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Students Combine Artistic Vision With Engineering Science To Design Fanciful Water Sculptures

This fall, Clarkson University students in the junior Honors course “Art & Literature on Water in Motion” studied fluid mechanics and aesthetics as they designed water fountains. The students’ designs included a memorial reproduction of the World Trade Center and a fanciful Yorkshire terrier named “Lily.”

“The objective of the course was to provide honors students with an opportunity to do creative work within the framework of engineering,” explained Professor of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering Daniel Valentine. “The motion of water is a subject of artistic, engineering, and scientific interest. Because they function as works of art, water fountains present unique design challenges.”

To understand the technical aspects of fountain design, students studied the fundamental principles of water motion, such as linear and nonlinear waves, hydraulic jumps, vortices, boundary layers, and shear layers. For inspiration they read the poetry of Wallace Stevens and reviewed the drawings and observations of Leonardo DaVinci. The students also composed their own poems and narratives on the flow of water.

“Water is not easy to shape, so most existing water fountain designs rely on a structure or apparatus to create the form and use the water as an added element,” said student Laura Smith, whose own dog inspired the Yorkshire Terrier fountain design. “Our designs actually required that we use the water as the primary design element. One of our biggest challenges to creating Lily was how to get the water to look like ears. At first we considered jets but decided that would be expensive and difficult to control. Finally we came up with the idea of splitting a water bell and it worked great!”

Another student project, “Paradise Falls,” used a vortex waterfall design to create a tranquil, appealing two-tier waterfall with a reservoir basin. The students faced challenging technical problems, including how to create a vortex to draw the water up, how to assess the appropriate flow rate and how to factor in the rate of evaporation.

The World Trade Center Monument design features water representations of the seven World Trade Center buildings, each with its own separate reservoir tank. The students calculated one foot of water to represent ten floors, with the tallest represented building eleven feet high.

“You can learn a lot just by playing in water,” reflected student Sarah Allen. “You can begin to understand the behavior of water in different situations and when introduced to various forces and effects. You can learn how to make it bend, separate or flow by manipulating it.”

Each year the Clarkson Honors Program offers interdisciplinary courses that focus on current and emerging problems in science, technology and society. Courses are designed to cultivate the critical thinking and interpersonal skills that students will need throughout their careers.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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