The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Senior Capstone Design

MIE Senior Capstone Design

Course Objectives: The goal of the capstone design course is for students to apply their full engineering and general engineering education to a new and important problem which is amenable to an engineering solution and present their results. The course will develop and refine students’ abilities in this context by planning and organizing a term project, evaluating design alternatives with supporting engineering analysis, applying appropriate engineering standards, assessing and optimizing designs from the customer perspective, and presenting final designs.

Course Topics:

  1. Problem Recognition
  2. Problem Formulation
  3. Customer Needs identification
  4. Product Specification
  5. Engineering Standards
  6. Concept Generation
  7. Evaluation/Selection of Concepts
  8. Principles of Life Cycle Design
  9. Prototyping
  10. Poster Competition

Integrative Experience: Engineering solutions are almost always created in response to some societal need. Understanding the need is central to success in engineering design and an engineer must understand the economic, social, political, sustainability and environmental contexts in which the need arises. Therefore, as engineering students embark on the problem identification phase of engineering design they have the opportunity to reflect and draw on the knowledge they have gained through their General Education courses and then integrate this with the engineering knowledge they have gained in their major. More specifically, by employing the broad knowledge they gain from experiences in economics, psychology, sociology and history, students are better equipped to understand how an engineering solution will be accepted and will address societal needs. This kind of reflection goes beyond understanding in the separate disciplines by considering, for example, how economic, safety and environmental issues compete and complement each other and by observing how their own perspectives on these issues have evolved.

Project Overview. Your [ME] objective is to identify a design need, develop engineering specifications for the product, and design, develop and fabricate hardware related to your design project. Your [IE] objectives areto design, develop, implement, and/or improve an integrated system or systems that include people, materials, information, equipment and energy and (2) to use appropriate analytical, computational, and experimental practices in the context of an integrated system; demonstrating skills and knowledge indicative of a capstone project. This means that the project should require a higher-level of engineering knowledge and skills than found in sophomore and junior-level design classes. Thus, the project must involve significant use of engineering tools and standards, the results of which are used to inform decisions. There are several project formats as part of the course.


  • ME or IE Student Concepts: The top student proposals based on innovation and feasibility will be selected for development. Selected ME projects can be one or two semester projects; IE projects will be two semester projects.
  • ME/ECE Collaborative Senior Capstone Design: Teams of two ME students will be paired with two Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) students to develop a student concept project. Note that ECE teams start forming in March of their junior year. ME students selecting this option will complete ECE 415 and 416 during their senior year in lieu of MIE 415 (ECE 415 will satisfy a ME technical elective – the only one permitted outside of MIE courses).
  • ME/Nursing Collaborative Senior Capstone Design: Teams of four ME students will be paired with a Nursing student to develop assistive technology. Students will work with clients to identify issues they face and develop engineering solutions to mitigate them. Teams will work with clients who live in the area and will be required to travel to their location. Prof. Cynthia Jacelon in nursing will also co-advise the team along with the course instructors.
  • ME Semester-Long Industry Sponsored: Companies have sponsored senior design projects relevant to their business. For these projects, students will work directly with a technical contact at the company to develop an engineering solution to their problem. Students will be expected to be in regular contact with the industry sponsor and present their progress throughout the semester. Travel within MA or CT maybe required for some projects.
  • ME or IE Year-Long Industry Sponsored: For year-long projects, ME students will enroll in MIE 497M (a ME technical elective) in the fall semester and MIE 415 in the spring semester. Year-long ME projects are expected to make a prototype demonstration at the end of the first semester. As in IE Student Concept projects, the fall semester will focus on proposal development and the spring semester is dedicated to completing the project.

Project Requirements. This team-based capstone project must also meet several requirements. These include the following:

  1. It must demonstrate an ability to design (or redesign) a mechanical system to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability.[1]
  2. It must demonstrate an understanding of the project’s potential impact in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.[2]
  3. It must demonstrate skills and knowledge indicative of a capstone design project. This means that the project should require a higher-level of engineering knowledge and skills than found in sophomore and junior-level design classes. Thus, the project must involve significant use of engineering tools and standards, the results of which are used to inform design decisions.  Models used to predict the behavior and optimize the design. Evaluation of the design must be performed.
  4. Your design (or some portion of the design) must be realized in hardware that helps validate the design concept.

[1]This is an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) requirement.

[2]This is an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) requirement.

Possible Application Areas for Senior Capstone Design

  1. Assistive technology and universal design. Assistive technology helps people with physical disabilities perform tasks which otherwise would be difficult or impossible. A common example of assistive technology is a hearing aid. In universal design a product is designed to maximize its usability, including by people with disabilities.
  2. Industry sponsored project. Many students engage in summer internships or ‘coop’ engineering experiences with companies. Such work experiences will often provide real-world design opportunities that may be appropriate to address in the context of a capstone design project. Such a project requires buy-in by management at the company, as well as a technical point of contact who is able to interact with student teams and provide the necessary information (customer needs, design specifications, etc.) and resources.
  3. Home physical therapy equipment. This application domain is rich for new and creative design solutions.  Examples include specialized strengthening or range of motion equipment for patients with medical conditions, such as stroke victims who experience weakness on one side of the body. 
  4. Product testing equipment. This domain is very application dependent, as it involves the design and development of specialized equipment to test a product. For example, a shoe manufacturer may be interested in testing the energy absorption and/or energy release mechanism of a new composite running shoe design. To do this the shoe needs to be loaded and unloaded thousands of times in a manner realistic to its intended application, and data must be gathered that measures the shoe performance.
  5. Cardiovascular exercise equipment. While there are many cardiovascular exercise products on the market, such as treadmills, stair masters, elliptical machines, and stationary bicycle trainers, few are affordable, lightweight, easily and quickly collapsible, and highly compact for storage.

This is not intended to be an inclusive list. You are free to propose design project ideas based on your interests and/or interactions with industry and other UMass departments.