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Massachusetts Maritime Academy - MMA cadets unveil semester-long scientific experiments Admissions - MMA cadets unveil semester-long scientific experiments

At the beginning of the semester, professor Diane DiMassa asked her engineering design projects class at Massachusetts Maritime Academy to build something — anything — following a traditional engineering process.

Turns out, it was a pretty explosive request.

"It's a wood-powered flame thrower!" called cadet Robert Lowell of Dennis as he used a propane torch to keep flames coming from his team's "wood-powered gasifier."

On Thursday, the gasifier made its debut, along with another team's pulse-jet engine, before fellow students and professors as part of the class' end-of-semester presentation.

Each semester, DiMassa's class — usually a small number of engineering students — is assigned to create a project "based on whatever topic they want. And they build it however they want," she said.

Students must create a timeline and a budget, and use a trial-and-error scientific process to create their finished product.

In past classes, students have created things such as tidal-powered and vertical wind turbines, she said.

The two teams in Wednesday's class had the entire semester and up to $1,500 to complete their projects, though they needed far less than that.

Lowell's team used $818.17 to build its device, which creates a wood gas that can be used to power most types of engines. The pulse-jet engine cost $424.97. All unused materials will be recycled in future classes.

During their presentations, both teams explained their processes and how, after three trials, they'd come to their finished products — a very successful, very fiery gasifier, and a less-than-successful pulse-jet engine.

"It doesn't work," said Amanda Robbins of Yarmouth of the cannon-like devise.

During their tests of the engine throughout December, the team had been able to produce slight "boom" noises — enough that the cadets had heard from more than a few people on campus wondering what the commotion was — but not at the frequency they wanted.

"Some of you might have heard the booms. They were pretty loud," Eric Shea of Milton said. "We started with a good plan but ran into a few design problems."

However, failure doesn't necessarily mean a failing grade, DiMassa said.

"It's all about learning the design process," she said.

Article written by Heather Wysocki/Cape Cod Times
December 13, 2012

Click here to view the full article at the Cape Cod Times website.

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last updated 12-14-12 by nsantos@maritime.edu