David Baker/Andra Petrean

Project Proposal: “Design and Innovation Using AutoCAD, 3D Printing, and Arduino: Curricular Enhancement for 21st Century Engineers and Inventors”

Two of the most important technological advances in the past decade for creation and innovation are the 3D printer and Arduino microcontroller. 3D printing allows for custom prototyping and manufacturing, while the Arduino often operates as the “brain” of the final product. Much of the original design work is accomplished through Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. To be competitive in the 21st century, students should have meaningful experiences with these systems.

We propose to integrate AutoCAD, 3D Printing, and Arduino technologies in courses for both Physics-Engineering majors and non-science majors.   Up to this point, these vital technologies have not yet been incorporated in the classroom at Austin College. Three different courses will use these technologies: Phy 281 Statics and Engineering Design, Phy 351 Advanced Laboratory, and a Jan Term course Arduino Microcontrollers.   Phy 281 and Phy 351 will be offered in alternating fall semesters. Although there will be one official instructor of record for each course, we will collaborate together in all three courses as we learn best how to integrate these technologies in the classroom.

The central pedagogical approach will be project-based learning using creative technology. Students will be actively engaged in design, construction, and testing of innovative products and solutions. We will use a scaffolding approach to make it accessible to a variety of students, from those with very little technical experience to students with strong physics/math backgrounds. This proposal also helps fill a void in our pre-engineering program: a need for authentic and meaningful engineering design applications.

Phy 281 Statics and Engineering Design will be offered for the first time in Fall 2016. Pre-Engineering students will design a product (e.g., truss bridge) using AutoCAD software, build a prototype using balsa wood, test the prototype under physical stress and strain, and then manufacture the final product using the Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer.   They will showcase their designs to the campus community in a Demo Day at the end of the semester.

Phy 351 Advanced Laboratory focuses on experimental methods and techniques. Students spend the last few weeks of the semester completing their own scientific study. Beginning in Fall 2017, this course will be modified to include engineering applications (at least half of our physics majors are in the pre-engineering program).   For example, Arduino microcontrollers can be used to build digital devices that interact with the environment, including simple robots, thermostats, and motion sensors. Students could also manufacture advanced parts using the 3D printer for a fraction of the retail cost.

In the Jan Term course Arduino Microcontrollers, non-science major students will use the Python computer language to program Arduino microcontrollers. No prior experience is necessary. The course will be project-based, with students designing and building their own applications.

We envision this proposed Mellon project to be the precursor for a future maker space at Austin College.  Such a space would be a place for AC students, regardless of major, to design and make things. Maker spaces at other universities often include CAD software, 3D printers, and Arduino labs. What we learn as instructors during this Mellon project will positively inform the future development of an AC maker space.

Not only will this Mellon proposal promote innovation for students, it will inspire innovation from students. This curricular enhancement will tap into the inventive spirit. We anticipate hundreds of stimulating student projects stemming from this proposal.