A Laboratory Fit for Lockdown

What happens when a pandemic keeps engineering students away from campus, working in their homes instead of their laboratories? For professors at Columbia Engineering, the solution was obvious: you send the labs to them.

A Columbia engineering student with a box of take-home lab supplies
Yevgeniy Yesilevskiy / Columbia
1. The Prep

At the start of the fall semester, faculty from across the engineering school prepared boxes of tools and materials to be delivered to students working remotely, so that they could conduct experiments and design projects at home. The contents differed depending on the student’s year and major.


A take-home science lab for Columbia Engineering students
Yevgeniy Yesilevskiy / Columbia
2. The Kit

The package mailed to seniors in the mechanical-engineering program contained motors, electrical components, remote sensors, moldable plastics and clay, a variety of metals, a soldering iron, clamps, adhesives, and protective gear.


A Columbia Engineering student doing schoolwork from home
Yevgeniy Yesilevskiy / Columbia
3. The Home Lab

Many students also received a 3D printer, which they could use to produce any additional tools or parts their projects called for.


A Zoom lab meeting at Columbia Engineering school
Yevgeniy Yesilevskiy / Columbia
4. The Results

Working in teams over Zoom, the students transformed the raw materials into inventions, ranging from water-testing systems to highly efficient rocket engines to medical devices.


This article appears in the Winter 2020-21 print issue of Columbia Magazine with the title "Lab in a Box."

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