Just One Question: What Was Your Most Memorable Project at Thayer?
In our post-senior year Thayer students did a few weeks in the field in a house in Etna, N.H. Our classes were in surveying, and our fieldwork was to make a plan of the road that went past the house we were staying in. I was a saver of all my college papers. Some 50-plus years later my daughter Jean ’74, a graduate of Thayer (in one of the first classes for women) who was married and had a young daughter, bought a lot on the same street that I had surveyed many, many years earlier. Her husband has built a house on the lot during a nine-year period. They vacation there now in winter and summer. It is really a small world.
— Charlie Weinberg ’42 Th’43
“Structural Engineering” in 1951: On the first day we met our professor, John Minnich. He explained that on the first day of deer season he might be in late, with the dean’s permission. “But never been in later than noon!” he bragged. What we thought originally was that we had a New Hampshire farmer as professor, but John turned out to be the most brilliant, logical instructor we ever had. He made structural engineering come alive! But the most memorable event was the trip to Corbin Park Hunting Preserve in mid-New Hampshire. John owned 1/20th of the fenced park stocked with game animals of all sorts: deer, German boar, and who knows what else. We went in a surplus GI open truck with a winch we used several times to extricate us from the piled-up snow. Then for lunch, prepared by John’s wife, we partook of deer burgers, elk burgers, and boar burgers! Being from Hawaii, it was an unbelievable opportunity for me. Two years later, I had the pleasure of taking John fishing, where he caught his first marlin, and only then, got horribly seasick.
— Peter Nottage ’50 Th’51
From 1960 to 1962, my friend and lab partner Peter Stone ’61 Th’62 and I worked on a unique air cushion vehicle. Our advisor was Bob Dean. We built a 3-foot model with a model aircraft engine and tested it in the Dartmouth gymnasium guided by a wire.
It went like a bat out of hell, and we were encouraged to continue. We obtained funding from the U.S. Army research and engineering division in Ft. Eustis, Va., and spent the summer of 1961, just after I got married, building a full-scale working version. Pete lived on the base, and my wife and I lived in a trailer park. We built the device on the Ft. Eustis base, but were unable to complete it during the summer, so the Army trucked it up to Hanover, where Pete and I finished it during our fifth year in mechanical engineering. It was powered by a 45-horsepower Nelson aircraft drone engine and weighed somewhat more than 1,000 pounds. We made a number of modifications, including stripping off excess weighty parts, and ran it on the lawn behind Thayer School.
We discovered that air cushion vehicles are very slippery devices, and the least little grade will send it sliding downhill. We then added some light stabilizing wheels that could be removed and replaced with fins for water travel, and thus we could steer it on the ground and in the water. The Army guys then came up to Hanover with a camera crew and we plunked the device into Lake Mascoma and they chased it with a rented outboard.
We had great fun doing this project, and it got a bit of attention in the press. After completing this project and graduating, I went on to Polaroid and designed cameras for a living. Peter went on to Harvard Architectural School, became an architect, and eventually ended up teaching architectural design at the college level in Florida.
— Bruce Johnson ’61 Th’62
As my fifth-year project I “designed” a two-phase flow heat exchanger for a nuclear power plant. The cooling medium was powdered coal that was to be lofted into a fluidized bed by air. The coal was to collide with vertical pipes that were exchanging the heat from the nuclear reactor coolant (which I believe was liquid sodium). The coal was thus heated and gave off “coal gas,” which would have been distributed in a manner similar to natural gas today. Looking back on the experience I can see why my project grade was not as stellar as I’d hoped. Seems to me my design failed to provide for many things, especially maintenance. On the other hand, my learning was immense, as both the thermodynamics and various mechanical aspects required quite a bit of knowledge (much of which I did not have at the start of the project). Graham Wallis was my advisor and provided help when asked, but I just should have asked more questions and dug deeper. I received a real-world lesson from that project.
