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Mechanical engineering students to investigate plastics upcycling via new course

Mechanical engineering students to investigate plastics upcycling via new course

Authors: Baylee Demuth and Colleen Carow

Mechanical engineering students will have a new hands-on opportunity next academic year to explore plastics upcycling, thanks to an Ohio University Undergraduate Experiential Learning Stewardship Grant awarded to Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Andrew Weems.

The grants are offered by OHIO’s University College to faculty, staff and student organizations who are developing new or expanded experiential learning opportunities. Weems, who received $13,370, created a new laboratory exploration course, ME 4900/5900 (Advanced Materials Processing and Characterization) that enable students to investigate plastics upcycling via 3D printing studies – and expanding the process into green/sustainable engineering processes.

“We hope to get some nice results, and to get students really good hands-on experience -- then work to justify further funding that will allow us to purchase a larger printer or to collaborate with companies in the Columbus area and look at recycling on a commercial scale,” Weems said.

Weems will use the grant funds to purchase a variety of baseline equipment, such as glassware and consumables – in addition to processing equipment like a 3D printer and materials to make filament or shred plastics. The hands-on component will focus on process optimization and exploring different recycling strategies, both of which are current industry considerations.

“Students will experience the differences in those processes to see why we make some of the decisions that we do as a community when we think about recycling,” Weems said.

Weems’ collaborator, Assistant Professor of Engineering Technology and Management Jesús Pagán, has been working with 3D printing contractor IC3D of Columbus, Ohio.

“The experience of working with recycled plastics and developing how they’re going to be able to be used or reused becomes a challenge for students,” Pagán said.

Greg Kremer, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, says experiential learning is increasingly important in this area of study.

“Plastics upcycling is a huge need, and one that will resonate with our students,” Kremer said. “I look forward to these activities enhancing student learning in our programs and opening their eyes to how engineers can create for good.”

Weems hopes to contribute to educating better engineers – those who will be ready to go into industry, think critically and fully function as engineers.

“You can always stand up in front of a classroom, talk to people and watch their eyes roll back into their heads,” Weems said. “But if you really want people to engage, I think you need to take the first step to engage with them, to give them something that they can put their hands on.”