Design Thinking: Bridge Edition

In Principles of Engineering Design, students develop and compare multiple solutions for real-world problems by using the engineering design process, data collection and analysis, scientific writing and research.

For a bridge design project, students play the role of civil engineer and redesign an existing bridge. They were charged with proposing a redesign that would improve the bridge based on specific criteria and constraints. Successful projects will support the scaled amount of required weight, be functional and able to withstand environmental factors such as weather events, meet the needs of the users in the area better than the current bridge, and be aesthetically pleasing using a combination of two bridge types. 

After selecting their bridge, students researched the  different bridge types (arch, beam, truss, cantilever, and suspension). They then drafted initial designs and shared them with classmates to solicit feedback. Their designs considered a range of constraints including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as potential social, cultural, and environmental impact. Students also researched the factors involved in bridge building including materials, cost, environmental considerations, usage, etc.

Next, students created prototypes of their designs using Tinkercad, a 3D modeling program, and then printed their models using one of Whitfield’s 3D printers. This week, students are testing their prototypes through a series of experiments. The first test is to scale up the model to see how much weight it will hold and identify the failure points of the bridge. As students identify the areas that are currently weak they will modify their designs to strengthen their final bridges.

Students will detail their process and final design through presentations in class. For the final step of the project, students will write a proposal explaining their design and why it should be accepted. Their written proposal will include an explanation of the background research that went into their design as well as an explanation of the tension/compression forces, the weight distribution, a discussion of the pros/cons for different materials including the cost and environmental impact, and an estimate of the total cost.

Writing, an essential skill, is woven throughout all Whitfield curriculum, and the science lab is no exception.  “The major component of this project is the written proposal,” said faculty member Dr. Heather Lavezzi. “We are focusing on their scientific writing and communication – the importance of clearly elaborating a concept or idea instead of making assumptions that a reader understands your design.”

The project will be completed in January.