Biomimicry in Urban Architecture – By Keon Tavakoli EDI’21

Adapt by Amina Khan. The presentation dived deeper into Chapter 8 – Cities as Ecosystems: Building A More Sustainable Society

Every few weeks EDI fellows are split into three groups and each group is assigned a chapter from the book Adapt by Amina Khan. This blog post will discuss one of the presentations from the past week. The topic of the presentation was biomimicry, the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. Patrick McElroy EDI’19, Frances Harrington EDI’19, Connor Holland EDI’19, Kevin Smedley EDI’19, and AJ Keels EDI’21 put together a very appealing presentation.

Their presentation specifically focused on current examples and potential implementations of biomimicry in cities around the world. They provided several examples of biomimicry in our Hampton Roads area, including a CHKD hospital in Norfolk and the Brock

CHKD Hospital

Center in Virginia Beach. The CHKD hospital displays fish on the floor in part the hospital, and the fish react to any passerbys by avoiding their steps and swimming away. This simple implementation of nature in our community helps to calm down nervous kids before a procedure or provide a fun distraction for kids walking away from one. Another example, the Brock Center, was built next to Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach and the natural scene coupled with the

The Brock Center, Virginia Beach, VA

extremely green power of the building promote the center’s mission to make the world more eco-friendly. This tribute to the natural world implements biomimicry in the sense that the building itself was built near the beach. Being surrounded by

Keon Tavakoli ’21

nature further represents the foundation’s commitment to making the world more like nature, the same goal biomimicry attempts to accomplish. Each of these buildings act as optimistic precedents for a more natural world in the future.

A Hackathon Hosted by the Seniors – Written by Kevin Smedley EDI’19

By Kevin Smedley EDI’19

This past Thursday, February 5th, the senior EDI fellows ran a hackathon for the younger fellows and the directors. The seniors designed this Hackathon around the concepts of sustainability and eco-friendliness, as every day, we use various things that affect the environment in a negative way. Many of these things also produce an excessive amount of waste. For this hackathon, the seniors wanted teams of EDI fellows and directors to design a compact product that people (and more specifically students) could use, with a focus on reducing any possible negative effects toward the environment. At the end of the project, two things must be presented: a CAD design of the product and a rough physical prototype that demonstrates how it would work. Each team had to explain why students would want to use their product and why it would make their lives more environmentally friendly.

Each team of three was provided the following materials to create their prototypes: cardboard, straws, rubber bands, glue, and cardstock. We, the Seniors, judged each team on their design and quality of their presentation. We were focused on two main categories for our judging: eco-friendlines and why students would want to use it.

The seniors were presented with 4 designs: a biodegradable syringe, a smart water bottle, a fidget spinner phone charger, and a urinal

Schematic of the urine battery technology that already exists. Figure Borrowed from Walter et al. 2017 Applied Energy <>

urine battery. The biodegradable syringe came in first place as the presentation was

Schematic of Urine Battery Internal Structure. Figure taken from Walter et al. 2016 Biotech for Biofuels. <>

beautifully executed and the idea was very creative. The smart water bottle, which provided a tracker to show you how much water you drank throughout the day as well as a hatch to expel water for plants, came in second place with a smooth presentation. In third place came the unconventional fidget spinner which could power a phone similar to a hand cranked flashlight. The team of directors used materials other than those listed in the guidelines and were thus placed last. However, their design for a urine battery which could be implemented in bathrooms to power the lights was highly innovative and was a brilliant implementation of a normal urine battery.

A Model for Modeling: ODU’s Dr. McKenzie and the Engineering of Simulation by Patrick McElroy ’19

Dr. McKenzie, Department Chair of Modelling and Visual Simulation at ODU
The Robot from ODU in the Hawaiian Competition

By Patrick McElroy EDI’19

On Wednesday, January 24, the EDI Fellows had to privilege of hearing from Dr. McKenzie, the chair of the Modelling and Visual Simulations Engineering department at Old Dominion University. The field of study is relatively new, especially as an undergraduate program like it is at ODU. However, as a branch of engineering, it is broadly applicable. Dr. McKenzie presented examples that ranged from game physics engines, war simulations, a birthing simulator, to even a system for drug administration, all of which utilized Modeling and Visual Simulation in some way. It can be used for such various purposes because of its nature as a general problem solving tool, with Dr. McKenzie referring to it as “problem solving on steroids”.

