Controlled Chaos

Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen fosters undergraduate inventions with a social impact.

Photo by Gustavo Raskosky

Spring 2024
By Tracey Rhoades

In some sense, the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen resembles the high school home economics classrooms of the past. But just a glance around the 20,000-square-foot facility registers a space where undergraduate students have the support and equipment necessary to address today’s real-world challenges. With full access to an assortment of tools (including sewing machines), prototyping equipment and on-site engineering design assistants, students work in interdisciplinary teams — 1,673 of them since the facility opened in 2009 — to tackle problems posed by partners from industry, the Texas Medical Center and beyond.

“The OEDK is a vibrant hub that fosters innovation, collaboration and hands-on learning to support students with training, tools and supplies as they solve important engineering design challenges,” says Z. Maria Oden, director of the OEDK. “Projects range from assistive devices for people with disabilities to converting high-emission vehicles to run with sustainable power.”

To date, nearly 13,000 students have used the facility, many of them to successfully develop and deploy solutions to important engineering challenges, such as an open-source design for a ventilator for COVID patients and a CPAP device that was designed through a partnership with the Rice360 Institute for Global Health Technologies and is now used to assist babies in respiratory distress in over 50 developing countries. Through the annual Huff OEDK Engineering Design Showcase, student teams present these designs and compete for monetary awards. But regardless of the outcome of any given project, the OEDK has revolutionized engineering education for Rice’s students.