The intersection between art and engineering

A girl gets some hands-on experience in the art of origami during the Discovery Space's day camp focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics for girls. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

A girl gets some hands-on experience in the art of origami during the Discovery Space’s day camp focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics for girls. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

So what does origami have to do with engineering?

That’s the question posed to girls ages 6 through 8 during this week’s Exciting Endeavors day camp hosted by Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania.

The half-day camp is designed to expose girls to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The camp’s unit on origami was led by Mary Frecker, professor of mechanical engineering, and Rebecca Strzelec, professor of visual arts at Penn State Altoona, with help from college and high school student volunteers.

For the girls, it was an eye-opening lesson on the intersection of art and engineering. They learned how engineers use origami’s folding principles to design everything from stents that are inserted into the body to help open a blocked blood vessel to tires for Mars rovers that can greatly expand and contract, making it easier for the vehicle to explore planetary surfaces.

The point, Frecker said, is to show the girls how engineers team with artists to solve problems and develop designs.

Read More

ELDM students provide Fall 2013 project updates

Students in the Engineering Leadership Development Minor (ELDM) work on projects with global implications and social relevance. Here are project updates provided by Fall 2013 ENGR 493 students:

Baobab Seed Press Team

The goal of this project is to design a seed press to obtain oil from Baobab seeds. A Baobab pulp processor has been developed over several years in the ELDM program, and has matured to the point where excellent quality baobab pulp powder is generated.  One of the next project objectives is to produce oil from the Baobab seed after it has been separated by the pulp. The goal of the ENGR 493 Baobab Seed Press Team is to create an improved seed crusher that will serve as a processing step before pressing the seeds.

CAD rendering of baobab seed crusher

Model of new crusher under construction.

In the first few weeks of the semester, the team researched different seed press design options and reviewed the past work of other ENGR 493 seed press teams. The team obtained a Piteba hand powered screw press from Dr. Douglas Schaufler, research assistant, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, to perform seed pressing experiments. This press proved to be insufficient at the task of pressing the baobab seeds, so the team met again with Dr. Schaufler and learned how to use an electric powered industrial screw press in Dr. Schaufler’s lab. Full seeds were pressed and it was determined that pressing these seeds was too difficult for even the industrial screw press. In response to the outcome of these seed pressing experiments, the team decided it would be best to focus their efforts on developing a seed crusher that can be used in conjunction with the pulp separator to produce seed fragments that will be easier to press. A rudimentary crusher had been developed by a previous team that reached the same conclusion, but this was developed more as proof of concept than as a product for continuous use. A CAD drawing of the new crusher design was created in SolidWorks and all the necessary parts for the crusher have been ordered. The team is now in full building phase and plans to complete the product in the next two weeks. Team members have learned how to use milling machines, band saws, and lathes in the process of working on this project, and they have gained practical design experience. This project should greatly aid the baobab project as a whole and allows future teams to focus their efforts on obtaining oil from the crushed seeds.

Moringa Harvesting Team

The Moringa Harvesting Team is engineering a prototype of a moringa crop harvester with the intention of sending it to Africa to help improve the process of moringa farming in Senegal. Moringa is a small shrub like tree that grows in countries across the globe. The leaves of the moringa are extremely nutritious, and thus valuable. For these reasons, harvesting demands are increasing drastically. The current method of harvesting this plant involves manually cutting the stalks. By improving the harvesting process, farmers will save time while simultaneously increasing their crop yield. This will effectively help achieve the ultimate goal of the project by stimulating Senegal’s economy.

This project started as a sketch on paper. Following multiple sketches, a design was picked that not only met project goals but also took into consideration the machining ability of the group. Now that the design is finished and the proper materials have been chosen, the harvester is now being fabricated at The Learning Factory at Penn State University Park. In addition to the technical skills learned, the team also learned effective presentation skills, especially when talking about such a technical project with local businesses and classmates. One of the other major lessons learned was how to adapt a design to suit environmental, construction, and financial concerns.

Prototype being built at The Learning Factory.

Harvester prototype being built at The Learning Factory.

Moringa crop harvester design drawings.

Moringa crop harvester design drawings.






Moringa Leaf Stripper Team

Moringa branch before a test of a design concept.

Moringa branch before a test of a design concept.

