Video games and school work don’t usually go hand-in-hand, but that isn’t the case for some aspiring engineers in Camden. A Rutgers undergraduate student has designed a game that is giving students at LEAP Academy University Charter School practice in three-dimensional manufacturing.
“I didn’t set out to create an educational program for students, but I’m really proud it turned out that way,” says Patrick Martin, an Upper Pittsgrove resident and freshman pre-engineering major at Rutgers University–Camden.
While he was a student at Woodstown High School, Martin had an idea for a new computer game in which a player could assemble a spaceship by piecing together three-dimensional parts like a puzzle.
“Each object has different connection points, so the player just has to decide where the pieces should connect to build his own spaceship, and then he could fly it around,” Martin says.
At Rutgers–Camden, Martin’s hobby turned into a real educational opportunity for students in LEAP’s Fabrication Lab, which allows students to engage in hands-on, design-based activities. David Salas-de la Cruz, an assistant professor of chemistry at Rutgers–Camden and director of the LEAP “Fab Lab,” saw Martin using the game software and asked him for a demonstration.
“I asked Patrick to come up with a simple program that introduces students to 3D environment, visualization, and 3D printing, like building a simple cube, so that they can have basic design experience,” Salas-de la Cruz says.
Students in LEAP’s Fabrication Lab were soon using Martin’s program in their class work. They had already been utilizing design software to create their own 3D objects, but Salas-de la Cruz says Martin’s program offers a simpler introductory alternative to more advanced design software like AutoCAD. He hopes to incorporate the program into more LEAP classes this fall.
“Students in the arts, biology, engineering, and other disciplines will soon have a chance to do significant work in 3D design and manufacturing, but first, I want them to be comfortable with the technology by creating very simple designs before they move on to more advanced software,” Salas-de la Cruz says.
The Rutgers–Camden professor says 3D printing (in which three dimensional solid objects are created from a digital model) has become a prominent aspect of the manufacturing and design industries. It is used in automotive and aerospace engineering and in the medical field, among other industries.
Martin, who works in the Fabrication Lab as a mentor to LEAP students, says his game design is similar to Minecraft, a popular game that allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D environment.
“It’s very basic, but you can tap into your creativity and build what you want,” says Martin, who started designing his game in 2011. “When I was young, I really liked building things with Lego sets, which is essentially what I’m doing with the program. It’s connecting pieces together to create a larger object. Rutgers–Camden has already allowed me to be creative and work with other people who have similar interests and I think this program can achieve the same thing and give students a head start in engineering.”