Category Archives: Design Challenge

Design Challenge Winners Honored at Fab Lab

“You won’t believe the energy and atmosphere you’ll experience at the Fab Lab. Watching young people design, fabricate, and create makes me feel optimistic about our future and humanity.”
~ Elena Ziu, NOVA Physics Professor


In early May, students who emerged victorious in NOVA’s 6th biannual Design Challenge were honored at an awards ceremony held at the Fab Lab. This year’s challenge tasked middle school, high school, and post-secondary students with designing products to improve the well-being of animals.

Entries were evaluated based on creativity, aesthetics, feasibility, and effectiveness. The competition welcomed middle school, high school, homeschool, and post-secondary students, allowing both individual participants and teams of up to three.

David De Costa, a student from Bishop Ireton High School, earned the grand champion title with his innovative “FoxWatch.” Recognizing the essential role that foxes play in the ecosystem and the dangers they face from fast-moving vehicles, David designed a device to help protect them. “I came up with this idea after noticing all the dead animals on the side of the road. I was inspired to create something to prevent that, and I hope my design will succeed,” David explained.

The “FoxWatch” features two concave parabolic mirrors: one shaped like a fox and the other resembling a traditional street warning sign. These mirrors reflect the headlights of oncoming cars to the sides of the road, especially at night when foxes are most active. The reflected light aims to momentarily dazzle the fox with brightness until the vehicle has passed. This system also enhances the visibility of foxes and other animals for drivers, thereby creating a safer environment for all.

As the grand champion, David received a Prusa MK4 3D printer, while the division champions were each awarded a Prusa Mini+ 3D printer.

Hauris Choudhry, representing NOVA, won the College Winner title with his creation, “HexaHive,” designed to promote honey bee habitats. Given the critical role honeybees play in the ecosystem and agriculture, and the challenges they face due to declining populations, Hauris crafted a compact and affordable 3D design of a bee colony. He modeled it after the traditional commercial bee box but included additional features. “I came up with the idea while driving through downtown Fairfax. I noticed all the apartments without backyards and thought a bee box could be a way to bring nature to the balconies,” Hauris explained.

Sean Fajardo from West Springfield High School won the High School Winner award for his “Bird Blocker” design, which aims to reduce the millions of bird deaths annually due to collisions or electrocutions. As urban development and deforestation displace birds, they are forced to nest in hazardous areas like power lines and wind turbines.

Sean’s design, made from wood and reflective metal, is cost-effective and easy to assemble. The “Bird Blocker” is placed between power line conductors to deter birds from landing, thanks to the reflective surface, encouraging them to relocate to safer areas. “I’m surprised that I won since my design is simple and can easily be made with wood, but maybe that’s what makes it a good design,” Sean said.

Middle School Winners Avery Woods and Marla Bud from The Potomac School devised “NailedIt!” after surveying classmates who own dogs about nail trimming, a task many dogs dislike, including Marla’s. They designed a clear, plastic box with a piece of sandpaper on top. Dogs scratch the top to reach a treat inside, which files their nails in the process.

Hudson Walker from the Academies of Loudoun High School received an honorable mention for his “Turtle Tunnel.” This design consists of two quarter-circle pieces that can be joined to form a safe tunnel for baby turtles traveling from land to sea, protecting them from predators and guiding their path. “I focused on the feasibility aspect of the design,” Hudson explained. “There are many coasts worldwide, so I aimed to create something affordable that can be mass-produced anywhere with a very simple design.”

Judges included Gillian Backsu, Ph.D., a NOVA biology professor; David Tuohey, a senior process engineer at BAE Systems in Manassas; and Dr. Bonnie Lefbom, a scientist, leader, and philanthropist.

Physics Professor Elena Ziu and her son Mihai, both avid participants in the NOVA Makers community, along with the Fab Lab staff, supported students throughout their design challenge journey. A big thank you to them, the judges, and our sponsor, BAE Systems!

Spotlight on a NOVA Design Challenge Award Winner

Tariq Aldalou, winner in the post-secondary division, brought in some middle eastern enrichment with his design.

Tariq triumphed in the Design Challenge by creating a unique musical instrument inspired by his origins in Damascus, Syria. He designed a Mini-Oud, a variant of the Arabic Oud, that resembles a lute.

Aldalou’s version, crafted from PLA (polylactic acid filament) using a 3D printer, measures 60cm by 30cm (an Oud traditionally measures 67cm by 36cm). It features lasercut wood hexagon sound holes and maintains the conventional 11 strings of a traditional Oud. To preserve its authenticity, he applied a matte finish and included dust remnants from the sanding process, also creating two smaller prototypes.

