Summer students having an impact on construction industry

(Edmonton) Two high-school students are spending their summer working in a University of Alberta engineering research lab, discovering the rewards of seeing the impact of their work—and exploring a possible career.

Ripple Patel and Raylene Boake are spending six weeks this summer working in civil engineering professor Mohamed Al-Hussein’s research lab with the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) Summer Research Program.

Al-Hussein is a respected leader in research on modular construction, a system in which buildings—including homes—are manufactured in one location and assembled at another. The system eliminates virtually all waste and significantly reduces the industry’s environmental impact, while saving costs.

Boake and Patel are working with PhD student Mana Moghadam, using computer programs to help reduce waste and keep an industrial research partner’s operations running efficiently.

After visiting and photographing the Igloo Prebuilt Homes warehouse, Boake began working on plans to reorganize it by creating a 3-D version of the warehouse on her computer.

“I made a 3-D model based on the photographs I took and I’m trying to reorganize the warehouse to make it more efficient,” she said, displaying the 3-D model of packed shelves on her computer screen. “I looked at what they use the most and organized it by height.”

Patel is also working with 3-D modelling software, taking plans for houses in one software program and translating them into another. The level of detail in the software is impressive, allowing users to designate types of electrical and plumbing fixtures and appliances.

The two high-school students, both entering Grade 12 this fall, visited the Igloo plant and a job site, where they saw a prefabricated home delivered and erected.

“It’s just a matter of lifting it up with a crane and putting it down on the site,” said Patel, a resident of Fort McMurray, Alberta, who is spending her six weeks in residence with other WISEST participants who have come from outside of Edmonton.

Both say the aspect of the WISEST program they enjoy most is knowing that the work they do is having a positive impact on the construction industry.

The pair also participated in tours of engineering facilities—including the NanoFab micro and nano fabrication research lab—and a day-long session with female mentors.

“Engineering is different than I expected,” Patel said, adding that she has been enjoying design work. She says she’ll consider engineering as a career but is also interested in studying business.

Boake says she has definitely caught the engineering bug, but won’t rule out science, either.

“I am definitely thinking of going into engineering—the harder decision will be figuring out which area to choose. I really like the problem-solving aspect of engineering.”

The WISEST program wraps up Aug. 14 with a celebration of research.