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
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