Encouraging participation, Tariq advises, “Join the challenge, even if you’re starting from scratch or your tools aren’t perfect. It’s all about learning and growing. My friends and I, despite time constraints, are eager to dive in, ready to embrace mistakes as part of our progress. We encourage everyone to get involved and explore, even with the simplest of ideas.”

Tariq initially got involved when he sought guidance for an engineering project from his physics professor, Francesca Viale. She recommended utilizing the resources at the Fab Lab.

After completing the NOVA Makers course on Canvas, Aldalou took an in-person class led by Kai Le, an evening support specialist. He also received aid from Mihai Ziu, a dual-enrolled high school student, in mastering the Tinkercard program and Autodesk Fusion 360 software.

Additionally, he took an online Zoom course taught by Ziu to become proficient in the Prusa slicer. Currently, he dedicates two evenings a week, from 5 pm to 9 pm, to his lab projects.

Aldalou shared, “I’m involved in various projects, including circuit design and signal transmission. I tend to procrastinate, but the deadline for the design challenge kept me focused.”

With the design challenge behind him, Aldalou is now focusing on a remote-controlled plane project, echoing his childhood passion for making and selling toy planes in Syria. In those days, he applied simple mathematics and basic materials like glue sticks, A4 paper, pens, scissors, and paper clips to bring his creations to life.

Pursuing degrees in engineering and math, Aldalou’s initial career aspirations leaned towards piloting. However, frequent relocations and a desire for family time shifted his focus to computer engineering, fueled by his love for math and experience in building computers in Lebanon.

He credits his NOVA success to professors like Viale and Chinthaka Hettitantri, his calculus instructor, and appreciates the ongoing support from his high school counselor, Michael Todd, and the Fab Lab team, especially Kai Le.

Aldalou aims to graduate from NOVA this year with associate degrees in engineering and math, planning to transfer to George Mason University for a bachelor’s degree in computer science. His ultimate goal is a PhD in mathematics, aspiring to make significant contributions to quantum computing.

 

Design Challenge Winners Awarded

In early February, winning students for NOVA’s 5th bi-annual Design Challenge were honored at an award ceremony at the Fab Lab. The challenge this time was for middle school, high school, and post-secondary students to design and fabricate a unique musical instrument.

Mary Ratcliff, Fab Lab coordinator and organizer of this year’s challenge, said, “I didn’t realize I had put together the toughest challenge yet. Not only did I ask students to create a one-of-a-kind unique product, but I also required that it produce repeatable, predictable sounds.”

There were awards for participants at each school level, with NOVA students Ethan Cortes and Tariq Aldalou taking home the grand champion and post-secondary division titles, respectively.

Ethan Cortes from NOVA was named the Grand Champion with his innovative creation, the “Tri-Blown.” With a deep passion for brass instruments, Ethan designed an instrument that covers the full spectrum of brass sounds. Made from 3D printed PLA and tubing, the “Tri-Blown” can switch between three tubes and adjustable mouthpieces, emulating the deep resonance of a tuba, the rich tones of a trombone, and the bright notes of a trumpet—all in one instrument.

Cortes enthusiastically recommends the Design Challenge, noting his efforts to encourage participation among his STEM friends, despite their time constraints. He found the experience both enjoyable and educational, enhancing his skills in 3D printing and Autodesk Inventor design. “Winning aside, the experience has been incredibly valuable for my education and future. I’m grateful for being named the grand champion and look forward to involving my friends in the next event,” he said.

Tariq Aldalou, representing NOVA, clinched the Design Challenge title in the Post-Secondary Division with his innovative Mini Oud, made from 3D printed PLA and laser-cut wood. Tariq’s creation raises the bar for future competitions. Encouraging participation, Tariq advises, “Join the challenge, even if you’re starting from scratch or your tools aren’t perfect. It’s all about learning and growing. My friends and I, despite time constraints, are eager to dive in, ready to embrace mistakes as part of our progress. We encourage everyone to get involved and explore, even with the simplest of ideas.”

Sawyer Degregori and Trevor MacDuffee from Woodgrove High School were crowned the High School Division Champions for their creation, the “Double Quena.” Made from PVC, their design offers a contemporary twist on one of the oldest known instruments, the whistle, resulting in a flute-like instrument that has gained popularity within their school. Trevor shared, “All of the band students have really enjoyed playing it.”