— Steve Brenner ’63 Th’64
One of my most memorable projects was a combined Thayer-Tuck project where we were asked to redesign (the Thayer part) the Gillette razor with market considerations (the Tuck part) in mind. We thought that having a blade that would set Gillette apart as opposed to a heavy-handled razor was the right trajectory. However, we did not think of multiple blades (now five). I have followed the industry ever since and have seen that our ideas were partly prescient.
— Lee Chilcote ’64 Th’65
Three projects come to mind: ENGS 21, where we designed and partially built an energy-storing bicycle; ENGS 22, where I designed and built an air-bearing seismograph; and the Thayer B.E. plus M.S. program, where I designed a hand-written character recognizer (someone else implemented it).
— Mark Tuttle ’65 Th’66
Although there were a number of interesting projects during my time at Thayer School, there are three that really stand out, and they share a common thread: All three taught me a valuable life lesson and all three could have easily killed me. Number three on my list is a project that never happened. During my freshman year, the professor asked us to investigate parawing gliders. NASA was studying the parawing as a way to return manned capsules from space. While tossing gliders off the top of the football stadium, I actually calculated the size of glider I’d need to launch myself and worked out how to guide it. But I never jumped. Several years later, seeing pictures of hang gliders out in California, I realized that to innovate takes more than good engineering; it takes courage, and success is only for those willing to take the risks. Number two on my list is my fifth-year project to design and evaluate the world’s worst lawn mower. (It wasn’t intended to be — it just turned out that way!) I actually built a prototype, and when it self destructed and the blade went flying inches from my head, it occurred to me that the first step in any engineering project ought to be to analyze the potential risks. At that time, risk evaluation was not being taught at Thayer — another good idea ahead of its time. The number one project was not the result of any course and was not approved by any professor. One of my fraternity brothers and fellow engineering majors found an old drone engine and propeller in the basement of Thayer. Another frat brother and fellow engineering major was a professional water ski jumper. So, naturally, it was obvious to them that we needed to build an air sled on skis and run it up and down the frozen Connecticut River! They let me join the group, and after weeks of sleepless nights and countless challenges that stretched our inventiveness and engineering capabilities, we were racing up and down the river — no helmets, no seatbelts, no fear. Though running it was fun, it turns out the real excitement was in accomplishing that crazy goal, so after a few runs the sled was dismantled and the engine put back where it was found. The lesson we learned is that a small group of dedicated people free from restrictions and “good common sense” could accomplish amazing things. For me, Thayer was always about amazing things. Every day was a magic show with the professors teaching us how to do the tricks.
— Pat Bremkamp ’68 Th’69
“How do you play if you can’t move?” With that question, Professor Paul Shannon began the first class of ENGS 21 in the fall of 1965, but only after making us wait for five minutes before he said anything. We wondered: What was going on? Professor Shannon explained: How can a physically handicapped child play with toys made for the commercial market? Can toys be successfully adapted for use by children with special needs? That was our ENGS 21 project assignment. We visited the Crotched Mountain School for children with disabilities in southern New Hampshire to understand the nature of the problem and try out our ideas. For many, it was our first encounter with children with severe physical disabilities. My project team decided to take an existing toy — an electronic slot car game — and redesign the control unit so that handicapped children could steer the slot cars, adjust their speeds, and even flip them out of the slots. We named our team TREPHCo: Therapeutic Recreational Engineering for the Physically Handicapped. We learned as a group. Made mistakes. Tried again. And eventually built a slot car unit that could be controlled by some of the handicapped children. In the process, we were introduced to a systematic approach to problem solving. This was not only my most memorable project at Thayer; ENGS 21 was among the best courses I took as an undergraduate and was a lifetime experience.
— Dennis Drapkin ’68 Th’69
As part of a structural analysis class, I wrote a program in 1972 that simulated the performance of a cross-country ski. At that time, it occurred to neither the professor nor myself that the work was probably marketable. My hope is that this no longer happens at Thayer School, and that work with commercial value is always encouraged even though it might conflict with the goals of academia.
