October 2014

  • Spill-Proof Challenge

    October 30, 2014
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    The weekly innovation challenge this week was to design and create a spill-proof coffee cup. As is usually the case, the supplies included items such as paper, tape, rubber bands, and other office supplies. The cup was to hold a specific amount of water for 20 seconds, then be inverted and hold the water for five seconds. 

    When the challenge was first explained to the teams, I felt at a loss seeing as how I am not a coffee drinker, but I am a chemistry major!  Most of my days are spent surrounded by liquids in containers that I am grateful have been designed and tested to prevent leaks!  Also, I learned we would be testing our cups with water and not coffee. Thus with these realizations, I felt qualified to participate and my teammates and I began brainstorming design ideas. The first step seemed to be to settle on a shape. Once a shape could be decided, we could then design ways to reinforce it.

    The first shape my teammates and I thought of, and built, was a flat bowl shape. Although this shape could hold a significant amount of water, it was large and bulky, offering too much surface area to be in direct contact with the water. Then I had an idea!  It was not the fact that I am a chemistry major or that I drink a lot of water that guided me to our final design, it was the fact that I love a good son-cone! Our design shape was a cone. This shape could hold the water and did not require much tape to stay in place. 

    The next problem was how to reinforce this shape and how to attach a leak-proof lid. Not just any lid would do, it had to be a lid that would hold the liquid in the cup while upside down, or so we thought at first! Then I had another idea! There is no reason for the lid to be a flat object against the top of the cup. The lid could actually be another cup; two cones inserted into each other. With one cone slightly smaller, when the cup is inverted, the water would simply flow from one cone into the other. Great! We made both the cones rather quickly. This was perfect as it allowed us time to test our design for leaks and add any last minute tape.

    During the design process, I experienced two of the three learning outcomes for this challenge, namely the importance of quality checks and the ability to see different solutions to a problem. It was not until the testing of the cups that I experienced the third learning outcome, looking for improvement opportunities. Although our cup met the challenge and worked quit well, we did not win. The winning design was similar to ours in every way, with the exception of the tip of the cone being folded up, creating a flat edge at the bottom. The overall cone design was good, but the winning point was the improvement on that basic design. Thus, to win this challenge all three learning outcomes needed to be met and in the end I think the winning team did just that!

    Winning Reflection - Liz Jolley

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  • SLUstainability Challenge

    October 23, 2014
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    This past Wednesday, I participated in the Weekly Innovation Challenge with a classmate and a graduate student, both from Parks College. The challenge was to come up with an awards program for recognition of exemplary effort to promote sustainability on campus. The theme of the challenge was motivated by Saint Louis University’s Sustainability Week. This promoted, in part, the expansion of the campus’s single-stream recycling program. As a fan of the environment, I was excited to see creative effort targeted to even more recognition of the university’s drive for sustainable practices on and around campus.

    My group decided a great way to promote sustainability was to create a contest for the biggest art sculpture or piece, made out of recycled materials, with a cash prize based on the weight of the art piece. That way there would be awareness of the importance of recycling coupled with creative artistry. Additionally, some recycled materials would be saved from the landfill, and the largest sculpture would be on display for everyone to see and to promote the recycling mindset. We thought this would grab students’ attention since large, hulking, metal art sculptures are pretty eye catching.

    I learned about the power of group dynamics in a setting in which successful mitigation of conflicting ideas and values can mean the difference between a positive and negative experience, regardless of winning or losing. Luckily for me, especially since we did not win, I wasn’t participating just in the hopes of winning. I was also practicing coming up with innovative ideas in a group setting, where inspiration can suddenly strike when people bounce ideas off each other. Comparing ideas, however, can be difficult. During this past competition, I learned that the key to objectively comparing ideas is to allow yourself to not become emotionally attached to your idea, or someone else’s. That way, ideas can be judged in an objective light, hopefully free from emotional bias.

    In the end, we did not win, but we did practice working in a group under pressure, which is not unlike what certain activities in a job might require. I enjoy these challenges in part for that reason. It can be easy to miss something while working under pressure, like taking a test, but if one remembers to stay calm, careless mistakes can be avoided. 

    Winning Reflection - Tristan Thomas

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  • Q&A Dodge

    October 9, 2014
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    Today’s challenge caught me off guard. As I walked into MDH I met up with a former group I have been with and noticed that the tables were set up in a different fashion than normal, also there wasn’t anything to build with. That meant one of two things, trivia or elevator pitches. In this instance it was trivia, but the secret was that it was dodge ball trivia.

    In Q&A Dodge, each team is given 12 questions and is pitted face to face against another team. From the 12 questions each team has to decide on one question to give to the opposing team to answer. The trick is if the opposing team answers the question correctly they earn one point and you lose one point, but if they get it wrong there is no point gain or loss. So, you want to give the opposing team a question that you think they cannot answer while correctly answering the question they give you. After each question is answered you rotate, face a new team, and repeat.

