3D particle equilibrium is one of the first techniques that you will likely cover in your course. In its most theoretical form, 3D particle equilibrium applies several known force vectors at a single point in space. You may have used this theoretical vector analysis to solve example problems such as suspending traffic lights or potted plants. However, if you want your students to see an even bigger picture and connect with the course content, this EML is for you! By integrating an EML-based project into one of their first core engineering courses, students learn from the get-go that engineering is not an exact, straightforward process. There are high levels of complexity that require the integration of a broad range of skills.
In this project, students are calculating tensions in cables used to hold a floating wind turbine in a given location. The basic underlying fundamental skill is 3D particle equilibrium, but the project is designed to give students the opportunity to solve a technical challenge that is directly linked to social and financial factors. It allows students the chance to see the potential effects that their decisions have on the people whom their design is serving.
This version of the project is contextualized within a sub-Saharan rural community, but this context could easily be modified to other locations or other structures. The exciting part of the project is the map which is used to provide a framework for both social and financial interactions.
See the KEEN'zine article about the project here: https://engineeringunleashed.com/keenzine5/46/
The project's deployment is described in the Timing and Logistics document provided.
1. Apply the fundamentals required for 2D and 3D static system analysis
- 3D equilibrium calculations to design a system without exceeding a maximum tension
2. Examine the ways in which the physics you analyze on paper is manifested in the physical world
- During the hands-on day they see how anchored balloons behave with subjected to wind loading. This shows how the tensions change with balloon height and wind direction.
3. Apply engineering skills to analyze the real world structures that surround you
- 3D particle equilibrium on a real-world turbine application
4. Situate technical analysis within a societal context
- Analyzing the pros and cons of installing infrastructure as well as the effects of what they are powering with the community
5. Examine peer work and provide critical feedback
- Critique peer work through the assigned QC process
Below are my general impressions (written very informally) for how the overall project as well as the individual activities went the first and second times I included the project in my course.
First time – A’16
I was excited to run the project for the first time, but I didn’t convey that excitement well to the students. My lack of project introduction in class, and lack of using lecture time to revisit the project made it feel a bit ancillary. While the overall project went well, and the students were able to practice the 3D particle equilibrium technical skills, many weren’t as excited as I expected. There were many groups who met the project criteria, but few who went above and beyond.
During the hands-on session, students were asked to think broadly about technical aspects of the problem, and not the social elements. Students developed a sense of how the wind forces acting on the balloons made tensions increase and decrease in different cables.
Students were asked to develop a pitch poster to the community which explained how the balloon anchoring would work and its costs. This deliverables structure resulted in all calculations displayed on the pitch posters. This lessened the “value added” in the poster development process as the posters became more of a display of calculations.
Overall, my impression was that students enjoyed the project, but were not especially excited about the work they were doing.
Second time – A’17
The second time around I did a better job motivating the project for students. I also gave the students more opportunity to be creative and develop their own ideas by having them scope the elements that they would power within the community. Students seemed much more engaged during the project. They asked many more questions about both the social and technical aspects of the project. Additionally, this time around they were much more willing to look beyond the assigned zones. Rather than accepting a social impact score within a zone, they thought about how they could reduce the impact in that zone once they had more revenue from the sales of energy from the turbine.
While the project was successful the first time around, the second time around was much more engaging. Student excitement was much higher and they were more engaged.
One change that I will make before running the project again will be to have the students read or respond to something in the project description to ensure that they have read all of the content before their hands on activity. This year, during the hands-on activity, they were asked to think about the stakeholders in the different zones. However, many of the students had not spent much time working on the project at this time, so there was too much time spent at this hands-on station with them becoming familiar with who the stakeholders were. Some additional preparation should enhance the effectiveness of this activity.
My impression of this year’s learning included both students ability to analyze 3D equilibrium systems and synthesize and analyze the conflicting interests of different groups. Students were thinking more deeply about the actual scenarios within the zones rather than only the social impact score that I assigned. Requiring students to think about the social impact within the zones and synthesize that with their impressions of the social impact of the things they choose to power made them think about the ways in which construction would affect people.
Thank you for reading about this project. I had a great time working on the development, and I am excited to iterate again. I would love for others to utilize the ideas in the project so that I can incorporate your experiences and ideas into our future course deliveries! Some areas that I think could use some improvement or other additions are:
1) Develop a better balance of social impact scores and construction costs so that students make more diverse location choices.
2) Contextualize the project in different locations. This type of turbine could be installed in many different types of locations. Making a new map with different zones would be really great.
3)It doesn’t need to be a floating wind turbine. The same 3D particle equilibrium concepts can be analyzed with other physical infrastructure. Maybe power lines with guy-wires, maybe circus equipment, maybe something entirely different.
4) Change up the topography. Maybe you want to install on a mountain range, or in some sand dunes. Then students also learn to read topo maps!
5) Develop more precise ways to add hands-on elements. It’s so much fun to bring in balloons and fans, but the balloon lift versus fan speed isn’t quite spot on. It gets the concept across, but it could certainly be improved.
6) If you are more into optimization problems, rather than picking any two locations that meet the physical system requirement, you could have your students write code to maximize social benefits while minimizing payback time. You could come up with a creative way to still incorporating other elements of social benefit based on what they choose to power within the community.