— Mark Totman ’71 Th’72
Editor’s Note: Thayer now encourages entrepreneurship for students at all levels of study.
In our first semester in the master’s program at Tuck, Stephen Matzuk Th’77 and I collaborated on a project for ENGG 196, “Introduction to Design Methodology,” to develop an isokinetic stack sampler.
As an undergraduate engineering student, I spent two semesters as an engineering intern working on environmental air pollution remediation at a major chemical company. I had used equipment to sample effluents in emission gases from chemical reactors. To get an accurate measurement, the velocity in the sample probe had to be adjusted to match the velocity in the emission stack. This was done by using a pitot tube in the emission stack to find stack velocity, measuring the sample rate through the probe, calculating the velocity in the sample probe, and manually adjusting flow rate through the sample equipment to match these two velocities. We proposed to create an automated system to match the gas velocity in the sampling probe to the gas velocity in the effluent stack. The design that resulted consisted of two major devices: first, we created a novel differential sampling probe; second, we created an inventive pneumatic-electronic-mechanical feedback system to control the flow. We successfully created a proof-of-concept prototype, though we knew it was well short of optimizing the design for a potential product. The most critical lessons we learned had nothing to do with engineering. We learned the value of collaboration to solve problems. Our advisors — Professors Hooven, Converse, Grethlein, and Dean Long — each made essential suggestions. And we were well matched to solve this problem: Steve covered the electronics and I covered mechanical design. We learned about the real-world engineering process: No matter how obvious the need appears or how clever our first guess at a solution may be, our proposal was only accepted when we were halfway to solving the problem. Since that class, both of us have gone on to pursue independent careers in new product development — Steve as a patent lawyer and me as president of Technology Consulting Group, providing market research, strategic planning, and new product development.
— Bill Downey ’74 Th’77
I’d have to say that my two most memorable projects from the time I spent at Thayer School — the Women in Science Project and the Dartmouth Project for Teaching Engineering Problem Solving — were both very much influenced by the ENGS 21 engineering problem-solving approach and the whole entrepreneurial environment fostered at Thayer School.
— Carol Muller ’77, Assistant Dean 1987-92, Associate Dean 1992-96
The most memorable project for me was from ENGS 21. We were charged with developing products for energy efficiency. Our team conceived of and built exterior auto closing shutters to insulate windows in homes located in cold climates. We built a small model of a house and demonstrated the shutters closing and the improved insulation and draft reduction. We did our testing at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. While ENGS 21 was most memorable, I have several runners-up. I remember putting small-scale integration (SSI) chips together to simulate a clarinet, only to have a short in the breadboard and the whole project fail. I worked for 36 hours straight to rewire the whole thing. It is ironic because all that circuitry and more can now fit on a tiny chip smaller than the 30 or so chips I had on the prototype. Other comical memories are doing a superconductivity experiment one afternoon when Friday beers were being served. We thought we might super-cool our beer by dangling it over the liquid nitrogen only to have it explode on our experiment. The silicon did superconduct, and the beer slushie wasn’t too bad after we cleaned it all up. Additionally, the bridge-building project haunts me from time to time, especially when I go over rickety, small suspension bridges.
— Anne (Davidson) Barr ’83
The best project I ever worked on was for a class that was both a Thayer and Tuck class. The class operated as a consulting firm and was assigned to review and solve a problem in the community. For our particular class, the town of Brownsville, Vt., asked us to look into the Mt. Ascutney expansion that was planned in the 1984-to-1985 timeframe. For my portion of the assignment, I reviewed the engineering plan for the sewage treatment system and also the traffic analysis that had been done. Other class members looked into tax implications, environmental impact, social impact, pollution, and a number of other elements that were of concern to the residents of Brownsville. The culmination of the class was a presentation at the Brownsville town meeting. It was televised locally. This class cemented my interest in becoming a consultant, which I have been now for my 26 years following Dartmouth graduation in 1984.
