Each semester, students taking Design I (EDNS151) work in a team of four or five to learn and practice the fundamental skills of technical problem solving through the use of a guided design methodology, as applied to a very broad, challenging, real-world problem. But before they get started, the problem that they’ll be solving is carefully crafted and vetted by not only the Cornerstone faculty and staff, but also subject matter experts, EDS faculty, and other stakeholders around campus. The problems are formatted as a Call for Proposals (CFP) to help scope the problem and to allow students to practice approaching a CFP as they might after college.

Below are some of the CFPs Cornerstone has tackled over the past few years. If you are a teacher or professor at another university who would like to use any of these documents, you are welcome to do so as long as credit is given to the Cornerstone Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

Spring 2022: Aging Population

Due to declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy, the population of the world is aging. Having an older population presents a multitude of opportunities, including addressing noncommunicable diseases and healthcare delivery, sustainability of government programs for senior citizens, working beyond traditional retirement ages, engagement, integration, addressing potential labor shortages in shrinking workforces, sustaining daily activities, independent living, and mobility and access, among others. Past and projected percentages of world population of people 65 years of age or older are shown in the figure.

Fall 2021: Disaster Rapid Response

Disasters may be human-caused or natural, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, drought, fires, outbreaks of disease, war, famine, migrating refugees, mass shootings, facilities disasters, mass transportation accidents, chemicals releases, and more. The world has experienced over 22,000 natural mass disasters since 1900, and annually 400 natural disasters plus dozens of major armed conflicts. Life-saving rapid response relies on infrastructure, communication, transportation, supplies, personnel, equipment, and coordination within a limited window of time. For all communities, opportunities exist for the improvement of information gathering, vulnerability reduction, detection, equipment, materials, smart technology, systems, and more that reduce loss of life and other undesired impacts throughout the disaster management cycle shown in the figure.

Spring 2021: Outdoor and Adaptive

The benefits of outdoor activity on physical health, mental health, and society are well documented, and benefits apply to people with disabilities as well. For people with disabilities, access, technology, and adaptive equipment development can provide more opportunities for participation. It is estimated that 61 million people in the United States have some type of disability. For people of all abilities, opportunities exist for the improvement of equipment, materials, clothing, ergonomics, wearable and auxiliary device and embedded smart technology, systems, and more that promote access, prevent injury, and enhance performance, enjoyment, and inclusivity.

Consider opportunities to improve outdoor activity, sports, and leisure equipment and systems, for either the masses of people without disabilities, with disabilities, or for individuals with unique disabilities. Solutions designed by student teams should represent creative, novel responses to some facet of the challenge. Solutions will need to incorporate considerations for human factors, ergonomics, or cognitive engineering. We encourage you to explore specific dimensions of this problem as well as existing solutions so that you might materially improve upon them while steering clear of custom-built, one-off uses, except in cases of specific individuals or small groups of individuals with relatively unique disabilities. Your solution must be repeatable and scalable—directly or indirectly impacting a significant population, while making a meaningful impact on our world.

Fall 2020: Pandemic Mitigation

With the world impacted by emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and limited healthcare capacity to deal with unchecked exponential spread, community mitigation guidelines have been adopted to slow the spread of the virus and buy time to develop treatments, vaccines, and keep the number of cases below local and regional healthcare facility capacities. Mitigation strategies including mobility restrictions, socio-economic restrictions for education, sports, or work, physical distancing, hygiene measures, direct communication from health authorities to ensure dissemination of verified information, and international cooperation are among actions taken by nations, regions, and communities to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We are seeking opportunities to improve the current situation, whether a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or ensuing from mitigation efforts and responses to the pandemic based on what you have seen or experienced. The brunt of solutions should be technical in nature, but may touch on any technical field: electrical, mechanical, civil, environmental, computer science, chemical, geological, materials, mining, industrial, etc. Solutions should consider nontechnical and ancillary issues such as education, government policies, economics, logistics, etc., though not the brunt of the solution. Solutions designed by student teams should represent creative, novel responses to some facet of the challenges of the pandemic.

Spring 2020: Animal Kingdom Turf Wars

As the world’s population grows and expands further into formerly untamed territories, the number of interactions between people and wildlife increases – often leading to negative consequences for one or both parties. Run-ins leading to negative consequences may occur on land (urban, rural, and the wild), in bodies of water, and in the air. There are also many questions over whether man or animal owns the rights to natural resources, such as use of the trees in the forest or the fish in the oceans; and there are countless other ways these adverse effects materialize.

As a result of the increasing danger to both human and animal, we are seeking novel approaches rooted in engineering and/or science that will allow for human endeavors to thrive while reducing the negative consequences currently affecting wildlife and their habitats.  The Finalist Competition for this Spring 2020 project can be found here.  

Old or obsolete infrastructural solutions to past problems can linger for decades. What was once a great solution for a different time with different needs may become a burden in the present.

We are seeking novel approaches — rooted in engineering and/or science — that will support giving infrastructure a second life in a sustainable, aesthetic, efficient, user-friendly way.

Spring 2019: Reexamining Packaging

Packaging might be described as the layers of material added to protect and contain contents for end use – for a specified time and distance. It might also serve to protect the environment from the contents. It generally also provides information about the contents, and must occasionally promote those contents. Some packaging, as in the case of the humble Pez dispenser, also adds a measure of enjoyment.

