Contributors: Li Ling Apple Koh, Mei Xuan Tan, Gim-Yang Maggie Pee, Mei Chee Tan

When the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) assembled a time capsule to mark its 10th anniversary in 2019, one of the items it included was the prototype of a cable-guided, sugar propulsion rocket.

Conceptualised by a group of senior students in 2015, it forms the basis of a compulsory week-long design project, named 2D, done by all freshmen of SUTD.

The first-year students are expected to modify the rocket to ensure it hits the target distance of between 17m and 18m.

In the process, they are expected to apply knowledge learnt from Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Humanities, Arts and Social sciences, which are subjects they are concurrently taking.

Final design of the cable-guided, sugar propulsion rocket and the link between the four subjects.

“The intention behind 2D is to demonstrate to our students that projects in the real world are multi-disciplinary in nature,” says Dr Apple Koh, who is in charge of the design project.

“After they completed it, they must also be able to convey their ideas around it, either through a report or presentation, which makes the students realise they need to learn to communicate well.”

2D, however, was not always about modifying a cable-guided, sugar propulsion rocket. In 2014, it was about designing a race strategy to achieve the shortest lap time with minimal fuel consumption with a hydrogen fuel cell toy car.

“The implementation was challenging, with comments that the toy car was too slow, not exciting enough and the link between all the subjects was weak and contrived,” explains Dr Koh.

“The students felt they had to do it because it was a compulsory assignment, but they did not think they benefitted from it.”

Determined to mitigate this, a group got together and volunteered their free time to come up with a brand new 2D design project idea.

The senior students, SUTD instructors and MIT Prof Kim Vandiver who worked on the cable-guided, sugar propulsion rocket.

While this was typically the domain of the university’s lecturers, Dr Koh was happy to let the students have a go at it.

To prepare for this, students attended a series of workshops on the design and implementation of past 2D activities, before deciding they would design a sugar propulsion rocket.

A literature search was done to better understand the Chemistry and Physics of sugar propulsion rockets, together with brainstorming with faculty members from SUTD and the MIT-SUTD Collaboration Office on how to design its motor, body and guiding system.

The senior students discussing their designs with MIT Prof Kim Vandiver.

The rocket was then prototyped and built, before being launched in 2016 for SUTD’s freshmen to work on for their 2D design project.

Dr Koh notes that it was rewarding to see the students contributing to SUTD’s curriculum, developing it with minimal advice from the faculty.

Not only did they understand and address any concerns, but they were also able to evenly incorporate knowledge from the four subjects into this edition of 2D.

For instance, they acknowledged that the fuel mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate was dangerous and proposed to have it mixed by hand instead of using a machine.

Trial of an early iteration of the cable-guided rocket body design.

But the biggest reward was probably seeing how much the Year 1 students enjoyed working on 2D.

“Despite the amount of work, they found it exciting, especially when the rocket took off with a loud boom,” points out Dr Koh.

“We were also very happy that the senior students worked so hard to improve the design project to help their juniors.”

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