Brains vs. blizzards: Harvard students take on snow removal Students walk to class in sub-zero temperatures at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
Brains vs. blizzards: Harvard students take on snow removal
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Winter is bearing down anew, and Harvard University students have been engineering new ways to deal with it.
 
Eighteen juniors representing several engineering disciplines in professor David Mooney's problem-solving and design class spent the fall semester inventing a robotic remote-control rooftop snowblower, a superheated icicle cutter and a freeze-resistant doormat.
 
The projects grew out of meetings with the university's Facilities Maintenance Operations department, which is responsible for clearing snow from the 5,000-acre campus and was particularly challenged last winter when the Boston area got more than 9 feet of snow. Harvard shut down several times, the first time campus closed since the infamous Blizzard of '78.
 
"Don't get me wrong, FMO did an impressive job last winter," electrical engineering major Peyton Fine said. "But we wanted to somehow improve their operations. We wanted to make it easier to get around campus safely and keep workers safe."
 
A major problem is clearing snow off Harvard's many old and flat-roofed buildings. The main Cambridge/Boston campus has about 500 buildings.
 
The students retrofitted a commercial snowblower that can be controlled using a modified video game control pad and can be operated remotely, even from inside a nice, warm office. It eliminates the need for workers to spend time on slippery rooftops where they risk falling.
 
Another potential hazard for workers is clearing icicles off eaves. The students' research found that about 150 people a year are killed in the U.S. trying to clear snow and icicles off rooftops.
 
For that problem, the students came up with a device resembling a roof rake, with a long handle topped with a Y-shaped head that holds a super-heated wire that can quickly slice through the thickest of icicles while the operator stands on firm ground.
 
The students also developed a durable freeze-resistant hydrogel mat to keep doorways and steps ice free.
 
The class was one of the most practical junior bioengineering major Cassie Lowell has taken.
 
"It's a unique class in the sense is that we're given a lot of freedom," she said. "It was a really hands-on, real-world experience."
 
The students and Mooney stress that all their inventions are prototypes and won't be deployed on campus this winter. But some of the students plan to keep working on them, with the goal of one day making them commercially available.
 
Fine said he'd love to walk into a hardware store in the future and see the items for sale.
 
"Just like someone has a leaf blower in their garage, we'd love to see someone have an icicle cutter in the garage one day," he said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why are these problems more relevant for Harvard students than students at the University of Miami?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (33)
  • jaredp-lam
    2/03/2016 - 09:41 a.m.

    I personally believe that it is very good to show young college students that their work can actually make a difference in the real world.

  • andersonp-lam
    2/03/2016 - 10:49 a.m.

    I think it's great to show that what the students do will impact the real world because they then have a sense of accomplish and can feel that they have done something to improve society.

  • garrettm1-lam
    2/03/2016 - 10:53 a.m.

    I truly enjoy this article for the reason that college students are being able to work for the good of other people, and not just work for themselves. It also provides an opportunity for the students to give their brains a little kick start to get things going.

  • tayces-lam
    2/03/2016 - 10:55 a.m.

    I think that the icicle wire is an inspired idea, and that it will save lives. In addition, it's so cool!

  • peterk-lam
    2/03/2016 - 02:37 p.m.

    I think it's cool that the students can take their knowledge from school and apply it to situations in society, making to world better for everyone!

  • morganm-pla
    2/04/2016 - 08:12 p.m.

    These students were able to create a machine in which eases the job and lives of others on the campus that they like to call their own. Students created machines that are able to clear snow and icicles off of the older buildings without needing an individual to do so themselves, which could be saving lives. The robotic machines are created a device that is like a roof rake that heats up and cuts clear through the ice making it not necessary for someone to do so. This would be considered Civic Engagement due to the fact that this group of students came up with a way to help all those around them who would normally be required to this all by hand. If this becomes as big of a success as the group of students would like to see it become, these machines that were once just classroom projects could have an impact on any American who deals with snow.

  • lucasp-fel
    3/01/2016 - 02:10 p.m.

    there are more relevant for harverd more because it is warm in miami

  • coled-fel
    3/01/2016 - 02:10 p.m.

    CTQ: These problems are more relevant with Harvard students because in Miami it is very hot and humid all the time, where as at Harvard it is cold most of the time in winter.

  • ethanw-fel
    3/01/2016 - 02:10 p.m.

    Because it is warm in miami.

  • mattv-fel
    3/01/2016 - 02:11 p.m.

    The problems of blizzards are more relevant to students in Harvard because they're in Massachusetts... a state in the northern side of America, a colder state. Kids in the University of Miami are in FLORIDA... A TROPICAL STATE.

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