The moringa leaf is one of the most nutritious substances on earth, containing significant amounts of protein, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C – and provides. an extremely simple and inexpensive way for people to receive essential nutrients. The leaves are ground into a powder and simply mixed with water in order to form a paste, which can be eaten as a meal. In order to simplify the process of harvesting moringa leaves, the Moringa Leaf Stripper Team is focused on developing a mechanized process that will separate the leaves from their stems. This project addresses the difficulties encountered in labor-intensive method currently being used by many moringa harvesters in Africa: an individual will use their fingers and run them down the sides of the branches in order to remove the leaves. This method has a few constraints in that it only allows one branch to be processed at a time, and it also has a negative effect on the worker over longer periods of time. Due to these limitations, it is the hope that the result of this project will allow multiple branches to be simultaneously stripped of their leaves, and also that it will reduce the need for manual labor. This project has the potential to benefit African countries in multiple ways. First, it will greatly benefit the economies of those areas that have the ability to harvest large amounts of moringa as the design is inexpensive and provides the means to substantially increase the output of the crop with decreased manual labor. In addition, it will allow moringa to be more readily available to those who need it.

Moringa branch after a test of a design.

Moringa branch after a test of a design.

With all of this knowledge in mind, the team has been working very hard in order to develop a full-scale model that is to be implemented by the end of 2013. The team has designed several basic prototypes that have guided them toward the final design, which is currently being manufactured.  Throughout the semester, the Moringa Leaf Stripper Team has grown as a group and learned how to work effectively not only with each other, but also the faculty at Penn State. The biggest lesson that this project has taught them is the importance of failure. Not all the preliminary designs worked out as planned and as a result they were steered in the right direction towards a final design. Stay tuned as the most exciting part of the project is right around the corner.

Passive Solar Tracking Team

The objective of the Passive Solar Tracker project is to research, design, and create a unique, environmentally friendly, and economically competitive prototype to track the sun. The tracker will rely on no external power sources and all of the components of the tracker will be environmentally friendly.  In the future, this unique passive solar tracker will be implemented in developing communities in Africa as a means to provide cheap and low-maintenance power for its inhabitants.

So far this semester, the Passive Solar Tracker Team is making significant progress in researching and developing a passive solar tracker. After researching potential tracking systems, including an assessment of all the components that go into a passive solar tracker, the team decided to design a passive solar tracker using a liquid-based equilibrium system that uses the forces of gravity and pressure to shift the tracker to follow the sun throughout the day. After several weeks of complex thermodynamic and force calculations, the team is now beginning to order the necessary components to construct a prototype for the passive tracker system.

This project provides invaluable experience to the members of the Passive Solar Tracker Team, in both an engineering and leadership sense. The complicated passive tracking system is a challenge to understand, design, and test our theories, and prototype. The various issues that arise while working on a team provides a way for the team members to gain experience in conflict resolution techniques, as well as practice the skill of breaking down a complex problem by delegating specific tasks to group members.

The team's simple testing system, which can be used to test the design.

The team’s simple testing system, which can be used to test the design.


Pentasdesma Seed Crushing Team

The pentadesma seed crushing project aims to design and build a mechanism that eases the process of making butter out of pentadesma seeds in Benin. The machine must crush the pentadesma seeds into a fine powder, which can then be easily churned. Pentadesma seeds are just smaller than a golf ball and require a significant amount of force to be crushed. The women of Benin currently use a mortar and pestle to crush these seeds, which is extremely labor intensive and time consuming. Building an affordable and efficient seed crusher is an important first step towards mechanizing the entire process of producing this valuable butter in Benin. Not only does it serve as a primary source of nutrition in Africa, it is also used in cosmetics all over the world. With the introduction of a crushing and churning mechanism, the production of pentadesma butter will become easier and more efficient for the women of Benin.

Students filter out water to obtain pentasdesma seed powder during design testing phase of project.

Students filter out water to obtain pentasdesma seed powder during design testing phase of project.

The Pentadesma Seed Crushing Team is making significant progress on this project. After spending a few weeks researching different seed crushers and some necessary background information, the team brainstormed several feasible ideas for their mechanism. The team created a selection matrix to compare the different aspects of each design, and based on its results, decided to pursue a design using centrifugal technology. After assessing the time constraint of completing the project within one semester, the team concluded that obtaining an existing mechanism with this technology would be the most efficient route. The team is currently adapting a garbage disposal to use to crush the seeds. The team successfully tested the garbage disposal and is now working towards building a hopper attachment and a rubber flap to keep the seeds from flying out of the disposal as they are ground. When beginning this project, only one of the four team members had technical experience with building a machine. The team quickly began learning the importance of utilizing innovation and adaptation when trying to solve problems as well as viewing the given situation from a completely different perspective in order to meet customer needs. Also, the team has learned the importance of organization, time-management, and communication skills. The challenging project has taught the team the value of understanding one another, remaining positive, and tackling the project with enthusiasm.




