Posted on Dec 21, 2007

Prototype Christmas tree designed by Prof. Bill Keat's class for the Northeast Ballet's “Nutcracker.”

Students in Prof. Bill Keat’s sophomore research seminar ended the term this fall by setting up Christmas trees.

These were not part of a religious celebration, but a real-world engineering exercise in which students designed a central stage element to a classic ballet, the Nutcracker.

Keat teamed with Darlene Myers, director of the Northeast Ballet. He needed a project for his students. She needed a design for a tree to replace the aging one that has starred for nearly two decades in the Proctor’s Theater spectacle. They were brought together thanks in part to Jill Salvo, professor of biology and director of government grants, who has had a long association with Myers’ company.

Keat’s SRS, in which students assembled “Impossible Missions Design Teams,” had a goal of improving the “growing tree” used in the current production. The teams focused on adding three-dimensionality to the tree. The designs had two main functional requirements – they had to grow and, they had to fit through a narrow fly space above the stage when removed to make way for the next scene.

Three teams developed a quarter-scale prototypes with a maximum height of seven feet. They were not replicas of the final design, Keat said, but attempts to evaluate ideas which could be incorporated in the 2008 production.

They were presented to Myers at the end of the fall term.

"What most distinguishes this project from others is the amount and quality of true interdisciplinary teaming that took place." Keat said. "Engineers and liberal arts students from diverse majors worked together on a project in which they needed each other. My guess is that the College will be seeing more and more of this kind teaming in the future."