Spacefaring Freshman Wins College’s First Imagineering Competition
Since its opening last October, the Singh Imagineering Lab has lived up to Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen’s vision of the facility as a place where College of Engineering students could cultivate their entrepreneurial spirit and develop as Societal Engineers who apply their expertise to advance our quality of life. On April 24 in the Ingalls Engineering Resource Center conference room, a number of undergraduates showcased their extracurricular efforts to do just that, as they vied for top prizes in the College’s first annual Imagineering Competition.
Facing a judging panel of four College faculty members and administrators across an oblong conference table, the competitors described, demonstrated and defended original projects that they developed in the Imagineering Lab and other on-campus facilities. The judges assessed each project for originality, ingenuity and creativity; quality of design and prototype; functionality; and potential to positively impact society.
The winner of the $2,500 first prize was David Harris (ME ’15), who designed, built and tested a prototype of a sounding rocket that could be used to take measurements and perform scientific experiments in suborbital flight. The 12-foot, 70-pound, two-stage rocket is intended to launch small payloads for $1,400—a pittance compared to NASA’s $1 million price tag for hitching a ride on a larger-scale sounding rocket, or the $200,000 required by the cheapest commercial alternative. To cut costs, Harris is developing the rocket largely from commercial, off-the-shelf components.
“My vision is that we can have access to space for any project, any time, any budget,” the freshman declared, exuding the confidence of a seasoned CEO as he delivered his PowerPoint presentation. “If we can lower the cost of access and reduce the barriers, then anybody in any country can access the capabilities that space has to offer, such as medical research, security and defense applications and earth science missions.”
Harris, who is also the president of the BU Rocket Club, outlined his plans to fly the rocket this summer in his home state of Oregon to an altitude of 40,000 feet using GPS tracking, launch an upgraded version to 100,000 feet next summer in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, and enable the rocket to make it to space by the time he graduates.
“All members of the panel were very impressed by the project,” said Associate Dean for Administration Richard Lally, who judged the competition along with Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives and Professor Donald Wroblewski (ME), Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Professor Solomon Eisenberg (BME) and Jonathan Rosen, director of the Technology Innovation Education Program. “Any one of the components for the rocket would have made a worthwhile project for the competition. The overall approach, design and components were all very professionally done.”
Garnering second prize and a $1,500 check was Konstantinos Oikonomopoulos (ME ’14), who constructed a highly accurate, affordable, easy-to-assemble, desktop 3D printer that could serve as a cheap alternative to commercial models used for rapid prototyping of manufactured products. The third prize winners, Alex Kithes (EE ’14) and Matthew Pollack (ME ’14), received $1,000 for their project, a low-cost personal wind turbine that could be used to power small electronic devices and recharge cellphones and laptops, and reduce reliance on the electric power grid.
Sponsored by John Maccarone (ENG ’66), the competition was designed to reinforce the ideal of creating the Societal Engineer by spotlighting student efforts to design, build and test new technologies that promise to positively impact society. On that score, all three prizewinning projects hit the target.
The low-cost sounding rocket could vastly improve access to space for a wide range of experiments that could lead to improvements in the quality of life on earth; the personal wind turbine could reduce individuals’ consumption of fossil fuels, cutting atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming; and the simple, affordable 3D printer could enable small labs and individuals on limited budgets to rapidly prototype manufactured products and boost local economies.
Imagineering Lab programming is supported by the Kern Family Foundation and alumni contributions to the ENG Annual Fund.