The Penn State Engineering Leadership Alumni Society (PSELAS) student team has been spending the majority of the semester working on an ELDM mentoring program. The team feels that this mentoring program will add a different dynamic to the minor today. Many students question whether the investment in the Engineering Leadership Development Minor is worth it once they graduate. Having a unique, exclusive mentoring program for the minor will garner an incredible amount of student interest and will give students an idea of what the leadership minor has done for graduates in the real world. This will make the Engineering Leadership Development Minor more marketable to the students and gives alumni an incentive to become more active in the lives of current Penn State students. Although the mentoring program may start small, it is our hope that current mentorees will be inspired to become mentors down the road and create a more engaged alumni society.

The team has made significant progress over the last few months in regards to the mentoring program. The team has held meetings with Grant Crampton and Abby Dodson, who are serving as co-presidents for PSELAS. These meetings were very successful as it was determined that instead of having a small networking event for the fall and spring semesters, the team would allocate funds to ensure the success of a larger event to kick-off the new mentoring program next spring. A student survey was also sent out to gauge whether or not students would be interested in participating in a mentoring program specific to the minor. The results of these surveys showed an overwhelming amount of support for this program. Over the course of the semester, the team has learned much about overcoming adversity and has been able to put multiple class topics to practice. One quality that both members of the team have improved on significantly over the course of the semester has been that of communication. The group has been meeting more frequently and has learned to create an agenda for each meeting in order to get the goals accomplished. The members of the group have also become more confident in regards to presenting in front of the class. This class and the speakers have taught the team much about facing adversity, making difficult decisions and the importance of communication in a team setting.

There will be an alumni-student networking event to kick off the start of this program next semester on February 4, 2014. More information about this event will be available shortly.

ELDM Projects Website Team

Screenshot of one of the proposed project pages, which will be added to the ELDM website.

Screenshot of one of the proposed project pages, which will be added to the ELDM website.

Prior to this semester, the Engineering Leadership Development Minor (ELDM) website lacked much information regarding student projects. Mike Erdman, Walter Robb Director of Engineering Leadership, recognized that creating a website would be the best method to illustrate the accomplishments of Penn State students to the public. One of the most important aspects of the website is that those interested in learning more about the projects will now have a way to contact Mike Erdman through a contact box on the website. In addition, our team was tasked with creating a status update letter to send to contacts in Africa. The stakeholders of ELDM projects (such as those in Africa) are unaware of current projects that are taking place. By creating a status update, the contacts are given information of the efforts that are improving the current design they are using.  Also, the status update shows the international contacts the other active Penn State ELDM projects.

The team began the semester by searching for the best domain for the website. Through meetings with Penn State College of Engineering information technology and marketing, it became clear that the most efficient option would be to include the new website within the framework of the existing ELDM site. Each member of the team analyzed the past projects from the minor and extracted relevant information to summarize for the website. The team’s goal was to have a high quality site with high quality information.  In the status update portion the team utilized information from this semester’s group projects and collated it in an email format to send to the project stakeholders around the world. The team benefited from this experience from learning to extract relevant and important information from reports to use in other facets of our project. The ability to look beyond the “fluff” is important in leadership development so that, as leaders, the team can make quick and effective decisions based on the information that is provided.  Additionally, the team learned to effectively collaborate with other class groups and acquire a broad scope of knowledge of the ELDM projects in order to accomplish a professional website and status updates.

Local Social Services Team

ENGR 493 student hand out ELDM brochures at recent Science Night event in Bellefonte, Pa.

ENGR 493 student hand out ELDM brochures at recent Science Night event in Bellefonte, Pa.

The Local Social Services Team objective is to increase awareness and promote the benefits of an education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and help reduce the fear and intimidation often surrounding STEM fields. The project team will create a connection between the discipline and how it can be applied in the workforce, then work to inform high school students of career paths related to STEM education.