As we move into the future, this kind of modelling technology will only become more crucial and integral to companies, schools, and labs. Dr. McKenzie pointed out that a lot of the underlying theory behind this major was put in place in the early 90’s, but at that point, the field lacked the computational power. As our computers continue to grow more and more powerful, we will be able to model increasingly complex systems with more accurate results. But even today, places like ODU are reaping the benefits of an education in modelling and simulation. The undergraderatues in ODU’s Modelling and Visual Simulation Department have seen success in a variety of areas, with one team even winning money as part of a autonomous boat competition in Hawaii. In the future of this competition, they hope to be able to build the entire environment within a simulation and test a virtual model of their boat within it.

The branch of engineering that Dr. McKenzie introduced us to was interesting in itself, but I think it was also useful for us because many of us, especially the seniors, who are in the midst of deciding their future discipline. Seeing this example of a powerful and yet non-traditional engineering majors gave a lot of us a new perspective on engineering as a whole, and what we might be interested in more specifically pursuing. Thanks again to Dr. McKenzie for coming and talking to us, and giving us such an in-depth look at this field!

Blog Post about Speaker, Kim Jenks

In October, we invited Kim Jenks to skype with us about her career as an aerospace engineer. She gave us a very engaging and informative insight on her journey in becoming an aerospace engineer. She also provided many helpful tips if we were also interested in pursuing a career in engineering.

An aerospace engineer designs, builds, and tests aircraft, spacecraft, rockets, and missiles. Jenks herself currently specializes in missiles. She was initially interested in becoming an aerospace engineer because of her interests in astronomy and physics. Through college courses at UCLA, she cemented her plan on becoming an aerospace engineer. A typical day in her work life can vary. It can include technical and/or social tasks including developing simulation code, analyzing data, improving efficiency in manufacturing, testing hardware, and other responsibilities. These tasks could also include traveling to other places.

She then explained the different requirements and expectations of an aerospace engineer. An aerospace engineer must have honed critical thinking and problem solving skills to help analyze and improve designs, must have a drive to improve not only oneself but also the company, and must have the ability to cooperate with others effectively in a team dynamic. She also recommended joining school clubs such as a robotics team and to focus on certain subjects throughout school including obvious courses like math, physics, and programming. She also explained that a proficiency in English is very important in engineering for expressing results to others. Becoming an aerospace engineer requires at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but certain disciplines such as focuses on systems and control, aerodynamics, and propulsion require a master’s degree.  Some real-world skills can also be obtained through means of internships and research, but training in the industry comes from hands-on experiences.

Jenks has thoroughly enjoyed her career as an aerospace engineer. From her career, she has been able to do many fun activities like designing and building model airplanes, rockets, and robots, launching a weather balloon, and taking flight lessons. She has also found her career to be very rewarding from doing meaningful work, working with great team members, and being able to travel and explore the world.

Overall, it was very inspiring to learn about her career as an aerospace engineer, and we took a lot of great advice from her journey.

Hydroponic Garden Update by Charlie Walker ’21

Hydroponic Garden

In September 2017, Jarod Haley CB’20 came to us with an idea of building a hydroponic garden. We held a hackathon (a design challenge) where two groups designed prototypes for the structure. When the initial design challenge was completed,  Jarod, with the supervision of Dr. Vallery, Dr. Call, and Mr. Howard, chose a design which best resembled the structure he had in mind. After this process, we created a more in-depth, accurate prototype in early January 2018. From this point on, we stopped working on the project until the summer of 2018.

Over the summer of 2018, we, the sophomore EDI cohort, built the frame of  the structure. Throughout this process, we learned from our mistakes during this phase and solutions were found, enabling the frame to be built.

