Around the world, in all the perfect college engineering packages, college students encounter sooner or later a category totally different from all of the others. This is the engineering design class, inside which, as a substitute of being examined as people on their mastery of lectures and texts, the category is challenged to work as a crew to design a fancy engineering system able to assembly a tough set of necessities.
For instance, an aerospace engineering class may be tasked to design a brand new high-performance, low-cost fighter aircraft, with pace, vary, ceiling, maneuverability, weaponry, survivability, and producibility capabilities all exceeding specified decrease limits. Typically, the category may then divide into subgroups, with every assigned to seek out the perfect options to important areas, resembling aerodynamics, propulsion, weaponry, constructions, and value.
Inevitability, the perfect options in every space will battle with all the remaining. For instance, extra highly effective engines would maximize the plane’s pace, however take away mass that may very well be used for extra weapons or stronger constructions, and enhancing something nearly at all times results in increased prices. So trades must be made to attempt to discover a compromise that hopefully permits the perfect plane general. It is a deeply artistic course of, which is typically intensified additional by having courses from totally different universities all work on the identical design downside, and compete their designs in opposition to one another in intercollegiate tournaments.
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Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics and the Mars Society. His newest ebook, “The Case for Space (opens in new tab),” was just lately printed by Prometheus books. Robert has invented applied sciences for space propulsion and exploration, authored over 200 technical papers, and was a member of Lockheed Martin’s “scenario development team” tasked with producing new methods for space exploration.
I graduated faculty with a bachelor’s diploma in utilized arithmetic, and taught secondary college science and math for a number of years earlier than I went again to graduate college to develop into an engineer. In consequence I didn’t encounter an engineering design class till after I had been a instructor. When I did, it instantly struck me that engineering design courses may present a terrific methodology for educating science in excessive faculties as properly.
I did not do something about it for 4 a long time, however this summer season I made use of my place as head of the Mars Society to offer the concept a attempt. So in April, we made a public announcement that this summer season the Mars Society would provide a six-week Mars mission design class and contest, open to college students anyplace on the planet. We set an admission price of $50, low sufficient to make it reasonably priced to nearly anybody, however excessive sufficient to maintain out freeloaders.
Everything could be finished by zoom, making location irrelevant, however groups have been organized roughly by time zone, to facilitate intra-team collaboration. Forty college students signed up, who have been divided into 5 groups. Team 1 was from Europe and the Middle East, which its largest contingent from Poland. Team 2 was from India and East Asia. Teams 3, 5, and 6 have been from western, jap, and central time zone North America respectively. (Team 4 did not work out, so its members have been divided among the many relaxation.).
The class started with two weeks of lectures from twelve totally different consultants specializing in varied elements of Mars mission design, starting from astrobiology and geology to life assist and nuclear engineering. This was to offer background data. However, we made no try to coordinate the messages delivered by every knowledgeable into a celebration line. Some of the viewpoints, and advised readings supplied by the lecturers have been frankly contradictory. But that’s how it’s in the actual world. It was as much as the scholars to type out what made probably the most sense.
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Then with this background data in hand, the design groups went to work. The downside they got was to design a human Mars mission with the best attainable scientific return assuming a transportation system able to delivering as much as 30 metric tons and a crew of as much as six folks to the floor of Mars. It was as much as the groups to find out their touchdown web site, the science goals, the crew dimension, abilities, and gear, and period of the keep, with as much as 18 months allowable. Then they needed to design their exploration plan and all their gear accordingly.
As with any good design downside, these necessities contradicted one another. For instance, to first order, a bigger crew with the longest attainable keep time on Mars maximizes the mission exploration functionality. But the consumables and lodging required to assist them take away mass that may very well be used for extra in depth gear, for instance pressurized rovers or piloted helicopters that might drastically develop the crew’s efficient exploratory vary.
The design problem particularly excluded consideration of the interplanetary exploration system. The latter is NASA‘s obsession, to the exclusion of the mission’s scientific function. That is why the space company’s human Mars mission designs – which contain 30-day floor stays directed to the scientifically least attention-grabbing areas – are utterly absurd. But there is no such thing as a level going to Mars until you are able to do one thing helpful whenever you get there. The function of the mission wants to come back first, with mission and methods designs following.
The college students took to this problem with gusto, spending three weeks working laborious of their groups, with minimal steerage from coaches assigned to every crew, to develop and write up their designs.
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Then got here the time for the shootout, which occurred over three days. On the primary day, every crew had half-hour to current their designs to a panel of knowledgeable judges. That is how faculty engineering design contests are ordinarily finished. But then we by means of in a spin. The groups got half-hour every on the second day to tear aside the designs of their rivals. Then we had a 3rd day during which every crew had an opportunity to defend its design in opposition to the assaults from the remaining.
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This latter process isn’t customary in college engineering design contests. But it approximates how issues occur in the actual world. In the actual world, whenever you suggest a design resolution for a NASA mission or know-how want, you’ve got rivals on the market who attempt to tear you down. (Believe me on this. I do know.) The strategy of assault and protection in our contest was a bit extra civilized than that which happens between rivals within the cutthroat free market, as a result of in our contest adversarial critics needed to make their assaults brazenly, quite than behind their targets’ backs. But nonetheless, the ensuing mental dust-up offered scope for the youngsters to invoke their aggressive instincts, they usually beloved it.
The outcomes have been superb. All the groups delivered work that was manner above highschool degree. You needn’t take my phrase for it. The entire course (opens in new tab), together with movies of the knowledgeable lectures, the groups’ design displays, assaults and defenses can be viewed online (opens in new tab).
Of course, not everybody may win. The east coast American crew took first prize for science, the western American crew gained decisively on engineering, the Asian crew took the human elements design prize, and the Europeans – who thought creatively on learn how to cut back general program expense by producing revenue – ran away with the prize on price. While solely profitable one class, the Asian crew additionally positioned properly on many of the others, and so gained the competition general.
I imagine that what occurred on this class is worthy of broad consideration. Its worth goes manner past the course’s direct affect on a small group of scholars (and hopefully NASA Mars mission designs!) It has the potential to make academic historical past. The engineering design differs from standard courses by not simply asking college students to grasp some materials for a take a look at, however to place their data into motion by working as a crew to design some advanced engineering system. By doing so, it reverses the standard relationship of scholars to scientific data. Instead of data being a burden (“How much of this will we need to know for the test?”) it turns into a instrument, or perhaps a magic sword if you’ll (“There must be a better way to do this. We need to find it!”)
By delivering as they did, the scholars confirmed that this identical artistic methodology might be introduced into excessive faculties. Furthermore, they confirmed the worth of debate. In actual life, design engineering is a contact sport. So is pure science, for that matter. Consider the uproar over the latest claims made for biosignatures within the Venus atmosphere, or the 1996 Alan Hills meteorite claims, or the outcomes of the Viking life detection experiments carried out on Mars in 1976. Science isn’t settled. Scientists and engineers want to have the ability to defend their concepts. To give college students an opportunity to learn the way science actually makes its manner ahead, they need to be given an opportunity to combine it up themselves.
So when you have time, please take a look and see at the way it went. The children had a blast, and the outcomes have been grand. We are definitely going to do it once more.
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