Student Recruitment

An ROTC student has designed learning modules to show civil engineering in action.

For Matt Wilson, a self-described “super senior” who plans on receiving his degree in civil engineering in December 2006, the question of whether to be or not to be an engineer never seemed to hold much of an option for him. The honest answer, he says, is that his mother repeatedly told him that he was going to be an engineer throughout the first 18 years of his life.

True to his mother’s forecast, and with his love for the outdoors and his disdain for a cubicle future, Wilson made his way from Winfield, Illinois, to Purdue and the School of Civil Engineering. As an ROTC student, he’s committed to spending the next four-and-a-half years in the U.S. Army. But he did want to do something to help recruit students to civil engineering before he left.

Working under the direction of Jason Weiss, an associate professor of civil engineering, Wilson responded to a call to create learning modules for an “Engineering 103” class. Since the start of last summer, he’s created three such modules to teach freshman students the basic concepts of civil engineering. One module-a bridge built from a model train set-allows students to perform a forensic-type investigation of a real-life viaduct collapse. “Each of the four legs leads to a scale, and we’re able to induce a wind load and study what causes the collapse,” he says.

Wilson also helped create scenarios where students would build bridges out of LEGOs, and even work out the logistics of the construction process. “They can actually sell back the pieces they don’t use,” Wilson says. “It’s a lot like scheduling on a construction site and figuring out efficient practices.”

Finally, Wilson ended his summer building a replica of a miniature city to showcase a new product that can radically reduce big-city pollution.

“Smog Eating” (or titanium dioxide) cement has the potential to reduce carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities by up to 50 percent. “Smog actually attaches itself to a building,” Wilson says. “Through a photochemical process with the sun and the concrete, the ‘smog eating’ cement eats that organic material, in effect making it a self-cleaning building.”

Wilson’s miniature city made of the same self-cleaning cement will be sprayed with a red dye, and students will be able to see the buildings go from white to red and back to white. And for a student like Wilson, who intends on practicing his engineering expertise in the great outdoors, there’s not much cooler than a building that eats smog.

–William Meiners