At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, Keon Tavakoli and I adopted the project as our own and are currently working on finishing this project, the acrylic piece that goes on top of the base-frame.  We are finalizing the design of the acrylic top by eliminating present flaws which hinder the design. Keon and I have recently finished our CAD (computer assisted design) for the structure and are in the process of collecting materials and measurements to begin the next phase of the project – seeking advice on our CAD design and then approaching a local acrylic company to build it. We intend to seek out advice from professional engineers who work with acrylic, wood, and will give assistance with plumbing.

After the collection of this information, Keon and I will contact a local organization named NorVa plastics to build the acrylic tub needed for the structure.  Once completed, the garden will grow edible plants with the purpose of being sent to local food banks in the area. Jarod intends all this work to be an effort of giving back to the community and providing fresh produce to food banks.  We are happy to collaborate with him on this endeavor.

EDI After School Activity – Maguire McMahon ’20

My name is Maguire McMahon and I am a 2020 EDI Fellow at Norfolk Academy. This fall I have been working with Sarah Haugh, another EDI 2020 Fellow, on incorporating a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) resource into the aftercare program for fourth through sixth graders, or 9 through 11 year olds.  Our plan is to make a fun and safe environment for the children to be able to fail and also learn. Our goal is to teach the kids to work under the pressure of a time limit, to stress creative thinking and teamwork, and to guide the kids to see everyday objects differently. Additionally, through exercises we expose them to prototype thinking. We plan on launching our first program the second week after winter break, and continue the program through the rest of the year.

Hackathon on a Water Pump for the Fall Play by Frances Harrington ’19

Post by Frances Harrington ’19

Early this year, Ms. Bisi approached us to design and build a working hand pump for the Fall play. The Fall play this year is The Miracle Worker which is about Helen Kel

ler’s journey. Although Ms. Bisi had already purchased one, the design was faulty as it leaked and required priming which meant inconvenience. Priming a pump means eliminating anyexcess air from the chamber. Should the pump have required priming on stage, actors would have to worry about this imp

ortant part of the play not working when the scene has already starter.

We split into three groups and spent our hour and a half designing hand pumps. First, it was important to educate ourselves on the way hand pumps work. This required research initially. We used the internet to search for explanations on the workings of a successful hand pump.

Hand pumps require a chamber for the water with a handle attached. When the handle is brought up, the pressure increases within, so when the handle is pushed back down, the water pulls up and out through the spicket. Additionally, the water needed to go back into the chamber so the water did not fall on the stage or need to be replenished.

After we felt we understood how it works, we researched hand pumps that had already been built to identify any important points to remember or any potential design flaws. Additionally, others researched blueprints for hand pumps.

Towards the end, all of our findings were combined to make a design that produced a working hand pump lacking leakage and requiring minimal priming. During her lunch time, Ms. Bisi came to listen to our presentations. Currently, Sebastian Singh ‘19 is working on building the actual pump.

Moment of Inertia Project Update – By Olivia Danielson ’21

Post written by Olivia Danielson ’21

On April 3, 2018, Dr. Call presented a project for a couple of the 2021 fellows. He needed six 3D-printed models, comprised of five cylinders and one sphere, to demonstrate inertia for his Physics class. Inertia is the resistance of a body to change its momentum. What Dr. Call is going to demonstrate with our models is the moment of inertia, which is a measurement of how hard it is to change the shapes’ rotation rate. The way to measure that is by using this equation:

I = ∑m(i)r(i)2

The models were either solid or hollow. Solid meant that it had a 5%-25% infill, which could be changed when it came time for the shapes to be sliced. For a hollow circle, it needed an inner cylindrical hole that extended through the bases of the cylinder, creating a hole from the top to the bottom of the Cylinder.


We created all of these shapes using TinkerCAD, which is a “3D design and modeling tool” that one can use online. After we finish designing the models through TinkerCAD, we slice the shapes in Curia, which means getting the shapes ready to be printed. The printer that we use is 

a 3D printer called Ultimaker 3 Extended. Three out of the five cylinders and the sphere have the same radius of 5cm while the other cylinder has a 7cm radius. For all the cylinders except for one, the mass should be within 10g of each other. We aimed for around 103g. So far we have four cylinders done and one that is currently being printed. We plan to finish this project in early October.