As a newer project, the Local Social Services Team is designing and creating the project from their vision. The team is working with a local engineering company, Actuated Medical, and a local school district, Bellefonte School District, to promote STEM education to students. The team attended Bellefonte School District’s annual Science Night event, enabling them to interact with approximately 500 attendees. Science Night was a great learning experience for the team and taught them that future outreach needs to include an interactive activity in order to engage event attendees. Before the end of the fall semester, the team plans to go into science classes and conduct an interactive presentation about the benefits of a degree in engineering and other STEM fields of study. This project has helped the team to better understand team dynamics, leadership skills, and time management.

Read More

Engineering Leadership students’ outreach promotes STEM fields

by Joe Harford

A team of three students in the Engineering 408 Leadership Principles class chose a semester project this year that would help promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field awareness in the local community.

The students, Arti Patel, Rui Yang, and Joe Harford, were able to form a partnership with a Bellefonte, PA-based business, Actuated Medical, Inc., to brainstorm ideas to promote STEM education in the local community and to work on future project ideas.

Bellefonte (PA) School District hosts Science Night

The collaboration effort yielded an opportunity for the student team to participate in the Bellefonte School District Science Night on November 14, 2013. Approximately 500 community members attended the event, with the focus on engaging elementary school-aged children.

With the encouragement of school district coordinator Julie Coder, the team hopes to continue to build the relationship with Bellefonte School District through more interactive exercises at future events and classroom presentations during the school day.

As the semester winds down there are plenty of ideas for the next student team, guided by Walter L. Robb Director of Engineering Leadership Development Mike Erdmann, to explore in growing this learning opportunity. It is hoped that this activity will flourish and expand to other school districts in the Centre Region.

Joe Harford is a PhD student in the Workforce Education and Development Program in the College of Education. He is an entrepreneur who owns a technology firm in Blair County, PA, called Reclamere. He is focusing his dissertation research of identifying solutions to reduce the failure rate of start up companies in Pennsylvania. Joe enrolled in the Engineering Leadership Principles class because he believes that leadership is a crucial component for successful entrepreneurs and to witness aspiring entrepreneurs in the classroom.

Read More

Field trip to the Learning Factory

A major part of Troy Alesi’s work as a teacher at State College Area High School is to introduce his students to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Learning Factory Supervisor Bill Genet shows State College Area High School students how the facility's machines can turn a computer design into a 3-D object.

Learning Factory Supervisor Bill Genet shows State College Area High School students how the facility’s machines can turn a computer design into a 3-D object.

At State High, he serves as the school’s technology education/STEM teacher and teaches courses in computer graphics and design.

To encourage his students to consider a STEM field for college, the 2013-14 Technology and Engineering Education Association of Pennsylvania High School Teacher of the Year brought a group of approximately 20 students to the Learning Factory on Oct. 25.

Learning Factory Supervisor Bill Genet and two teaching assistants gave the State High group a tour of the facilities, highlighting its rapid prototyping, machining, welding, computer-aided design and assembly and testing capabilities.

Students were shown cars built by Penn State’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team and Shell Eco-marathon team, as well as a baobab processing machine designed by Engineering Leadership Development students. The State High students also got a glimpse of a new Chevy Camaro that Penn State engineers were re-designing doors for.

Read More

Middle school girls say, “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto” after Penn State visit

Robot Dance Off

Middle school girls helped to program “dance moves” for robots designed and built by Penn State engineering students. Music from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” accompanied this particular robot’s moves.

A Godzilla-inspired robot and a lovesick mechanical mouse were among the highlights for two dozen middle school girls visiting Penn State’s College of Engineering on Thursday.

The trip, part of the Women in Engineering Program Outreach Workshop, gave the students a glimpse into what it’s like to be an engineer. The annual event is designed to encourage young girls to consider career opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Gozilla robot gets a helping hand from a student as she steers her creation to knock down a series of buildings during its dance.

Seventh-graders from Philisburg-Osceola Junior High School, eighth-graders from the Grier School and eighth-graders from Park Forest Middle School spent an entire day meeting Penn State engineering students, touring laboratories and working on hands-on projects.

The middle schoolers kicked off the day by teaming with students in the first-year robotics seminar ME 102. Working with undergraduate students, the middle school girls helped to program robots built by the engineers for a robotic “dance off.”

Constructed of Lego Mindstorms NXT robotics kits, the machines’ movements were choreographed with music and in some cases customized to look like a character, such as Godzilla, a mouse or a fish.

During their visit, the students toured the architectural engineering department’s Immersive Construction Laboratory, enjoyed a presentation by the Engineering Ambassadors, took in a pizza lunch with engineering students and designed their own amusement park ride.

Read More
Skip to toolbar