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. It is responsible for clearing snow from the 5,000-acre campus. And it was particularly challenged last winter. That is when the Boston area got more than 9 feet of snow. Harvard shut down several times. It was 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.  It can be controlled using a modified video game control pad. It 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 special device. It resembles a roof rake. It has a long handle topped with a Y-shaped head that holds a super-heated wire.  It 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. It can 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. They won't be deployed on campus this winter. But some of the students plan to keep working on them. The goal is to one day make 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 (44)
  • adamp-3-bar
    2/04/2016 - 10:41 p.m.

    These problems are more relevant to Harvard students rather than Miami student because Harvard has cold seasons and has snow. "A major problem is clearing snow off Harvard's many old and flat-roofed buildings." At Miami university they wouldn't have this problem because Miami doesn't get snow. Another thing at Harvard that wouldn't be needed at Miami is "a durable freeze-resistant hydrogel mat. It can keep doorways and steps ice free." Miami doesn't need this because there wouldn't be ice at their doorways. My opinion on this article is it is very innovative and great what the students at Harvard are doing to battle the snow.

  • samuelr-2-bar
    2/04/2016 - 10:59 p.m.

    These problems are more relevant for Harvard students than students at the University of Miami because it does not snow in Miami but it snows a lot in Massachusetts. In the article it states that "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." This shows how much it snows in Massachusetts that these students have to come up with innovative ideas to clean up the snow. This would not happen in Miami because it does not snow in Miami.

  • madelinew-1-bar
    2/05/2016 - 01:49 a.m.

    Harvard is located in an area where snow and blizzards can be a high possibility. Meanwhile, the University of Miami is located in Florida, a nice, sunny place that doesn't expect for there to be any snow. This is why Harvard students feel a greater need to build these things.
    I kind of liked this article. I think it's cool that inventions like this are being made now and that I may one day see these things in one of my local hardware stores.

  • alexad-hol
    2/05/2016 - 10:01 a.m.

    Getting snow removed is weird but cool/awesome at the same time .

  • justinc-pel
    2/05/2016 - 11:22 a.m.

    because in harverd(new york)there is a lot of snow where as to miami were there probably hasn't ever been snow

  • erikal-pel
    2/05/2016 - 11:25 a.m.

    Miami is closer to equator and therefore it does not get a lot of snow or ice just rain.

  • joshw-pel
    2/05/2016 - 11:29 a.m.

    Because it snows at Harvard, a lot, and Miami I don't think ever gets snow.

  • noahd-pel
    2/05/2016 - 11:29 a.m.

    The author of this article probably wrote this to inform us about what the students are doing at Harvard and to persuade us readers into going to Harvard. I think that the opinions stated in this article are good. I learned that on average 100 people a year die from taking icicles of their roofs, which is interesting.

  • victord-pel
    2/05/2016 - 11:32 a.m.

    Because it dont snow in Miami.

  • ashleeb-pel
    2/05/2016 - 11:33 a.m.

    These problems more relevant for Harvard students than students at the University of Miami because it is hot in Miami so there isn't a lot of snowfall.

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