New Imagineering Lab to Bolster Student Innovation
By Mark Dwortzan
For College of Engineering students, the path to becoming a Societal Engineer—one who uses the engineer’s substantial skillset to improve quality of life and move society forward in a wide range of disciplines—involves not only coursework defined by professors but also ample opportunity to work on extracurricular projects of their own design. In a major initiative aimed at providing significant support and guidance for such projects, the College has converted a 1,343-square-foot section of the first floor of 44 Cummington Street into the new Binoy K. Singh Imagineering Laboratory, where up to 40 engineering students at a time may explore and advance their own solutions to problems in healthcare, energy, security, communications and other domains.
On October 28, dozens of College of Engineering students, faculty and staff attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the new facility, which was made possible by a generous donation from clinical cardiologist Dr. Binoy K. Singh (BME ‘89), an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and director of clinical business development at Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
“In order to create Societal Engineers, we’ve provided all kinds of programmatic enhancements and experiences for our students to develop a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. “But we also need to provide them with a sandbox—a place to play, a place where they can fulfill their innovative and creative spirit not in a required class or lab.”
“I’m privileged to be here at the opening, as this is a key component of the infrastructure, the curriculum and the culture that’s necessary to achieve Dean Lutchen’s vision of Boston University’s College of Engineering being the generator of a cadre of Societal Engineers empowered to address the global challenges we face,” said Singh, whose career as a cardiologist was inspired by an explosion of innovations enabling more effective treatment of the globe’s leading cause of mortality. “This lab really serves as that playground—as that sandbox—for those ideas that will change the world.”
Toward that end, the new Singh Imagineering Laboratory features fixed and mobile workbenches; stationary equipment such as a drill press, band saw, and stations for grinding, soldering and polishing; hand tools from hammers to power drills; bins for materials (wood, metal, Lucite, wire, tubing and more), small components (nuts, bolts, screws, diodes, transistors, to name a few), and project storage; computers with CAD software; a 3D printer for rapid prototyping; dropdown power lines; a rail system where projects can be stored or accessed; and lots of windows through which developing projects can be observed.
“We’ve tried to make the workspace flexible enough so we can add to it as student needs evolve,” said Associate Dean for Administration Richard Lally, who came up with the original idea for the Lab.
With tools and machinery provided by the College and guidance from faculty, graduate students and seniors from multiple disciplines (and occasionally from different BU schools and colleges), students will be encouraged to pursue their ideas and designs. Where applicable, they can take projects to the prototype stage and enter them in design competitions. And where feasible, they will be encouraged to take on partners from BU’s School of Management, work on plans to potentially commercialize their products and enter them in business competitions.
“This new facility provides yet another opportunity for experiential learning outside the classroom, noted Associate Professor Donald Wroblewski (ME), Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives. “These types of open-ended, extracurricular design experiences help to bring classroom theory to life and expose students to the interdisciplinary nature of engineering.”
Thanks to a gift from another ENG alumnus, John Maccarone (’66), the College will create the Undergraduate Innovation Program, which will fund ongoing operations at the Singh Imagineering Laboratory. The new program will help finance student and faculty advisors, supplies and materials for the lab, and award cash prizes to undergraduates who, individually or in teams, design, build, test and defend original engineering solutions to challenges in healthcare, energy and other areas.
In addition, the Kern Family Foundation provides support for student mentors, coaches and trainers in the lab. Several other alumni, parents and board members have also donated funds to support lab operations and innovation challenges.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Dean Lutchen summed up his expectations with a toast to all College of Engineering students: “May you create fantastic new innovations that impact society!”