    Trivia challenges always seem like more of a difficult task to me because you have to draw information from more broad subjects than just engineering. You have to be either a really good educated guesser or somehow actually know what the answer is. As we were going through our questions I knew most of the ones we were giving to our opposing teams, and the questions we were receiving kept me on my toes whether I, or my team, knew them or not. The categories ranged from geography, to currency, to periodic table of elements, and even to spoiling food. It was extremely broad, I felt a little overwhelmed by the diverse questions I was being assaulted with each round. I began to question the validity of this week’s challenge. It just did not seem very innovating, compared to the build challenges or the elevator pitches.

    About half way through the challenge while the judges were tallying scores, it dawned on me. Innovation is not just about creating some cool new toy or solving a complex problem to improve the efficiency of a power plant. It is about being aware of the problems of the community and finding ways to fix those problems. This challenge was not about being a renaissance man/woman and knowing the answer to all of the questions, but rather it was to make us more aware of the world around us. By making us more aware it will in turn make us better engineers by realizing that the world is full of diverse problems, people, and ways of answering questions. For example as an engineer it would look bad if you designed a streetcar for an area that is mainly rural and has few, if no, paved roads. As engineers we have to find ways to create new technologies or implement existing ones in new ways in different and diverse areas of the world, or out of this world. Much like answering these trivia questions stressed knowing a multitude of different fields, so too does innovation.

    In the end, my team tied for first and went into a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was composed of three randomly selected questions, and we ended up putting up a good fight but losing in the end. I did really enjoy the challenge because of the different perspective on innovation it gave me. Innovation is all about shaping the world to be better for everyone, no matter how different others are.

    Winning Reflection - David Clark

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  • Speed Bridge

    October 2, 2014
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    This week’s challenge involved hands on construction; one of my favorite types of challenges. The task was to build a bridge out of items like cardboard, rubber bands, markers, pens, popsicle sticks, noodles and string. This bridge had to span a two foot gap and hold weight ranging from two to four kilograms. Before any materials could be gathered, teams were required to brainstorm for 10 minutes. After the ten minutes were up, the building supplies were available for the taking. There were surprisingly few resources for the amount of teams that were competing, so it was quite frenzied at the supply table. Another component of the challenge was that the winners would be the builders whose bridge not only held the weight, but were turned in the fastest. So, if two or more teams completed the challenge, the team that took the least amount of time on the construction would be declared the winner.

    The team I was on comprised of a civil engineer, an electrical engineer and a public health major (me). During our brainstorming period, we defaulted much of our decisions to the civil engineer, given the task at hand. We developed a plan to include trusses on a multi-layered bridge to support the heavy weight. When the brainstorming period was up, we got all the supplies that we needed. Then, we quickly realized that constructing such a bridge would be entirely too time consuming.  Our design then shifted to a construction of cardboard pieces that were layered in an overlapping manner to enhance the structure’s strength. Our bridge was bound by rubber bands and reinforced with pens and markers. We were the fourth team to turn a bridge in to the judges. After turning in the bridge, the civil engineer student thought of a new way to fold the cardboard into long triangular tubes so that the bridge would have abundant strength. We decided to gamble on the idea that many other bridges would not be able to support the weight and we took our bridge back to make some adjustments. After resubmitting the bridge, we were third from last. This was not a good position to be in, because if any bridges that were turned in before us held the weight, we would lose, even if ours could hold the weight. The first few bridges collapsed under two kilograms. Our revisions were very successful and the bridge was able to hold four kilograms of weight for longer than six seconds. Many of the bridges that were then tested failed to hold the weight. In the end there were only a few bridges that completed the challenge. Interestingly enough, the team that finished first, also completed the challenge. So, they won outright as the fastest successful design.

    I had expected that the bridges would have been judged on their overall strength and not the speed at which they were completed. The speed component of the challenge through a wrench in our process. This task required teams to prioritize the objectives of the task in a way that was not necessarily intuitive. Had we outlined our goals and priorities initially, we may have been both successful and speedy. The importance of brainstorming for projects was highlighted by this task because it provided time for teams to prioritize how they would approach this task. Brainstorming is not just about the final project design; it also involves ideas on the processes and ways to go about getting to the end goal. It was interesting to note that of the bridges that were successful, there was significant diversity among their designs and materials. With the limited materials that I mentioned earlier, I thought that this challenge may come down to whichever team was aggressive enough to get the proper materials. However, this challenge reiterated the idea that broad concepts, like physics, apply to systems regardless of their materials. This perspective can be taken to the realm of innovation as there are certainly broader concepts of innovation that can be applied to any project to promote a successful outcome. The elucidation of these broader concepts is, in fact, at the root of why we participate and reflect upon the weekly innovation challenges.

    Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester

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