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Plotting a path to innovation


Becoming a commissioned designer for a client like The Ohio State University is an accomplishment sought out by many professional designers and engineers. One collection of undergraduate students is now adding this achievement to their resume.

The trio of second-year students—Tyler Bair (electrical and computer science engineering), Andrew Merz (materials science and engineering) and Phillip Merz (mechanical engineering)—recently imagined and built an innovative, interactive feature in the Institute for Materials Research (IMR) new Materials Innovation space, a central component of the Materials & Manufacturing for Sustainability discovery theme.

(l to r) Phillip, Tyler and Andrew
Jay Sayre, assistant vice president at Ohio State and IMR’s director of innovation, wanted two things: an interesting feature to welcome guests and a way to engage undergrads in the process. “We work very closely with the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME),” he said. “So I knew they had a lot of really bright undergraduates working for them.”

Sayre and his colleagues at CDME and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) encouraged those bright undergrads to form teams over the summer and pitch their ideas to IMR’s leadership.

The only requirements were that the design had to contain a flat-screen display, a space to hold 3D sample products and clear identification that the space was dedicated to Materials Innovation. 

This fall, in collaboration with CIE’s Paul Reeder, IMR completed renovation of 2,500 square feet in the Nanotech West Laboratory on Kinnear Road. The Materials Innovation space exemplifies an operational model that allows people and ideas to “collide,” as Sayre puts it, while fostering collaboration to maximize innovation. Think few walls, lots of group work areas and energetic colors.

Bair and the brothers Merz knew their design idea had to match the new space’s cool factor. Featuring a large-scale plotter attached to the wall, their design allows users to program an image to be drawn on an erasable surface in mere minutes.

“We wanted there to be moving parts and we wanted the display to not just be one-and-done, just there and nothing else happens,” said Phillip Merz. “The coolest displays are the interactive ones, ones that can change up. So we decided to have a part of the display that can change to whatever the user wants, make it dynamic.”

Their pitch was made in the form of a video that quickly caught the eye of those judging the designs.

Bair had the idea to incorporate a plotter into the design, wanting to mimic the work of 3D printers on a 2D wall surface. The plotter has already been used to draw the Mona Lisa, a rocket ship and, of course, a Block O.

The group also incorporated influences from 3D printer technology in other ways. Many 3D printer parts contain hexagonal infrastructure, which is represented in their design as hexagonal shelves to hold 3D-printed pieces. 

Next the students want to create a smartphone app that can convert any image to a drawing on the wall.

Some supporters have hinted that the group should commercialize the design, with the possibility of building another plotter elsewhere on campus. But for now, the aspiring engineers will focus on their upcoming final exams.

Category: Students