of wood or fence posts. Students were allowed to bring in donated material from home so we had some really creative designs that included an old jack stand for the top of the tower, lifting weights to counter-balance the generator, old metal fence posts for one of the towers and wood from a local barn as cross-bracing for the tower.”

In addition to the designing and building process, students wrote an engineering report and gave presentations about their designs. Windmills were on display in the Quad on campus for several days in December.

According to Muga, professors have been incorporating hands-on projects into the course since fall 2010. One of the projects from the past two years was the design of a mobile application that will help individuals make informed decisions about the environment and human health. Students had to utilize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website to work on their projects. 

“This semester, however, we decided to challenge the students with a larger project — the windmill project,” Muga said. “The late Dr. Donna Michalek has to be given much credit for having the vision in setting up such a course as EGE 110 and for us, the engineering faculty to take it to the next level and push the boundaries of what is possible in a freshman course.”

According to Tritico, 48 students in the class were freshmen and one was a sophomore who recently decided to double major in engineering and computer science.

“The 48 freshmen were literally months out of high school but impressed us with their creative ideas and dedication to the project,” Tritico said.

Both Muga and Tritico believe that hands-on learning is beneficial to students.

“These types of projects also introduce students to the grand challenges of engineering such as energy, infrastructure, water, sanitation, health and climate change and give them ideas on how to solve these problems,” Muga said.

“Project-based learning experiences provide concrete examples of how their knowledge can be used, opportunities for honing their teamwork skills and the space for students to learn how to teach themselves,” said Tritico.

Tritico plans to continue offering hands-on learning experiences next semester in the Introduction to Engineering Analysis and Problem Solving (EGE 120) course. The class will help design, build and program Lego Mindstorms robots.

“I read a recent article in the Pacific Standard Magazine about the deep connections that humans are forming with their robots,” Tritico said. “While robots don’t have the ability to feel emotion, service robots are increasingly being employed to perform jobs for us. Robot dogs are being used to sniff out bombs in Iraq and robots such as Roomba are increasingly being used to perform household chores. As the prevalence of these ‘loyal companions’ has increased, so has the occurrence of deep emotional bonds with what are essentially machines.”

Engineering - Windmills

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