— Howard Jones ’84
Without a doubt the bridge contest was my most memorable project. Our team won for least deflection and was dead last for projected deflection — never did quite get the math behind it! I still have the bridge on my shelf at home. Another memorable project was my B.E. project to build a fluids-flow apparatus for the fluids lab. I toured Thayer with my four sons last year and saw it was still in use! I do remember lots of interesting projects, such as the plan by Bob Donaldson ’84 Th’85 to attach an out-of-whack car engine to the base of tall communications towers so the vibration would inhibit ice build-up. No idea if it worked, but I loved Bob’s creativity!
— Doug Kingsley ’84 Th’85
My most memorable project at Thayer was my B.E. design project, completed with Samantha (Scollard) Truex ’92 Th’93 Tu’95, Kristen (Morrow) Johnson ’92 Th’94, and Bruce Northrup Th’94. Our project involved redesigning a boat hatch that could be opened in multiple directions, depending on the direction of the wind. What was most memorable to me about the project was less the outcome than the process and the teamwork involved. It was truly a collaborative effort with a group of people I really enjoyed spending time with and learning from.
— Sue Roberts Th’93
It is fun to sit back and remember all those great Thayer School projects, but if I had to choose the most memorable, it would have to be our B.E. design project. Linda Blumberg ’95 Th’96, Tony Mamone ’96 Th’96, Brian Spence ’95 Th’96, and I worked on this gem: designing environmentally and behaviorally appropriate “toys” for captive polar bears at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. I am aware that there was much debate outside our group regarding the true engineering value of our project, but as far as we were concerned it was perfect. We applied our well-honed Thayer School problem-solving skills to building a device that encouraged the bears to work for their food, as they would in a more natural environment. Unfortunately, our best solution — just release some live seals into the polar bear pool — didn’t meet the parameter that the solution had to be palatable to zoo visitors.
— Pam Brockmeier ’95 Th’96
I had a great experience with ENGS 21. We did a project — Bike Buddy — that involved careening down an icy hill on a bike connected (through our contraption) to someone in the project. It was crazy.
— Jay Bruce ’96
My ENGS 21 project somehow ended up with me on top of Balch Hill, along with project-mates Erin Morse ’02 Th’03, Derek Hansen ’02, and Abby Faulkner ’02 Th’03, skinning a moose.
Rewind a bit: Our theme was safety innovations, and our group chose to tackle the largely unrecognized but serious problem of moose-vehicle collisions. Moose unfortunately possess the potentially lethal combination of enormous mass, windshield-level height, and a general lack of concern for traffic whizzing by at highway speeds. After reading in some obscure journal that moose fur is known to fluoresce when exposed to UV light, we sought to investigate this as a possible key to our solution. We were “lucky” enough to find a nearby butcher shop that had recently received a road-kill moose and was more than willing to part with the hide for the low, low price of $20, with the caveat that it wasn’t entirely cleaned. So that’s how we found ourselves up on Balch Hill stretched out on tarps over a reasonably disgusting former moose, trying our best to clean the hide to a sufficiently sanitary level. The best (or worst?) part was the look on other hikers’ faces when they unwittingly wandered over to our secluded area to see what interesting thing was going on over there. So cut to a few days later and — surprise! — we did not observe any noteworthy glowing of the moose fur under UV light, journal claims notwithstanding. So our ultimate solution involved a series of heat-sensing infrared sensors and warning lights deployed alongside particularly dangerous highway areas frequently trafficked by our favorite half-ton mascot of the Granite State. I think one of our friends might still have a pair of moose-hide mittens somewhere, too.
— Tom Nichols ’02 Th’04
My most memorable projects at Thayer were both team-based design classes. In “Machine Design” we had to build a machine that could create a Lincoln Log cabin. Since we were constrained in degrees of freedom, we built a clutch into our car that allowed us to have another motion.
