Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

New Naval Architecture Class Inspires Engineering Design

By Anna Fiorentino
April 2014 • CoolStuff

A paddleboard, a whitewater kayak, and a remote controlled catamaran—all were recently created for a never-before-offered independent study called “Principles of Naval Architecture” facilitated by engineering professor Brenden Epps.

What kind of student takes a course in naval architecture? One who started racing sailing dinghies at age eight and competing internationally at 12; by 2011, PhD student Bernard Roesler was on the Dartmouth Varsity Sailing Team while simultaneously training with the US Olympic Development team. Another, Quinn Harper ’14, spent the past two summers working as a manufacturing engineer at different yacht manufacturers and learning about the industry.

“I wanted the chance to learn the design principles behind ship hulls, a topic that is intimately tied to my research and interests,” says Harper.

Naval Architecture students
(l to r) PhD student Bernard Roesler, Quinn Connell Th’14, Professor Brenden Epps, and Quinn Harper ’14

The Principles of Naval Architecture course, based on required reading from the book series with the same name (by the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers), introduced the students to concepts surrounding naval architecture and ship design such as wave theory and wave-body interactions. Harper, Roesler and Quinn Connell Th’14 examined hydrostatics, ship stability, seakeeping and propulsion. From the texts they learned the physics and mathematics underlying the design of vessels.

“Moving forward to the final project, I used the stability analysis and buoyancy calculations from a MATLAB code we developed to design my remote controlled catamaran,” says Harper. “This allowed me to properly size the sail, daggerboards and rudder foils of my scale model, so it would be stable and under control in reasonable wind conditions.”

Connell got this ball rolling after taking “Fluid Dynamics” with Epps last year. Afterwards he approached Epps about setting up the independent study.

“He was very receptive and informed me that Bernard had expressed a similar interest,” says Connell.

Harper joined and Epps created a curriculum that catered to the students’ interests based on MIT open courseware. Since joining Thayer in 2012, Epps has brought vast knowledge of fluid mechanics as it relates to energy systems, which he is using to research efficient propulsion systems and aeroelastic behavior of offshore wind turbines in addition to teaching fluid mechanics courses at Dartmouth.

Epps had the three students fabricate a prototype catamaran for their midterm project, an extension of the SeaPerch educational outreach program developed by the Office of Naval Research. SeaPerch is an underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students across the country, in and out of schools, with resources to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle. The three students also produced a set of teaching materials that will direct high school-age students through the engineering design process. 

“We sought to leave the project more open-ended than the SeaPerch program had in order to give the students experience with the engineering design process,” says Connell. Epps’ goal is to engage high school students with engineering design in a meaningful way, which may inspire them to pursue careers in engineering.

Connell spent last summer and will spend this summer again working for Colorado-based McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, an engineering consulting team designing whitewater parks and performing river restoration. It’s only fitting that for his final project he designed and constructed a whitewater kayak from composite materials. All three students took from their own experiences to improve the design on their boats.

“The shape of the sails is continuously adjustable so we’re constantly solving an optimization problem with all of the tuning adjustments we have available,” says Harper. “While much of this fine tuning is done by feel, I’ve become interested in solving this problem quantitatively by creating faster, more efficient sailboats.”

Tags: curriculum, design, faculty, projects, students

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