3D-Printed Table Saw Guard – Update by Caitlin Johnson ’21

In late March 2018, Charlie, AJ, Keon, and I began the first week of the Table Saw Project. We met with Mr. Barton to design a 3D printed table saw guard with a larger rectangular slot so that he could place his largest saw blade in it, because the current slot is too small. The DADO Blade, the largest saw blade is used to cut elegant notches and etches into pieces of wood.

Because the 3D printer is too small, we used TinkerCad, a 3D printing software, to design two halves, which will be secured with glue and an interlocking mechanism. We finished the design in TinkerCad in Week 2, and in Week 3 and 4 we printed the first prototype (Figure 1). For reference, each half can fit inside the palm of your hand.        

In Week 5, we had planned to print the final guard within three weeks, but needed to wait 

for more 3D filament to arrive. During this time, our group presented the project to the Senior and Junior cohorts and discussed ideas towards improving the prototype. By end of the Spring semester, the filament still hadn’t arrived, so we made more progress in the 2018 Fall Semester. 

In early September, the group split, and Keon and Charlie began to work on a different project. AJ and I moved on to Week 6 and decided to print a full-size half of the next prototype (Figure 2). The extended, rectangular pieces for the interlocking mechanism did not print as part of the rest of the guard, and instead printed as smaller bits. Therefore, I changed the TinkerCad design and began to print the other half (Figure 3), in late September, Week 7.

AJ and I hope to print the first half of the second prototype by early October, Week 8 and 9, and we want to print the final by late October, Week 12.

Silicon Valley Trip 2018 – Apple, Google, and David Yeh NA’16

The 2019 EDI Fellows traveled to Silicon Valley to speak with experts about engineering, design, and innovation.  Here is Kevin Smedley to describe our fifth day. 

Today the fellows gathered at 8 AM to debrief the activities of the previous day over breakfast. We discussed our summer reading book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Tom Kelley. During a period of both personal and group reflection, we connected what we read with what we have seen in California so far.


We then traveled to Apple’s old campus, the Infinite Loop, and met with Griff Derryberry who gave us a tour. Following a short visit through the campus featuring modern-architecture, we sat down to eat at Apple’s cafe and were joined by Tom, Griff’s coworker. Together we had a meaningful talk about life, careers, and what the EDI fellows have been working on this past year.

At Tom’s recommendation, our group traveled with Griff over to Apple Park, their newest campus. The visitor center provided shopping, an augmented reality display of the park next door, and a sight of the enormous ring-shaped facility.


With little time left until our tour at Google, Griff brought us to one last Apple building, the surfboard, a short distance from the Park. Inside we got to see the evolution of Mac computers and watch engineers take some apart to show us how the hardware has changed over time. With just enough time to make it to Google through the bay area’s traffic, we left the facility and dropped Griff back off at Infinite Loop where he works.


After Patrick successfully navigated us to our building at Google, the team was greeted by Arille Jeriza Virrey who gave us another great tour. We did not get to see GooglePlex, their main building, but we were shown multiple buildings on site and got the “Googlely” feel of the campus. In one of the buildings, the group was split up into two conference rooms and video chatted to get a similar feel to a lot of Google’s meetings.


In the conference rooms we were joined by Kendall, a user experience researcher, and Rosy, an interactive designer, to discuss their experiences at Google. After our discussion, we visited the merchandise shop and took pictures in the “graveyard” of old platform themed androids.

For our last stop, the team talked with David Yeh, Norfolk Academy 2016 alum, about his internship at Natron Energy over an italian dinner. It was an interesting experience chatting with an NA alum and to learn of his experiences in the Silicon Valley. Afterwards, the group concluded the night’s activities at Cold Stone with ice cream. At David’s departure, we traveled back to the hotel and prepared for the next day’s return home.