Gordon in the News: last updated 12/22/2010

Pre-engineering Students Design Merry Ornaments

Just before Christmas break, students in Dr. David Lee’s Introduction to Engineering class tackled a festive challenge in the Physics Department’s fourth annual "Geekiest Christmas Ornament" Contest. 

Before hanging their ornaments on a special "Geeky Christmas Tree" in the Bowden Engineering lab of the Ken Olsen Science Center, students took turns explaining the strategies behind their engineering- designed ornaments. They also explained any clever solutions to problems that arose along the way.

Next, they demonstrated their ornaments by hanging them up (or not) and turning them on (if applicable). Criteria for the contest entries were that they must:

  • Fit inside a 6 x 6-inch box;
  • Weigh less than 1 kg.;
  • If using a power source or projectile, must not be dangerous;
  • Be actually hangable on a Christmas tree.

None met all the criteria, though the efforts were more than creative.

“While designing within stated limits is an engineering maxim, strict adherence to the rules wasn’t the point this time,” said Dr. Lee. “This was intended as a fun way for first year engineering students to mark the end of the semester and the beginning of Christmas break.”

Judges included Jim Bagley, assistant director of physical plant, Dr. Dan Russ, academic dean, and several Intro to Engineering alumni who were past participants in the contest.

Jeff Ratzloff ’12 won the prize for “Most Aesthetically Pleasing” ornament for his “Ice Fisher,” which featured Santa with a fishing pole and a motor-driven reeling arm. A Christmas stocking hung on the end of the line and a modern physics textbook sat on the ground next to Santa.

Lisa Richardson ’14 was awarded “Most Clever Design” for her “Solar System,” a rotating, colorful and definitely “not-to-scale” replica of the sun and planets. Derek Skeen ’14 took home the “Best Extemporaneous Allegorical Exegesis” award for his explanation of Harrison Ford as a savior figure in his ornament.

The coveted “Epic Fail” award went to Jeté Thames ’14 for her “Rudolph” ornament, which almost but did not quite spin its tail and blink its LED eyes when you pressed his red pushbutton nose. In a true demonstration of engineering grit, Jeté continued to work on her ornament until it finally functioned as intended… an hour after the contest was finished.

The “Geekiest Christmas Ornament Grand Prize” was a dead heat, with top honors split between sophomore Jon Hamill’s “Iron 66,” and first year student Nathan Calandra’s “Component Tree.”

“Iron 66”—built of red and green Zome pieces—was a spinning model of alpha particle decay made from red and green Zome nodes. Calandra’s LED-lighted “Tree” featured hard drive disk platters as boughs and old computer power supply components such as inductors, capacitors and resistors as ornaments.

The contest was the perfect celebration of merry engineering! 

View photos and videos of this year’s contest  

For more information about Gordon’s 3-2 engineering program, please contact Dr. Lee at