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Using Sneakers to Step into Chemical Engineering

Margot Vigeant, Chemical Engineering, Bucknell University, Dana Engineering Building, Lewisburg, PA 17837 and Richard H. Moore, Department of Chemical Engineering, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837.

In their first semester of college, Bucknell engineering students take ENGR 100: Exploring Engineering, a course designed to familiarize them with engineering design and the various different fields within engineering. Within this course, students elect several three-week seminars that focus more in-depth on a particular discipline. “Engineering Athletics” is the chemical engineering seminar, in which students learn about materials science, material balances, and the design and manufacturing process within the context of designing a better sneaker. This project-based seminar is designed to introduce these topics within 12 class meetings (three two-hour labs, nine one-hour class sessions). Briefly, student teams begin by measuring the material properties of a variety of commercially-available shoes. Students then develop a formulation for condensing solid rubber from liquid latex with the goal of producing a product that has material properties that match or surpass those of materials used in existing shoes. Finally, students attempt to “mass produce” this formulation to match specifications based upon the properties of their desired product.

This project is an excellent fit for a first-year course because it introduces key concepts in chemical engineering while emphasizing the interconnectedness of the engineering disciplines. Based on student performance, student surveys, and course evaluations, the seminar is successful at meeting its educational objectives as an introduction to chemical engineering. Because many students are interested in sports equipment, the seminar works well as both an introduction for incoming chemical engineers and as a “taste” for those going on to other majors.