Brains vs. blizzards: Harvard students take on snow removal
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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Assigned 55 times
Why are these problems more relevant for Harvard students than students at the University of Miami?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • landryb.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:37 a.m.

    Because Harvard is colder than Miami in the winter because Miami is near a beach and Harvard is near colder temperatures.

  • madilynm.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:38 a.m.

    Why it is more relevant to Harvard students than Miami students is that Harvard gets a lot of blizzards every year that they have to find a solution and build something to help the cause because Miami does not get affected by snow or blizzards that often.

  • calebt.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:38 a.m.

    I would like to see the ice cutter in action

  • nylej.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:38 a.m.

    Great idea. The people became problem solvers.

  • taylorh.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:38 a.m.

    This was very interesting because it takes time and effort to build something like that.

  • masons.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:38 a.m.

    Miami is down in Florida so rarely... RARELY does Florida get any snow fall or freezing weather.

  • isaact.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:41 a.m.

    I wish that Texas would get more snow at least for one day

  • lawsonl.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 09:45 a.m.

    When I get older I want to be an engineer and I think it would be cool to do a project like that. I would buy some of those items. I think that stuff is really cool.

  • leonac.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 11:15 a.m.

    It snows more at Harvard than Miami

  • trinityt.-tay
    2/08/2016 - 11:21 a.m.

    I like their new methods/inventions that they came up with.

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