In the Engineering Ideas Clinic™, one of the goals is to learn to think like an engineer.  Marios Ioannidis, a chemical engineering professor, likes his students to do this backwards – as in reverse engineering.

students with prof

Reverse engineering a water filter jug is part of the Engineering Ideas Clinic for third-year chemical engineering studetnts

“By reverse engineering an everyday object, in this case a common water filtering jug, students can investigate, develop and validate a model in a truly authentic setting,” says Ioannidis.

For the 80 third-year chemical engineering students, unlocking the engineering secrets behind the design of a household water filter is more than just understanding how it works – they are playing the part of Ioannidis’ engineering design team who will be hypothetically tasked with designing a similar water filter jug that could be manufactured and sold as competitive product. While Ioannidis’ company is only make-believe in order to give the students a taste of real-world engineering scenarios, it’s all too real that the students must use their knowledge base for engineering to succeed at this challenging project.

This term-long Engineering Ideas Clinic sees students using the engineering problem-solving process in order to describe the most important functions of a household water filter jug. They use competent mathematical models, incorporating knowledge and skills gained from previous courses. They will also do additional research and learning on how to use new engineering tools, says Ioannidis.

Think like an engineer

Water filter jugs are easy to use. Conducting engineering-worthy investigation is no easy thing. Piyush Nanda and Gavin Zheng, both third year chemical engineering students discovered this first hand. And in the process they learned how to conduct appropriate experiments, how to analyze and interpret their data, and synthesis the information in order to reach valid conclusions.

From flow-through time to the different effects of city water, deionized water as well as hard, soft and ultrapure H2O, the young engineers-in-the making are running multiple trials of their own design. The core concept of the Engineering Ideas Clinic is to allow the students to do all their own thinking and investigating, to explore their creativity within an engineering context and not be constrained by a rote set of instructions. Yet they are all very clear on their goal: to design and execute an investigation in order to come to valid conclusions.

Open-ended investigation

Sophia and Alycia

Sophia Jiang and Alycia Pang say this project allows them to think for themselves during their investigation.


It’s this type of open-ended investigation that pleases Sophia Jiang and Alycia Pang who used some of their weekly three-hour lab time to undertake a conductivity test on a portion of their pre-filtered water. “We haven’t done anything like this before,” says Jiang, carefully outfitted in safety glasses and wearing the standard lab coat.  “This water filter project lets us think for ourselves.”

Ioannidis grins broadly from the other side of the room, pleased to see that his students are thinking for themselves and thinking like an engineer.