by the Sun
Over the past few weeks, you
may have noticed, Burton Lawn has occasionally sprouted a
series of miniature buildings designed to demonstrate the
potential of solar energy in the midst of a New England winter.
The structures were built by
first-year students in Engineering 100, taught by Paul Voss,
assistant professor of engineering.
Working in teams, the students
constructed the buildings using computer-aided design and
rapid-prototyping, a process in which a laser printer cuts
wood and cardboard in designated shapes. The students first
studied the physics of energy, calculated heat loss and solar
gain, researched materials, and wired miniature computers
to run fans, open vents, measure temperatures and light levels,
and store data for later analysis.
Then they did it all again --
adding refinements based on the results of testing their initial
constructions -- with the new goal of storing energy during
the day to keep their buildings warm and lit after sunset.
The final miniature buildings
were displayed during the afternoon and evening on December
20 on Chapin Lawn, where they glowed into the dark hours using
stored solar energy.
his observation of the class, Richard Felder, a leader in
engineering education (Felder's son Gary Felder is an assistant
professor of physics at Smith), noted: “To see junior
and senior engineering students doing this sort of project-based
work would be laudable; the fact that these are students just
out of high school is staggering.”
There are only six to eight schools
in the country teaching new undergraduate students in this
project- and concept-based manner, he said. Project-based
learning immerses students in the field of study, motivating
them to formulate their own questions and take an active role
in their education. Project-based learning is part of the
Smith curriculum in several disciplines.