From a workstation prototype that will improve the working conditions for operating room nurses to an infrastructure system designed to protect communities from natural disasters, interdisciplinary teams of Virginia Tech students fueled by university funding are finding creative solutions to real-world problems.

Innovative projects by four undergraduate student teams received support through funding provided by the university’s Creativity and Innovation Strategic Growth Area. Administered by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, the Creativity and Innovation Strategic Growth Area explores innovative technologies and the design of creative experiences to develop impact-driven and meaningful outcomes and solutions. It is helping to build and strengthen creative communities, support economic development, and create entrepreneurial opportunities.

Virginia Tech’s Strategic Growth Areas, along with its Destination Areas, were created to combine the university’s existing academic and research strengths with innovative transdisciplinary teams, tools, and processes to empower students and faculty to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.

Fourteen student teams with members representing six colleges at Virginia Tech applied for awards of up to $1,500 through the competitive submission process. To encourage collaboration, the submission guidelines required that teams must include a minimum of three students from at least two different colleges.

“With this funding opportunity, we’ve challenged Virginia Tech undergraduates to step up and take the lead in finding real solutions for real problems,” explained Ben Knapp, director of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and member of the Creativity and Innovation Strategic Growth Area stakeholder committee. “We’ve challenged them to be creative and innovative, and to reach out to their peers in other academic disciplines to collaborate. And they’ve accepted our challenge with energy, enthusiasm, and passion.”

The teams that received awards were:

Redshift: Virtual Reality Project-Based Learning

The team is creating virtual reality software and project-based lessons that teachers could use in their classrooms. A student-centered teaching method that allows students to actively explore real-world problems in depth, project-based learning fosters creativity and teamwork, while improving leadership, communication, and critical-thinking skills. Many schools do not have adequate funding, materials, or space to offer this type of learning, but virtual reality technology could give schools access to a wide range of projects that would require only a modest amount of space. The funding will help the team build a virtual-reality system prototype and create a pilot lesson to share with local teachers for testing.    

Student team: Maria Jernigan, a triple major in philosophy, Spanish, and theatre arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; Dillon Cutaiar, a computer science major in the College of Engineering; Mark Carman, a computer engineering major in the College of Engineering; and Jonason Huang, a mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering.

Faculty advisor: Joseph Pitt, professor in the Department of Philosophy, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Circulating Nurse Workstation

Through some initial user research at LewisGale Hospital Montgomery in Blacksburg, the project team discovered that many of the operating room workstations used by circulating nurses did not adequately meet the demands of an unpredictable operating room environment. They found these workstations are not adjustable for both standing and sitting, have no armrests, and face a wall instead of the surgery area. The team is designing a mobile circulation nurse workstation prototype that will not only address these issues, but will be compact, maneuverable, and able to be easily sanitized.

Student team: Eric Bottlesen, an industrial design major in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Jacob Tessier, an industrial design major in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Eric Lord, an industrial design major in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Matthew Moneghan, a mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering.

Faculty advisor: Akshay Sharma, associate professor and chair of the industrial design program, College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Bar None Insulated Apparel

Inspired by the walrus, which stays warm in subarctic water because of its body fat, this team is creating ski gloves augmented with packets of fatty acids in the fingers, which can trap and retain heat three times more effectively than conventional ski gloves. The funding will help the team continue its work to find an even more-efficient blend of fatty acids to capture and reflect heat, as well as explore the use of other technologies to improve the gloves’ effectiveness.

Student team: Chad Nexon, a marketing major in the Pamplin College of Business; John Hearney, an industrial and systems engineering major in the College of Engineering; and Daniel Rossi, a material science engineering major in the College of Engineering.

Faculty advisor: Mark Mondry, assistant professor of management, Pamplin College of Business.

The Mudline

A devastating mudslide in Montecito, California, recently claimed the lives of 21 victims. As the area rebuilds, this team of students is developing a strategy to help prevent future tragedies. Using the idea of resilient infrastructure – meaning, a structure that can withstand disturbances while keeping its basic function and capacity – the group is designing a diversion channel, which is an inhabitable space featuring a forest of columns that collect water during normal conditions and is swept away during a mudslide. The system would accommodate the area’s varied environmental needs, providing usable water during times when access to fresh water is needed and protecting the community from future debris flow. The area would also serve as a shared park space for the community.

Team members: Airiel Barrientos, a landscape architecture major in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Jack O’Brien, a water resources major in the College of Natural Resources and Environment; Casey Hunt, an architecture major in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Tyler Park, an architecture major in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; and Angela Zhang, an architecture major in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Faculty advisor: Katie McDonald, collegiate assistant professor of architecture, College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

All of the student projects will be featured during ICAT Creativity and Innovation Day on April 30 at the Moss Arts Center. The annual event showcases the work of faculty, students, and community members who are crossing traditional boundaries to develop new possibilities for exploration, expression, and creativity.