12-030 Syllabus

IDeATe: Responsive Structures

Location: Hunt Library A10 – Phys Comp Lab
Time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-2:50

Instructor: Professor Susan Finger (Call me Susan)
email: sfinger@cmu.edu
Office: Civil & Environmental Engineering, Porter Hall 123B
Office hours: By appointment: https://meetme.so/SusanFinger

TAs: Lumi Barton, David Perry.

The TA office hours will be in the late afternoon in the Hunt basement. The TAs will be here to assist with questions, skill acquisition, and projects.

Course description

This interdisciplinary, project-based course explores the art and engineering of structures that respond to a human presence. Students will learn the basic concepts of engineered structures, kinematics, and sensor-based actuation in order to design, construct and automate their projects. Students will work on group as well as individual projects. Technical topics include: CAD, laser cutting and 3D printing, and Arduinos.

This course is in the IDeATe Intelligent Environments minor.

This course requires no pre-requisite knowledge or courses.

Course Tags: IDeATE, Maker, Team Project, Interdisciplinary, Non-major

Learning objectives

By the end of the semester, you will:

  • understand basic concepts of forces and structures
  • have basic skills in CAD, laser cutting and 3D printing
  • understand basic concepts of how structures can change shape whether through manipulating material properties, folding or stitching, or kinematics
  • be able to create simple circuits using arduinos and sensors to activate a structure
  • be able to integrate these concepts to create a deployable, responsive structure

Course topics

The course is divided into four units:

  • Structures: Degrees of freedom, internal/external forces, free body diagrams and load paths.
  • Movement: Shape changing materials, origami, simple kinematics
  • Responsiveness: Sensors, arduinos, actuators
  • Integration

During each of the first three units, you will create an individual project to demonstrate mastery. For the final unit, you will work in a team to create a project that is a structure that responds by changing shape when a sensor is triggered.

Notes: The units are not of equal length and may overlap. You will learn the skills of CAD, laser-cutting and 3D printing in the first few weeks of the class since you will need these during the first two units.

Learning resources

  • This class does not have a textbook. All project supplies will be provided.
  • The class will have both an IDeATe WordPress site and a Canvas site. The WordPress site will be where you upload projects and other shared information; the Canvas site will be used for grades and other private information.


The final course grade will be calculated using the following categories:


  % of Final Grade

Class participation


Individual projects (execution and documentation)


Final project (execution and documentation)


Course policies

  • Attendance & Participation Attendance is required. Let me know if you need to be absent due to an illness, a University-sponsored event, or family emergency.
  • Academic Integrity & Collaboration: Collaboration is expected and encouraged. Submitted work must be your own, but you can build on other people’s ideas as long as you give attribution.
  • Accommodations for students with disabilities: If you have a disability and require accommodations, please contact Catherine Getchell, Director of Disability Resources, 412-268-6121, getchell@cmu.edu. If you have an accommodations letter from the Disability Resources office, I encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with me as early in the semester as possible. I will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate.”
  • Statement on student wellness: As a student, you may experience a range of challenges that can interfere with learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, substance use, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may diminish your academic performance and/or reduce your ability to participate in daily activities. CMU services are available, and treatment does work. You can learn more about confidential mental health services available on campus at: http://www.cmu.edu/counseling/. Support is always available (24/7) from Counseling and Psychological Services: 412-268-2922.”