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Posted: March 17, 2010
Mixing ski design and nanotechnology
(Nanowerk News) Imagine packing skis into a suitcase, skis that never need wax or skis that hold a perfect line in all snow conditions. That's just what University of Nevada, Reno students in Kam K. Leang's mechanical engineering senior design course do, they imagine the possibilities of design using nanotechnology.
Leang is the principal investigator for the National Science Foundation funded project to build a new curriculum that incorporates the department's nanotechnology expertise. He aims to prepare 21st century mechanical engineers at the University to meet the emerging challenges of nanotechnology -- and the first important step is to excite them about the technology.
"We want students to get enthused about mechanical engineering, to see the possibilities and potential of nanotechnology," Leang said. "We've built a ski press and a couple pairs of prototype skis. I expect students will have something remarkable to ski on before the end of the ski season.
"We'll integrate nanomaterials into the construction of skis to improve performance and use the student's skills in mechanical engineering to be inventive with ski design."
The first class, in Fall 09, designed two sets of skis. One uses a honeycomb-type box containing tiny metal balls, called a particle dampener, on the end of the ski to help dissipate energy and lessen the vibrations of the ski. The other set of skis folds to a convenient size that can fit in a car trunk or even in carry-on luggage at airports.
"It's fun to see your accomplishments transfer from paper to an actual, physical project," student Stephen Greene said.
As fun as it may be, the curriculum isn't just for building skis. Practical, easy-to-relate-to macro-scale applications for nanomaterials such as aerospace structures and wind-energy turbine blades have also been introduced into sophomore- and junior-level courses.
"The opportunities are endless," Leang said. "It could be tennis racquets, racing car components or even accessories on wheelchairs."
Teaching modules are being developed for dissemination to other snow-country universities such as in Vermont, Colorado and Utah, Leang said.
"I envision a competition like the annual concrete canoe races where we will all design and manufacture our skis under a set of rigorous yet creative parameters and then race them."
Two of his colleagues at the University, Jonghwan Suhr, Director of the Multifunctional Nano-Composite Laboratory and John Cannon, Elementary Science Education professor in the College of Education, are helping to develop the new mechanical engineering curriculum. It is made possible with a $200,000, two-year grant from the National Science Foundation's Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education in Engineering program.