We are seeking novel solutions rooted in engineering and/or science that will improve any of the packaging or distribution systems: the safety, effectiveness, sustainability, costs, ease-of use, or any aspect your team determines is important: in a sustainable, aesthetic, user-friendly way.

Fall 2018: Apocalypse Defense

What would you do if you lived next to a volcano that could erupt at any moment? Or if melting ice caps were threatening your coastal city? How would you protect a herd of cows from a wildfire, or crops from an encroaching new species of
insect? What if there was an imminent extreme food shortage or power outage? As our world continues to change and the population climbs, communities across the globe are facing more of these scenarios. As an engineer or scientist, you have the power to fight back and help avert disaster!

We are seeking novel solutions rooted in engineering and/or science that will improve or mitigate impacts from extreme events, in a manner that is sustainable, aesthetic, and user-friendly

Spring 2018: InFrayed Structure

Infrastructure includes the fundamental systems that support communities and regions, and it is failing across the world.
From water pipes and sewers to communications systems and power grids, the health of our energy, communications, transportation, and waste systems is being threatened by the growing population and aging technologies, especially in urban areas. Because of the increased threat caused by the degradation of these systems, organizations such as the Engineering Grand Challenges, are tasking technical problem solvers to help develop solutions that are “undertaken with clear vision that go beyond mere function and contribute to the job of living.”

We are seeking novel solutions rooted in engineering and/or science that will improve upon or replace current infrastructure in a sustainable, aesthetic, user-friendly way

Fall 2017: UpCycle

Garbage – it’s all around us. Today you will generate about 4.5 pounds of trash. Where does it go? Most of it will wind up in our Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) stream, where it takes up space in a landfill and may turn into leachate, threatening the health of soil and groundwater. Some trash will wind up in an incinerator, where copious amounts of energy are used to convert it into ash, fly ash, and greenhouse gases. Your trash may also wind up contaminating our oceans as small bits of plastic.

We seek novel solutions that will reduce the amount of material that enters our MSW stream by designing useful solutions – and the tools required to make these solutions – from items that would otherwise be thrown away.

Spring 2017: RoadX

Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is partnering with the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN) in launching the RoadX Challenge. “The goal for the RoadX challenge is to solicit innovative technological solutions to protect bicyclists and pedestrians in Colorado.” Nationwide in 2012 there were over 15,000 injuries to bicyclists by motor vehicles, and in 2015 in Colorado alone, there were 1,530 pedestrian crashes, 59 of which were fatal. Colorado ranks the second highest in the nation for bike commuters, and safety for these bikers and pedestrians is of paramount importance.

Fall 2016: Food Desert Heroes

Food deserts are geographic areas where people’s access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the distance or absence of mainstream grocery stores. Food deserts affect people in every type of community – suburban, urban, and rural – across the US. While food deserts still have food, there is an imbalance of food choices, meaning a heavier concentration of processed, packaged foods that are high in salt, fat, sugar and devoid of nutritional value. These “fringe foods” come from fast food restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations, discount bakeries, and liquor stores.

We invite proposals that present compelling solutions for an individual or small family to grow vegetables year round by means of a food growing system that be implement indoors or small outdoor areas such as patios or porches where is access to water and sunlight but not direct access to ground soil (meaning seeds cannot be sown directly into ground soil). This Call focuses on the need to empower individuals and families living in concentrated urban areas to grown their own year-round supply of vegetables to supplement the fresh food they may or may not be receiving from other initiatives and organizations.

Spring 2016: Marine Debris

The problem of plastic debris in our oceans has been growing dramatically, fueled by the growth of the world’s population and corresponding economic activity. In the half-century since plastic use has become common, improperly discarded plastic detritus of the civilized world has created giant floating garbage patches trapped in ocean gyres with areas exceeding that of our largest states, as plastics escape the intended waste stream to landfills or recycling centers, a phenomenon unpredicted by early proponents and pioneers of plastic

There are many initiatives and programs to tackle this problem at the sources: to reduce the flow of garbage into the oceans, to reduce the use of plastics, to increase recycling efforts, etc. However, this Call focuses on addressing the existing debris and garbage that plagues our oceans and shores.

Fall 2015: Personnel Landmine Detection in Cambodia

The Cambodian Landmine Protection Agency (CLPA) is requesting proposals for an inexpensive, accessible, and effective way of detecting buried personnel landmines throughout the country. The current manual process for detecting and detonating landmines is time consuming and extraordinarily dangerous for workers, while current detection technology is not accessible throughout Cambodia. The CLPA is looking for solutions to keep all of our country’s citizens out of harm’s way, not just the citizens with the resources to either train a team of sweepers or purchase expensive technology.

The CLPA challenges your team to use your creative and technical skills to look for better ways to detect these buried landmines so that they can be cleared more safely. The ideal solution is one that can be distributed widely (including to the poorest rural communities) and that can enable relatively untrained citizens to detect landmines in their own communities.

Spring 2015: Crutches4Africa

Recent experiences with wheelchair chair use reveal that using the most common type of wheelchair, built without motors or electronic controls, is difficult in the uneven African terrain. If broken, wheelchairs are difficult to repair. Wheelchairs also pose other problems in their use in more developed societies; e.g., difficulties in getting into and out of a car, negotiating stairs, rolling over broken sidewalks and going through doorways, to mention just a few examples.

I challenge your team to use your creative and technical skills to design improvements to the wheelchair for use in developing countries