Playing well with machines
Amalia Hornung was mechanically inclined from a young age. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, her go-to toys were Legos and K’nex building sets.
“As a kid I really liked understanding how things worked and putting stuff together and taking it apart,” says Hornung, now a sophomore studying mechanical engineering.
Her coursework has allowed her to pursue her interest in devices that solve problems. In a class last year, Hornung got to play with machines that are changing the way new products are developed and manufactured.
The course invited teams of students to tackle an engineering challenge. Hornung’s team focused on the perennial problem of small, cramped lecture hall desks. Working in an on-campus lab, the students designed and manufactured a roomier portable desk using 3D printers, computer-guided laser cutters, and other automated tools to fabricate its plastic parts.
Hornung also built a robot—the assignment for all students in her introductory mechanical engineering class. Each robot had to perform a specific task. Horning designed hers to “reduce the tediousness of the tea-brewing process” by lowering a teabag into a cup of hot water, steeping it for the prescribed time, and playing a tune when the tea is ready. The course culminated in a robot show where students put their robots to the test.
“I’m glad to have those skills under my belt,” Hornung says. Right now she’s unsure of her exact future career path, but she sees 3D printing—a burgeoning area of automation—as an important part of her engineering training, regardless of the job she lands after graduation.
“To be able to work with a technology that’s an important tool in industry is something that’s really cool and really valuable,” says Hornung, who has a summer internship lined up with Twin Cities-based mattress manufacturer Sleep Number.
This story is part of a broader Minnesota Alumni magazine feature about how the U of M is preparing students for the careers of the future.