Two and a half years ago, Mechanical Engineering senior Anthony Eggert was looking through the course bulletin for a rudimentary hands-on class to fill out his schedule and to add practical experience to the theories he had learned in previous courses. He couldn't find what he was looking for.
So he did what any highly intelligent and skilled mechanical engineering student would do. He started his own class. He wrote up a proposal, presented it to the department, got it approved and came back to UW-Madison after his co-op to launch it last spring.
Eggert has graduated and gone on to work for Ford, but the class
continues. Now in its second semester, the Mechanical Dissection
Todd Kearney, at the left, is the class organizer for the second semester disassembly class, and Pax Maguire, on the right, has been class organizer along with Scot Adler (not pictured) for first semester. Working with them on a transmission are Holly David, Adam Fleming, and Dave Gennrich.
Run and organized by the students themselves, this "reverse engineering" lab has the students tearing apart equipment to see how it works. Some of the items they take apart and reassemble include copy machines, laser printers, hydraulic pumps, window air conditioners, all kinds of engines and motors, and even toys. Most of the equipment is donated. Each lab is led by either a professor or industry representative with experience in the particular technology. Although Associate Professor Frank J. Fronczak is the class coordinator, two seniors are responsible for class scheduling. Student grades are based on their weekly reports, class discussion, and a final group presentation. Fronczak said that the class provides a bridge between practice and theory and it reinforces learning from other coursework. It allows the students to analyze the function, design, and manufacture of basic pieces of equipment that they may have had little exposure to before.
One student wrote, "For me, this class has been a great benefit. I have had little or no exposure to real machines before this time and have always felt a little inadequate being a mechanical engineer and not having exposure to them. Most of the classes in our curriculum teach us the theories behind machines but don't give us much knowledge on the function."
The text for the course is one often found in the children's section of bookstores, The Way Things Work, by David Macaulay. Virtually every piece of equipment the students work on is covered in the book, and they all describe it as "wonderful," and fun to read as well as being a great reference.
In response to student suggestions, Fronczak said that the dissection
lab may be offered earlier in the curriculum, perhaps to freshmen or
sophomores, or it may be offered twice, first in a scaled down
version, and then again for seniors.
ME Newsletter is a periodic publication of the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Correspondence should be sent to the address below.
Editor: Gail Gawenda
Designer: Lynda Litzkow
FALL SEMESTER 1996 -- VOL. 1 / NO. 1 Contents