Thinking Outside the Box
The Container Design Project roots back to 1994,
when Sr. Alice attended a workshop at the Thayer
School of Engineering at Dartmouth. Attendees were
tasked with a challenge of their own: What’s an
original project that teaches students the value
What Goes into
Building a Container?
More Than You Think
The best containers require more than an idea
and hot glue gun. Sister Alice breaks down the
steps to constructing a winning project.
Sr. Alice left that workshop with an idea for a
collaborative, container-based project. Twenty-six
years later, she’s still using that mostly unchanged
format to challenge her students.
At first look, the requirements seem straightforward:
design a container suited for a specific purpose. In
past years, teams have pursued concepts including
modular snack trays, heart transplant carriers, and
portable picnic tables.
To do so, students create decision-making matrices
to determine the right material — an affordable, eco-
State the problem
Chips getting crushed? Phone getting
dropped? Make the issue clear.
Find materials that accommodate your
needs — and your budget.
Consider the shape
Use calculus to determine the ideal
friendly, and insulating wood, for example. Then they
use min-max theory to consider different shapes —
a cylinder, sphere, and frustum, for instance — to
maximize volume and minimize cost.
Survey your audience
Get practical input from people who’d
use the container.
However, winning requires more than math. The
interdisciplinary project challenges participants to
tackle teamwork in fresh ways.
Report to a mentor
Get honest thoughts and feedback from
a professional engineer.
The teams of four or five must share responsibility,
working amongst themselves to share tasks, overcome
disagreements, and confer with mentors for advice
and approval. Their last step as a team is the most
daunting: withstanding the scrutiny of an expert panel
Build a model
Whether gluing, folding, or 3D-printing,
find a way to test your concept.
Make your case
Stand tall, speak clearly, and sell your
idea to the judges!