Lab course culminates in boat races at Carpenter Sports Building

The subject of fluid mechanics came to life for some engineering students at the University of Delaware on Wednesday, May 10.

Their final exam wasn’t in the lab or the classroom — it took place in the diving well at the Harry Rawstrom Natatorium in the Carpenter Sports Building, when students in Jack Puleo’s one-credit course had to demonstrate the “sea-worthiness” of boats they made using a variety of free, recycled, or cheap materials, including foam pool noodles, duct tape, plywood, caulk, rope and plastic buckets.

“They were tasked with designing an apparatus that could transport two team members across the UD dive pool and back, which is 20 meters each way,” Puleo says. “The main goal was to get them to use concepts of buoyancy and stability and to work in teams to design, develop, and construct the apparatus using a standard iterative design process.”

Puleo’s only stipulations were that the students couldn’t use any ready-made devices like kiddie pools or boats. They also had a budget limit of $75 and had to account for all purchases in their final reports.

“Prof. Puleo wanted us to work collaboratively on a semester-long assignment so that we as students could see our successes come to life in the pool,” says senior Ed Burke. “It was amazing to see how well all of our hard work paid off. This experience is going to prepare me for future endeavors in the field of engineering.”

For Puleo, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the course was about teaching fluid mechanics in a way that would be both educational and fun.

He obviously succeeded.

The vessels bore names like Musk, Tiki Time, Minnesota Twins, Untz Untz, Floods Build-A-Boat, and Quinn and her Friends.

One was christened Lenny’s Disciples, a nod to long-time mechanical engineering professor Len Schwartz, whose face appeared on a sign accompanying the boat.

Hawaiian shirts, gold earrings, pirate flags, baseball uniforms, captain’s hats, and brightly colored leis added to the festive atmosphere.

Although all of the boats were tethered to a rope just in case they sank, the ounce of prevention turned out to be unnecessary. All seven of the boats made it across and back successfully, so all were winners in Puleo’s view.