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What is Capstone Design in Multidisciplinary Engineering?

According to ABET criteria for accrediting engineering programs, “Engineering design is the process of devising a system, component, or process to meet desired needs. It is a decision-making process (often iterative), in which the basic sciences, mathematics, and the engineering sciences are applied to convert resources optimally to meet these stated needs.” (p.5, ABET 2018-19)  All students enrolled in the Multidisciplinary Engineering program at Purdue have opportunities to learn about and practice engineering design, through their coursework.

All seniors in the Multidisciplinary Engineering program will demonstrate acquired skills and make use of their acquired knowledge through a major culminating design experience referred to as “Capstone Design”.  This experience is the ultimate opportunity for students in the program to provide evidence that they are prepared for work in engineering practice.

Courses eligible to meet the requirements for Capstone Design in the Multidisciplinary Engineering program are limited (see an Advisor or Curriculog for details).  In general, here are some attributes of a Multidisciplinary Capstone Design course:

  • The design challenge is inherently multidisciplinary, meaning design success will require perspective taking from a wide variety of engineering and non-engineering domains.  In practical terms, this also means that students can expect to work on diverse teams that contain a variety of MDE program concentration areas.
  • The design challenge is purposefully open-ended, meaning there in no one (single) “right answer” or solution to be designed.  In practical terms this means that given a design scenario and certain constraints, students will need to successfully research to identify a central design need as well as users and key stakeholders to design with/for, specify design criteria, use math, science and engineering coursework to develop, analyze, test, iterate, improve upon and deliver their design concepts using physical, virtual, modeled and/or simulated artifacts and working prototypes.
  • The design challenge is complex.  In practical terms, this means that students must invest significant time and energy at the individual level, to ensure that the design team is successful in delivering a substantial solution, well backed up with ample, robust evidence to support the suggested design solution.

All students must take their capstone design course on the Purdue West Lafayette campus, and successfully complete it to be eligible to meet degree requirements.

About the Capstone Design challenge

Capstone Design challenges might include local or global contexts; they may include specific industry partners/clients, or draw upon local government and not-for-profit communities of need; they may be tied to some theme or current event or could be far reaching and imagine a future need.

Examples of prior design challenges include:  Design for “temporary” shelter, Design for a novel lighting application/need, Design for a mobile business application/need (IDE48500); Design for a special acoustics need (ECE40020); Design for a Special User group (EPICS). 

Look through the following list of recently developed design solutions.

Spring 2018 Cohort Design Challenge

Design for Temporary Shelter


  • Early Bird Caseworker; Early Notification App
  • Mechanism to easily and hygienically capture human waste to convert to community biogas
  • Modular building units for modular building
  • Multipurpose, convertible transport cart
  • Human powered air filtration unit for polluted underprivileged geographies

Team EB

Team EB chats briefly with a key Lafayette, IN official, following their presentation demonstrating a fully developed application (App) now available in the Apple and Android Stores.  The app called “Early Bird, helps case workers assist their constituents as they face difficulties associated with homelessness and incarceration.  The tool was overwhelmingly accepted and will be implemented across Central Indiana to improve caseworker services and assist those affected and in need. of support.

Team Sanitation

Team Sanitation envisioned a more hygienic and sustainable solution for people living in 3rd world countries, whose use of “squat toilets” limited their health and human potential.  Rethinking and developing a mechanism for protection from and collection of human waste, allowed for its conversion into useable methane gas.  This team idealized an eco-viable means for powering communities around the globe, with a free and sustainable resource.


Team SWOB worked with a local food pantry, developing a specialty convertible food delivery cart. The light weight cart folds compactly into the storage trailer used for distributing food, and safely transports food to the consumer’s car.  The efficient and cost sensitive design also allows the associated volunteers of the food pantry to load any pre-proportioned items within their delivery trailer with safety and efficiency in mind.

Spring 2017 Cohort Design Challenge

Design for Special Use - An Industry- Sponsored Project Incorporating LED Lighting

In 2016, we received our first ever Purdue Alumni gift to help fund classroom related prototypes, field trips, etc. Through the generosity of Stephen W. Pater, a new endowment was created to benefit senior capstone design. The Stephen W. Pater Fund for Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies Capstone Class has already provided an opportunity for students to partner with Juno Lighting, our first industry partner, beginning with Spring 2017 cohort senior design project.

The School of Engineering Education's Multidisciplinary Engineering students thanked donors like Stephen W. Pater, '65 Alumnus of the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, for his generous gift that paid forward in ways unimagined.

Last Updated: April 18, 2019