A special interdisciplinary project course was offered in the Fall of 2006 within the Carnegie Institute of Technology at Carnegie Mellon University. The course was open to students from across the university, it drew participants from Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering and Public Policy, Materials Science and Engineering, Architecture, the School of Design. This multidisciplinary collection of students formed the necessary knowledge base to approach the various tasks of the project. Each student was to rely on their academic experience and talents to contribute to the work, while simultaneously learning from those in other disciplines. The participating material science and engineering were juniors acquainted with fundamental of materials. Some students were taking courses involving steel making process and steel mechanical properties concurrently. Students in civil and mechanical engineering and architecture are familiar with structural design and construction processes. Students in engineering and public policy and environmental engineering have experience with life cycle assessment and environmental impacts. The collaborative group experience introduced students to how disciplines interact in the real world, encouraging them to pursue their own interests in broader areas.
The project consisted of three efforts assessing life cycle impact in terms of energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and economic costs of equivalent products made from both steel and wood The first effort involved comparison of steel products versus wood products in existing designs. The second, looked at the optimization of steel products to improve design options and the third tried to identifying opportunities to leverage the use of steel materials in green building design and construction, based on certification requirements established by the US Green Building Council and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
At Carnegie Mellon, the Green Design Initiative researchers have been leaders in life cycle assessment methodology development and assessment, and have a history of merging students and faculty from across the university into research teams. This multidisciplinary project was good example of how common topics can be exploited to provide excellent discovery opportunities for undergraduate engineering programs.