Student Focus - UMaine Engineering’s Human-Powered Submarine
The Beatles may have all lived in a yellow submarine, but the gray submarine created by University of Maine mechanical engineering students only seats one. No matter, because one person — and his or her scuba gear — is all it takes to maneuver a human-powered submarine.
This design project, led by Professor Michael Peterson, is an annual event for seniors in the program, and it culminates in an international submarine race held in Maryland. Like any capstone, it is intended to drive home concepts and skills learned over the course of the students’ academic career through a hands-on experience.
Rather than modify the submarine created six years ago by UMaine students — and subsequently re-created by each new crop of seniors — this year’s team of 14 decided to start from scratch. They had six years of accumulated knowledge behind them, so they knew what worked and, more important, what didn’t.
“Hopefully, it’s leaps and bounds better than the other sub,” says Seth Swanberg, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering.
As they fine-tuned the oscillating hydrofoils that propel the sub and weighed the benefits of epoxy vs. Plexiglas windows, academic principles became tangible — and other, equally important, lessons emerged.
“It’s more of a group project than anything, and that’s what the engineering field is getting into,” Swanberg says. “You all have to work together. You can’t possibly expect to know everything — a mechanical engineer has to work with an electrical engineer, for example. The project is really irrelevant. It’s learning how to work together.”