Susan B. Anthony a ‘perfect fit’ for design project

Jigsaw puzzle requires computer aided design, Fourier series—and teamwork

Each fall, students in Chris Muir’s ME 204 course on Mechanical Design create a large, intricately detailed jigsaw puzzle out the finest Baltic birch plywood, often replicating an iconic symbol of the University of Rochester.

picture of jigsaw

This year’s design was especially timely. The 70 pieces form a 27” by 40” picture of Susan B. Anthony, Rochester’s famous women’s rights activist and social reformer, based on a colorful logo created by graphic artist Michael Osadciw of University Communications for the school’s Celebration 2020.

Eleanor Oi, a former director of orientation and diversity programming at the University, suggested the idea to Muir last fall.

“It was a great idea, seeing this is the 200th anniversary of Susan B. Anthony’s birth, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, and an election year,” says Muir, a professor of mechanical engineering. “It all fit.”

ME 204 is required of all seniors in mechanical engineering, as a precursor to the final senior design projects they undertake each spring. Through a series of smaller projects, the course teaches students that it is one thing to design the various components of a device on a computer, quite another to then actually fabricate those components within exacting tolerances so they actually fit together and work properly.

For the jigsaw puzzle, each of the nearly 70 students in the class was required to design one of the pieces in CAD (computer assisted design). Each piece has its own unique pattern of wavy edges, requiring students to coordinate with classmates working on adjacent pieces.

“The edges are actually Fourier series, a mathematical formulation for waveforms, so it was a nice little engineering twist using a puzzle, because it’s not trivial to do that in CAD,” Muir says.

Normally, the students would not only design their pieces, but then fabricate them using a router machine or laser cutter. This year, the course’s teaching assistant, graduate student Molly Over, cut the pieces on the laser.

“It came out really nicely,” Muir says.

Previous ME 204 jigsaw puzzles are still displayed around campus. A puzzle showing Rocky, the school mascot, is displayed in Hopeman Hall; another, depicting the signature dome of Rush Rhees Library, was grabbed by River Campus Libraries. Another is hanging in the fabrication area in Rettner Hall.

So where will Susan B. end up?

“So, each year that’s kind of an unknown,” Muir says. “If somebody wants it, we can certainly work something out. Otherwise, I’ll put it in plexiglass and hang it on a wall in the lab.

“One of the reasons I like to do this is, students get a real sense of accomplishment when they finish something like this, and look at it and realize, ‘hey, that’s really nice!’”