Students Engineer New Ways to Study Art, Wash Hands, and Practice Lacrosse


Innovations abounded this semester in the John Klingenstein '50 Design Lab at the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design (CEID).

Students in Engineering Innovation & Design (ENAS 118) turned their problem-solving skills to soil collecting and analysis, the ancient mirrors of the Han Dynasty, hand-washing for pre-schoolers, the ankles of Michelangelo’s “David,” and a better way to practice lacrosse. Taught by SEAS senior research scientist Larry Wilen and SEAS Deputy Dean Vince Wilczynski, the course tapped the expertise of faculty and staff from numerous disciplines throughout Yale. For each of these projects, the student teams worked with their clients, the people who encounter these issues regularly, and simply need a better way to approach them. 

Here’s the second part of our round-up of this year’s projects (go here for Part 1):

David’s Ankles

Michelangelo’s statue of David was remarkably well-constructed, but it’s been more than 500 years, and time takes a toll on everything. Hairline cracks have been showing up in David’s ankles. Paul Whitmore, director of the Aging Diagnostics Lab at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH), and Katherine Schilling, an associate research scientist at the IPCH, want to use David’s weakening ankles as a teaching tool. Whitmore told the students that the challenge is figuring out the best materials for making a replica of David and ways to explore the materials’ properties. Also, how can students or researchers apply stress to those materials and measure their strength?

To that end, the student team of Julien Fernandez, Michelle Tong, Sinem Simaz, Ting Gao and Zach Metcalf developed a way to analyze the material that Michelangelo chose, and what alternatives could have been used. The students used a 3D printer to make casts of the statues and different materials to make a handful of replicas. They then tested each in their Statue Crusher 3000, also known as FRED (Force Relay Exertion Device) to see how much force and at what angles each model could withstand before breaking.

Whitmore said the students’ work will be incorporated into a course he is teaching next semester on the materials of art with Schilling and SEAS Dean Kyle Vanderlick.


Toddlers and pre-schoolers tend to be a curious bunch, eager to finger paint, explore the dirt, and play with clay. Washing hands isn’t always at the top of their list. That’s for the administrators to worry about, like Amy Small, executive director of the NEST at Alphabet Academy. Located at the Yale Divinity School, the school prides itself on allowing children the freedom follow their muse - and get their hands dirty. Accreditation policies, though, are pretty strict and require that kids wash their hands an average of 17 times a day.

So Small had a challenge for the student team of Stephanie Bang, Rachel Sterneck, Nina Bernick and Griffin Gharrity: Could they help make it any easier to meet these requirements?

As it turns out, they could, with a hand-washing system that works for both the kids and the teachers. A wooden board with LED lights guide the children through the three stages of hand-washing - wash, rinse and dry. And a meter alerts the teachers when each hand-washer is ready to move on to the next stage - for instance, the hand-washing stage lasts 20 seconds each.

Proof of the system’s success is at the school, where it’s already up and running. The team reports that the kids have stayed on task with the system.

Lax Megatrainer 6000

Lacrosse goalies have the unenviable job of trying to block shots that can travel up to 110 m.p.h. So, certainly, good reflexes are a boon to anyone tending the goal. For that, we now have the Lax Megatrainer 6000, developed by students Mary Clare McMahon, Jacob Asher, and Cece Gao.

Thomas Newman, assistant strength & conditioning coach for Yale Athletics, explained that anything that improved the reaction time of his team’s goalies would be a huge boost for the team. The students of ENAS 118 found a way to make practice both effective and fun. It’s a wooden board with 15 palm-sized buttons of various colors. The user hits the buttons as quickly as possible when they light up at random times – a little like the classic Whack-a-Mole games. The team members also note that it can help with peripheral vision, another advantage for goalies dealing with shots made from all directions.

The device can also be adjusted to vary the patterns and illumination times of the buttons. And it’s not just limited to lacrosse. Other sports that call for quick reflexes can benefit from the device, and the students made it durable enough to withstand even the hits of football players.