The clutch was driven by the crane arm. When the crane arm was up, the motor would drive the wheels and move the car around. However, when the crane arm was down, the drive motor was disengaged from the wheels and drove the crane arm out and in to give us precise control when placing the logs. It miraculously ended up working as we had designed it. My team members, James Lamb ’04, Jon Kling ’04, and Chad Steinglass ’02 Th’04, were a blast to work with.
A close second to this project was the CAD/CAM class, where our final project was to build a tricycle. We pushed the limits a little bit and ended up designing a Potty-Training Trike, where the seat doubles as a toilet.
When the kids were invited in to test drive the trikes, one of the girls saw it and immediately ran away to her mommy crying. I guess it was too much for her to understand how those two worlds could be combined. However, one of the little guys loved it and pedaled all over the Great Hall.
— Brian Mason ’03 Th’05
ENGS 21 started about two weeks after 9/11. My group of James Lamb ’04, Jon Kling ’04, and Andra Pool ’03 wanted to do something that would benefit firefighters. We learned that although their outer clothing provided protection against flames, the material did not breathe well, and many firefighters suffered from hyperthermia while combating fires. At our first presentation, our solution involved having firefighters wear mini-refrigerators. We quickly learned about the value of the design and redesign process to ultimately come up with a device to monitor the firefighter’s body temperature and serve as an early warning system for hyperthermia.
— Erik Dambach ’04 Th’05
As a junior in the dual-degree program we ended up having five of us from Colby College on the same team — I worked with Spencer Boice Th’05, Eric Fitz Th’05, Dave Fouche Th’05, and Monica Thomas Th’05 — and we ended up being referred to as the “Colby Mafia.” We won the Jackson Prize for our internal boat trailer, which Leonard from the machine shop described as a $500 boat with F-16 landing gear. With our design you no longer needed a separate trailer for your boat. You would drive the boat right up to the edge of the water and then, with a press of a button, the wheels would deploy out of the bottom of the boat and out of the front would come the tow hitch, which you would then just connect to your car. It would eliminate the hassle of having to store the trailer when the boat was in the water, and could also help in point-to-point trips: All you needed in the new location was a car with a hitch; no need to move the trailer around.
— Peter Rice Th’06
Editor’s Note: See “A Few of Our Favorite Things.”
My most memorable and glorious project from Thayer has to be the mechanical design project Margaret Martei Th’08, Laura Weyl Th’08, Andrew Herchek Th’09, and I completed in “Machine Engineering” (ENGS 76) in fall 2007. The goal of the project was to design a robot that would pick up as many walnuts as possible in the allotted time on a course built in the Atrium. Our robot then competed against the robots of other teams. As the one with the most points at the end of the round, our team won! The project may be my most memorable project because our team won, but it was also great because our robot began as just raw materials: sheets of metal, wheels, and gears. Then, using CAD and mockups, we designed a beautiful, fine-tuned machine and built the whole thing in the machine shop.
— Anders Wood Th’08
I feel like all of my projects were so memorable — I loved every one! My two most favorite are ENGS 76 (“Machine Engineering”) and ENGS 190/290 [now ENGS 89/90]. ENGS 76 was probably the most fast-paced class I’ve ever taken; however, by the end, I felt as though I had learned and accomplished so much. I also feel it was the first true “engineering” project because you design and build the robot from the ground up, which allows you to really learn about the process and take ownership of the results. ENGS 190/290 is phenomenal preparation for the real world, as you have the opportunity to work on an actual project that has real potential.
I did a project with Jetboil, in which we redesigned one of its camping cookstoves. I still can’t believe that we got to speak with the CEO regularly, access proprietary information, learn about the manufacturing process, and come up with different innovations so that we could design a system that will actually be marketed! Now that I am studying at another university (I have a Fulbright to study sustainable energy at the Technical University of Denmark), I realize just how unique an experience that was. I think this type of learning really prepares Thayer students for the workplace and gives them the tools to innovate new procedures or products and present their ideas in a persuasive and effective manner to all types of audiences.
— Emily Koepsell ’09 Th’10
For more photos, visit our Alumni Projects set of images on Flickr.