Mechanical Engineering Trio Uses STEM to Create Eyeglasses
BATON ROUGE – Almost daily, people lose something of importance—keys, wallet, or phone—but imagine misplacing an item that allows you the freedom to live life to its fullest.
Students at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired in Baton Rouge fight this battle every day, either losing or breaking their glasses. As the saying goes, money doesn’t grow on trees, so many of the students must go months or even a year without their only means of sight.
Helping fill this visual void are three LSU Mechanical Engineering students who have designed temporary spectacles for LSVI students until they are able to purchase a real pair. LSU ME seniors Macie Coker of Chalmette, La.; and April Gaydos of Hammond, La.; along with ME sophomore Lucy Guo of Baton Rouge; have spent their free time this semester working on a project that will benefit nearly half of the 75 students at LSVI.
It all started when LSVI Director Leslie Bello spoke to Heather Lavender, education coordinator with LSU’s Consortium for Innovation in Manufacturing and Materials (CIMM), about potential projects LSU Engineering students could work on that would help LSVI. Bello suggested creating glasses.
“With a lot of these kids, they’re taping their glasses together or just holding them up all day,” Bello said. “It could be months to a year before they can get new glasses. The success of this will alleviate this problem.”
“I then contacted Adrienne Steele [LSU Society of Peer Mentors staff advisor] and said I was looking for students to join me in this project,” Lavender said. “When Adrienne found the students, I contacted them and explained what we’re trying to do and what it would mean to those LSVI students, and by the way, can you just volunteer your time to do this? And these wonderful students said yes!”
“The three of us were contacted and all agreed that we were interested in the project,” said Gaydos, LSU SPM president. “The ultimate goal is for every kid’s glasses to be scanned once they start school, and their scans saved in a file that can be pulled up if they break their glasses down the road. The scan can then be used to print a pair of temporary glasses.”
Though LSVI has the equipment needed to do this, the ME students are finding the most cost-effective, proficient way of scanning and printing and will also train the LSVI staff, and possibly a few LSVI students, on how to use the machines.
“We’re trying to bridge that gap and use our knowledge and resources to figure out what’s best for them to move forward,” Gaydos said.
“What I like about this project is it brings you back to those volunteer days from high school,” said Coker, a Dominican High School graduate. “It’s something that is for a really good cause. Not only does it promote STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] to these kids at a really young age, it’s something that’s benefitting them.”
Thanks to the equipment in LSU’s Chevron Center for Engineering Education in Patrick F. Taylor Hall, the ME students are able to use a 3D-modeling program called SolidWorks to scan a pair of real glasses. The scan is converted into a model, which is then printed using a 3D printer. The printing takes melted ABS plastic and builds layers into the pattern of the glasses.
“Whenever you have students that are motivated to do something, and do something extra that’s going to benefit someone, my thinking is, let’s try to facilitate that,” said David “Boz” Bowles, a technical communications instructor who runs the Chevron Center and principal investigator on the project.
“For mechanical engineering students, it’s not just some theoretical thing; it’s a project with an impact in the community,” Bowles said. “It’s forcing them to learn a lot of things—not only the possibilities, but also the limitations of these technologies.”
The ME students plan on meeting with LSVI students this month to show them the project they’re working on and set up a training session with LSVI staff and students that will take place in August.
“I have a student in 10th grade who scored a 30 on the ACT and a 35 in science,” Bello said. “So, in my mind, this would be the perfect opportunity to challenge him.”
“I feel like this is a good chance to reach out to the community,” Coker said. “I think the reason engineers have that drive or pull towards the community and service is that we get this stigma of being behind a desk and being quiet and introverted all day. We solve problems, slide them under the door, and that’s that. But this is a chance to make people’s lives better and make engineers a little more personable than we get a reputation for being.”
The students are also learning how to work with many people on a single project, as well as use tools they learned in their LSU Engineering classes.
“I’m learning the importance of effective communication, which is incredibly important in engineering,” Coker said. “From working in a refinery, I learned how important it is that the contractor has all of the information that the refinery does when they’re working on projects. Carrying that over into this project, it’s the same—that LSVI knows what’s going on at LSU.”
“Being a part of a project that has a direct impact on my surrounding community is something that I am extremely grateful to contribute towards,” Guo said. “I get to utilize the concepts I learned in my engineering classes and incorporate them into something productive that will visibly improve someone’s life. Knowing that makes this project well worth the effort for me.”
Contact: Libby Haydel