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 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 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. It has 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. They 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 (44)
  • ryanh-ver
    2/04/2016 - 07:44 p.m.

    Is there a way to actually make every item even better than it already is??

  • maggiec-3-bar
    2/04/2016 - 11:29 p.m.

    These problems are more relevant for Harvard students than students at the University of Miami because in Miami, the students don't have to deal with all of the snow and freezing weather. If a student in Miami were to make something to help get rid of snow, they wouldn't have much use for it because of the weather there. In paragraph 3 when talking about the snowblower it says, "It is responsible for clearing snow from the 5,000-acre campus. And it was particularly challenged last winter 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." This contraption is more relevant to the Harvard school because of all the snow but in Miami they wouldn't need to go to these measures. I'm glad I do not live on the East Coast because all of this snow and cold weather seems like a real struggle.

  • lucasl-3-bar
    2/04/2016 - 11:52 p.m.

    Harvard students, living in the cold state of Massachusetts, have to deal with such weather problems because they live much farther north than Miami, Florida. Being of a higher latitude and thus receiving less direct sunlight, the city must cope with low temperatures and snow-susceptible conditions. To deal with these conditions, the students must employ various methods and technologies to cut through ice and snow to allow people to commute and live easily and happily. The article described in detail many interesting strategies the students used to repel the hazards, such as icicle-clearing devices. It is intriguing how the people living in Boston, as well as many others living in cold regions, accommodate for such conditions and storms.

  • jacks-6-bar
    2/05/2016 - 12:01 a.m.

    The problems that Harvard is experiencing is more relevant for its students than the ones at the University of Miami because Harvard actually has to deal with snow and it actually is needing many of the supplies its students are developing to ease the blizzard. The article states: "And [Harvard] was particularly challenged last winter 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." Harvard is obviously getting troublesome, inconvenient, and interfering amounts of snow. However, the University of Miami is far south of the freezing blizzard. It can't experience a whopping 9 feet of snow because it doesn't snow there in the first place; the school is in Miami, Florida, which is a notoriously heated zone in the world. Being so hot, it couldn't even be able to deal with the problems Harvard is working on, since it isn't able to go through their situation of bitter cold snow and the dangers of it. It doesn't snow where the University of Miami is, being to hot for it, therefor it will never see the blizzard-oriented problems Harvard is dealing with, let alone getting a snowy situation relevant there.
    Not only can't the University of Miami experience snow thereby Harvard's troubles, but it also, because of this fact, can't have the gear that Harvard's students make, since making them would require a relevant cause. The article states: "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." Considering it doesn't snow in Miami, the university there couldn't have had a case to make those supplies, not needing to cope with the snow (since it not having any). That is precisely what the objects are meant for. The University of Miami simply can't have blizzard problems more relevant than Harvard's, as Miami doesn't even have to cope with them, while Harvard does.
    The article was interesting, learning how students could build these practical, helpful, and beneficial machines to aid society and their school. However, it was also startling, finding out that Boston was covered in 9 feet of snow. If a major university had to shut down for that, mostly the whole city must have had to do so. It just be Boston with a thick sheet of snow and no productivity or any signs of help for everyone.

  • tatumh.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:27 a.m.

    Harvard is in the middle of a giant blizzard while in Miami there is not snow at all.

  • meaganw.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:29 a.m.

    They are determined students!

  • evakathrynj.1-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:31 a.m.

    Miami students don't have to deal with this like Harvard does because they live in Miami! Miami doesn't have snow like Harvard does.

  • delainnab.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:32 a.m.

    I think that it is really cool that students are creating these machines that could save a few hundred people in the future and keep people and places warm.

  • gracih.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:32 a.m.

    It is more relevant because students at Miami University don't have to deal with large icsicles or wet,slippery snow.

  • mikaylaz.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:34 a.m.

    The problem are more relevant because Harvard has snow in the winter and the University of Miami don't get snow.

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