Bechtel student employees demonstrate laser engraving skills on steel rails

Purdue students in the Bechtel Innovation Design Center engraved cut sections of railway rails used in the Lafayette Street Railway from the 1800s to the 1940s to recognize the historic significance of the rails which were pulled from beneath State Street in 2017. (Cynthia Sequin/Purdue Research Foundation)

In 2017, long-buried and unused steel railroad tracks were unearthed during West Lafayette’s State Street Renovation Project. Michael B. Cline, Purdue’s senior vice president for administrative operations, oversaw the State Street Redevelopment Project. To preserve the historic artifacts, he had as many of the steel rails unearthed as possible and had some of the better preserved rails cut into 4-inch bookends.

Students Matthew Fitzgerald, senior in systems analysis and design, and Shiv Patel, sophomore in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, took the next step in recognizing the rails’ ties to Purdue. They used the laser engraver at Bechtel Innovation Design Center (Bechtel) to inscribe the steel bookends with two Purdue emblems, the Motion P and the Griffin, plus the name of the Lafayette Street Railway system.

Purdue University students Matthew Fitzgerald and Shiv Patel stand before a laser engraver at the Bechtel Innovation Design Center. The students engraved 36 bookends to commemorate the historic Lafayette Street Railway. (Nick Wang/Purdue Foundry)

“This was one of the most interesting and fun projects we’ve had the opportunity to work on,” Fitzgerald said. “The steel is, of course, very heavy, and centering the graphics on the rails was a challenge, but Shiv and I were glad we had the opportunity to do the work and learn about the history of the rails.”

Student employees at the Bechtel makerspace provide training and access to high-end equipment with which to build prototypes of design ideas. Students from any Purdue major can use the waterjet, computer-aided design software, 3D printers or laser engravers. Bechtel is also the site for projects that are too large to be undertaken elsewhere on campus.

Read the full Purdue Research Foundation article.

New laser engraving technology a engraves bookends created from antique railway rails. (Nick Wang/Purdue Foundry)

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