Engineering Beautiful Music Together

Students in the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID) have been treated this week to the pure, dulcet tones of newly-built guitars, plucked by—who else?—engineers.

The fall Dynamics class is the source of this engineering serenade, with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Applied Physics, and Physics Corey O'Hern, doctoral candidate Thibault Bertrand, and CEID Design Mentor & Senior Research Scientist Larry Wilen as bandleaders. Making use of the CEID's lasercutter, a turntable needle, and an oscilloscope, the class has studied the frequencies of simple resonators that can be plucked in different ways to excite each mode of vibration. This prelude prepares the students for their real challenge: building their own musical instruments.

"The goal is for them to be creative," says O'Hern. "They can completely change the geometry of their instrument into whatever excites them. They make and 'tune' these simple instruments themselves."

Bertrand goes even further. "The class is mainly theoretical, so we designed the labs to use everything they know—SolidWorks, derivations, machine shop equipment." And because the students use the CEID, the excitement spreads. "Students who took the class before, they see this current version of Dynamics and they're asking if they can take the class again," Bertrand adds.

Larry Wilen sees this excitement growing in the CEID every day. "An engineer's work is to get in the shop and rapidly prototype solutions," he says. And just like engineers in the field, "making the object is what engages students. They get to bring something home, something they can show Mom over break." Such labs also prepare students for future work. The Dynamics class, for example, includes training on the lasercutter, a skill students can use again on all their subsequent projects. Looking ahead, Wilen says, "I'm hoping that they'll be so excited about the project that they beg me for another piece of wood."

And if they do ask, Wilen says he'll get it for them.