Today I have been working on content for a new creative design workshop for civil engineering students based on the Emirates Airline. The workshop is part of my work with the civil engineering department at the University of Edinburgh.

This is one of several short exercises that we are devising to give student’s the chance to rapidly work through a series of design problems. The idea that we want to test is whether students benefit from working through a number of shorter design exercises before being tasked with a big end-of-year project. It stands to reason, but it is nevertheless surprisingly commonplace for students to be set large design projects during their courses without any experience of tackling smaller problems.

What I was finding tricky was how to devise a problem that is interesting without being too tricky. The challenge we are going to set students is to work out the number of towers to carry a cable car across the Thames, and what height the towers should be – and then to do a quick scheme design on one of the towers.

I expect that the biggest difficulty will be dealing with the cables. To help them, we have given students simple equations to give them the horizontal and vertical reactions on either end of a catenary. With these equations, students should at least be able to work out a worst case loading scenario. But we shall see…

If the two-session workshop is a success, we will publish it to the Workshed site. As Expedition were the structural engineers for the scheme design, we have a lot of great material in-house that we could make available to students and lecturers.

Taking engineering info from real projects and turning it into useful teaching resources is one of the really valuable things I think Think Up achieves. There is so much rich material and experience in industry that students can benefit from and the Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Fellows scheme is a great mechanism for supporting that transfer.