20.020 | Spring 2009 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Biological Engineering Design

Lecture and Studio Notes

Class Notes: Week 2

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Lecture 3: Engineering as a Rebuild

Studio 2: Broader Project Landscapes

Lecture 4: Decide What’s Worth Doing

Lecture 3: Engineering as a Rebuild

Challenge: Extra Credit for Extra Parts?

Instructions: Last week you tried to understand a tape recorder by considering the components and subcomponents that operate inside it. Today you will demonstrate your understanding of the machine by re-assembling it from those components…"what I cannot create, I do not understand*.*" and all that…Take a careful look at your parts list and your notes from last time. The team that can reassemble their tape recorder from the greatest number of parts will win this challenge. You have 1/2 an hour to work on this task.

Data from last week’s take-apart

1 22 Not really spinning or working
2 42 Duct-tape masterpiece (see photo below), singing from tape, radio working
3 24 Fully reassembled, radio working
4 31 Next step full-disassembly
5 34 Play and stop, no sound
6 27 Spinning but uncertain of tape playing
7 34 Singing in Martian, but reversing spring to bring to earth
8 30 Motor was a one-time spinner

At the end of the 1/2 hour we will spend some time tallying the successes of the groups.

Duct-tape masterpiece from Team 2 (Photo courtesy of Ryan Alexander and anonymous students CN and DZ. Used with permission.)

Why are we doing this??

Even if you were only partially successful in reassembling your tape player, there are probably a lot of things you’ve learned…things that would help you or the next person to successfully reassemble a tape player, things that reflect back on the take-apart exercise, aspects of the exercise that are common to any scientific or engineering effort (and remember your work this term will have elements of both!). We’ll work as a class to add more ideas, questions and thoughts to this list.

Comments from 2009 students (courtesy of the students, and used with permission.)

  • advice: “draw pictures, taking pictures would be even better”
  • what would have helped? “more time, not having to reassemble, knowing which parts can be broken, if the tape player was build for human understanding and use”
  • biggest obstacle: “not having the right experience to solder or build circuit”
  • secrets to success: “good notes, Duct tape, didn’t try rebuild as it was”
  • advice to next year’s students: “bring a camera, don’t lose things, know which direction the springs go in, not all parts are needed”

Homework for Tomorrow’s Studio Session

Complete PDP3: Script and Storyboard

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Studio 2: Broader Project Landscapes

WHAP! BAM! Gadzooks!


Begin today by reading the following script (PDF)

Next, we’ll look at the storyboards associated with this script.

Finally, we’ll watch the animation that was generated from this script and posted to BioBuilder.

Work Out

Next, think about how to storyboard your script. You do not need any fancy animation tools and there’s no extra credit for finishing first or for fancy images. Ideally you’ll use no more than 4 sheets of paper to fully sketch your script. Please be sure your name is on all the pieces of paper. You have up to an hour to complete your sketches.

When you have completed your sketches, find a place on the wall to hang your work (script and drawings), and then spend 1/2 an hour walking around the room checking out what others have done.

Why are we doing this??

This poster session is a quick way to scope out the landscape of interests in the class. In addition, drawing is a time honored (but under-utilized) way to learn science. See:

> Lerner, Neal. “Drawing to Learn Science: Legacies of Agassiz.” J Technical Writing and Communication 37, no. 4 (2007): 379-394.

Next week you will be divided into temporary “camps” around particular topics and you’ll generate a camp catalog of ideas. Then you’ll get to choose your top three items from all the camp catalogs and be sorted into final teams with common interests. Tomorrow’s challenge session will help you further decide what kinds of things are important to you and also what kinds of team dynamics matter most to you.

Homework for Tomorrow

To set the stage for tomorrow’s group challenge, please read the following article:

Jack, Andrew. “UK Baby Tested for Cancer Gene Due Soon.” FT.com (Financial Times), December 20, 2008. [May be viewed at FT.com with free registration.]

Tomorrow we will spend time thinking about the impact and perception of technological advances, especially bio-medical ones like Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD).

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Lecture 4: Decide What’s Worth Doing

Challenge: You Decide

The topic on today’s table is Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). With a minimum of 4 people at a table (or a maximum of 8 people) you can start to play “Decide.” Before our challenge hour is through, your team will have to develop a “Policy Position” on this topic. Everyone at the table will start with

  • one place-mat/work-board describing the issue
  • White story cards
  • Green information cards
  • Blue issue cards
  • Red challenge cards
  • Yellow cards to facilitate discussion

Phase 1: Set-up

  1. Begin by choosing a reader to read (out loud!) the topic’s description that’s written in the upper left-hand corner of each place-mat.
  2. Choose a different reader for the 4 policy positions that your group will ultimately decide between.
  3. Finally choose a different reader to read out loud the discussion guidelines that are written in the bottom left-hand corner of each place-mat.

Phase 2: Learning

This phase will require ~30 minutes

  1. Each player should read the white story cards and choose 1 they find most compelling to keep on their place mat.
  2. Each player should read the green information cards and choose 2 they believe are the most significant to the story they’ve chosen. These cards can also be placed on their place-mat.
  3. Each player should read the blue issue cards and choose 2 they believe are the most significant to the story they’ve chosen. These cards should be placed on their place-mat.

Phase 3: Discussion

This phase will require ~30 minutes. There are many ways to structure the discussion but you can, as a group, decide

  • if you would like a “free form” discussion in which players may participate in any order and yellow cards can be used to signal frustration with the speaker, 


  • if you would like a “round table” discussion in which conversation proceeds from player to player around the table and “talk money” can be used to talk out of turn (everyone has two “talk money” chits on their place mats).

Once the ground rules for discussion are set, someone should distribute the red cards, one to each player, face down. Next someone should begin by summarizing their story and the relevant information and issues. Depending on the discussion style you’ve chosen, you may want to follow up on this starting story or proceed around the table. If conversation slows down or needs some motivating, the challenge cards can be used. By the end of the 30 minute discussion your group should be able to cluster the stories, issues, and information in some way that makes sense to everyone. This means physically moving the cards for related ideas and positions into piles.

Phase 4: Policy Position

Everyone will be given a Policy Position ballot in which they can indicate their level of support for each of the four possible positions. The ballots will be collected and tabulated by one member of the group. Look for common ground in your policy positions or develop a response that better represents any consensus reached by discussion. Designate a spokesperson to report your team’s policy position to the class. Feel free to upload your group’s response to the Play Decide Web site if you’re so inclined.

Why are we doing this??

This game is intended to raise several ideas. First, successful new technologies have consequences. You should always anticipate success and the consequences of success in your work. Second, the game forces you to generate a single policy decision, one that may be difficult to reach as well as unsatisfying to some members of your group. Dealing with “fractured” teams is something none of us can avoid and if today’s challenge gives you even one new tool for dealing with discordance, then that’s a big win. Following are some comments about reaching a single policy decision on PGD.

Comments from 2009 students (courtesy of the students, used with permission):

  • “topic draws on lots of biases. Like stem cells, abortion, genetically engineered humans.”
  • “policy is hard to make fair for everyone”
  • “discussion furthered if there’s a person who offers dissent”


PDP4 Teamwork and learning styles

Due at Week 3 Studio

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Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009
Learning Resource Types
Tutorial Videos
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples