Creativity bubbles to the surface in first-year project

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The hands of 160 students in a first-year Waterloo chemical engineering class have likely never been cleaner as they worked on a new course project.

This fall’s Chemical Engineering Design Studio 1 (ChE180) course included designing, formulating and producing handcrafted soaps.

Marc Aucoin, the Waterloo chemical engineering professor who instructs the class, says the main goal of the activity was to present students with an

First-year chemical engineering students hand-made soaps
open-ended design challenge based on producing a product through chemical transformation.

“Soap was ideal for this as it can be made from a vast list of different oils and bases, and can be further modified using additional constituents such as essential oils for scents, exfoliants, etc.,” he says.

Forty different types of soaps were produced by first-year chemical engineering students.

The students learned how to effectively use the stoichiometry of chemical reactions to make decisions on soap recipes. They also discovered how to market and present their final products while keeping in mind the overall cost of ingredients, manufacturing and sale price to maximize net income.

Recently, the class held a design symposium in Engineering 7 where visitors could try out 40 different types of soaps at hand-washing stations.

Design symposium for first-year chemical engineering class
Scents from essential oils were prominent in some while others stood out because of their unique shapes.

Student hand-crafted soaps were on display at an end-of-term design symposium. 

First prize at the symposium went to a bar of soap formed into a W shape selected by guest judge Kathy Becker, the Faculty’s teaching development associate and expert soap maker.

The students’ creations are now exhibited in two display cases – one in the lobby of Engineering 6 and the other in the Office of the President in Needles Hall.

A hit with both students and symposium attendees, Aucoin says the soap-making project will become a regular part of the Chemical Engineering Design Studio 1 course.