Max Choe, representing Kilmer Middle School, was named the Middle School Division Champion for his creation, the “Air Keys.” Crafted from 3D printed PLA and integrated with microelectronics, this innovative instrument features small caps for the fingers. By flexing the fingers within these caps, users can produce sounds reminiscent of piano keys. The “Air Keys” stand out for their creative design, merging technology and traditional musical elements in a novel way.

The panel of judges for the challenge included Ilya Tëmkin, a professor at NOVA; Justin Owen, the NOVA IET CTE Coordinator; Chris Russell, Project Manager for the Information and Technologies division at NOVA; and David Tuohey, a Senior Process Engineer at BAE Systems in Manassas. BAE Systems has generously supported the design challenges through financial sponsorship since 2022.

Opened in January 2020, the Fab Lab stands as a premier makerspace welcoming students, faculty, staff from NOVA, and the broader educational community. It is dedicated to enhancing knowledge of digital fabrication by providing access to advanced fabrication techniques and 3D modeling training. The Fab Lab focuses on Design Thinking and problem-solving to foster innovation skills, launching a design challenge in Spring 2021 to encourage creative solutions to a specific issue.

The Next Challenge

Looking ahead to the next event, Physics Professor Elena Ziu and her son, Mihai, both avid NOVA Makers, will be lending their expertise to the upcoming spring design challenge. This challenge calls for participants to design a product to help improve the well-being of an animal.

Entries will be evaluated based on creativity, aesthetics, feasibility, and effectiveness. The competition is open to middle school, high school, homeschool, and post-secondary students, welcoming individual participants or teams of up to three.

The submission deadline is set for April 14. The Grand Champion will be awarded a Prusa MK4 3D Printer, while each Division Champion will receive a Prusa Mini+. For more details and to submit your entry, visit: https://www.nvcc.edu/academics/divisions/iet/fablab.html.

Spring Fab Lab Design Challenge Winners Awarded

Congratulations to the winners of the Spring ’23 NOVA Fab Lab Design Challenge!

The theme for this semester was Upcycling, where we challenged college, high school, and middle school students to use their innovative skills to design a product that reuses discarded objects or materials to create a product of usefulness and quality.

Grand prize winners Anirudh Holavanahalli, Rohan Matta, and Ajay Penugonda designed tires into a functional bookshelf, called “HigherTire”. They were awarded $1000 to split and their product was fabricated by the Fab Lab staff.

Anirudh Holavanahalli reflected “I like the concept of the design challenge and I’m also happy with the design that we as a team created. We reused old tires and added some wood and mechanics. I really like how the design looks, it’s hard to create. [The fabrication] looks exact and identical.

Fellow grand champion Rohan Matta added “I really like the design challenge because you don’t really see these types of upcycle designs, where it’s not just about how cool it looks. I never thought the final product would come out this good.”
Northern Virginia Community College students were well represented in the post-secondary division. Champion Makayla Draper participated in her second design challenge, also winning last Fall, and said she enjoyed “the theory aspect of this challenge.” Fellow NOVA compatriot Joe Le Sage also enjoyed the challenge, saying “it was fun to participate. I needed an excuse to design something and this was a good excuse.”

Mary Ratcliff, one of our Fab Lab Coordinators, started at NOVA in the fall and from week one was involved in conceptualizing the upcycling idea for the challenge and spearheading the logistics of communicating with participants and fabricating the product alongside Fab Lab Coordinator Richard Sewell and technician David Burn.

Ratcliff said “the Spring Design Challenge Awards Ceremony was a celebration of creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness. Winners from middle school, high school, and post-secondary divisions were honored for their imaginative, yet practical applications of upcycling. Wood pallets, CDs, and plastic bottles were just a few of the transformed materials incorporated into the winning designs. Congratulations to all Spring Design Challenge participants!”

One of the judges, John Hicks, owner of Fillagreen, loved the sustainability potential for upcycled products and reflected on his involvement:

“It was a great experience to see the creativity and thought leaders in today’s students. I look forward to seeing the great positive impact these participants will make on the world! Sustainability is within reach and is attainable through small steps.”

Thank you to our sponsors and community partners BAE Systems, Inc., Micron Technology, and Fillagreen as well as our judges John Hicks, David Tuohey, and Jim Crane.

We will be announcing our next Fab Lab Design Challenge in the Fall. For updates sign up for our monthly IET Newsletter at newsletter.novastem.us

#WeDoSTEM #DesignThinking #Upcycling