DE and UI Engineering Students Collaborate to Upgrade the Lego Model 

Design Engineer’s collaboration with the University of Iowa (UI) has yielded remarkable results in upgrading DE’s 18,000+ brick Lego Model of the Indian Creek Nature Center, DE’s first Net-Zero energy project. Led by University of Iowa engineering students Maneesh John, Werner Bayas, Haming He, and Kiana Erikson, the team successfully added electronic features to transform the model into a dynamic representation of the building’s sustainable energy systems. This partnership has not only provided valuable learning experiences but also strengthened the bond between Design Engineers and UI engineering students. Let’s delve deeper into the team’s goals, achievements, and how they overcame challenges.

Bringing the Lego Model to Life

The overarching goals of the project were to add chasing lights, incorporate functional solar panels, track energy generation and consumption, and develop a web interface to display the data. And while the project didn’t come without its own challenges, the collective efforts and expertise brought the Lego model to life!

Innovation in Replicating Electronic Features

The idea to replicate the electronic features of the Lego model had been floating around the office for some time but gained traction through a collaboration between Managing Principal Jonathan Gettler and intern Kiana Erikson, whose background in computer science and engineering, provided the perfect foundation for the project. However, as the seniors pursued the project, Kiana reached out to Design Engineers to expand the scope of the model’s functionality. This collaboration became a catalyst for innovation. The UI team of students successfully incorporated chasing LED lights to simulate geothermal energy flow and integrated functional solar panels to power the lights. This creative approach transformed the Lego model into a captivating and interactive representation of sustainable practices.

Real-Life Electrical Consumption and Generation

Through this project, the team of two electrical engineering majors and two computer science and engineering majors gained practical exposure to real-life electrical consumption and generation. Kiana Erikson, a recent UI graduate and Design Engineers intern shared her team’s experience, including the implementation of a tracking system that used current sensors to monitor the power generated by the model’s newly added solar panels:

“Our team not only learned about real-life electrical consumption and generation, but through this project, we were able to implement a system that tracked it! Researching and implementing this led to new knowledge and skill sets that expanded upon concepts we learned in class.”

Overcoming Challenges

Throughout the project, the team faced challenges, such as accessing the required API for displaying data from the Indian Creek Nature Center. However, the team was able to utilize Design Engineer’s own building data, which closely resembled the nature center, as a temporary solution. They also encountered difficulties in sourcing compatible hardware components. Despite these obstacles, the team were creative in solving the issues, showcasing their determination and problem-solving skills.

A Model for Collaboration

Design Engineers’ partnership with the University of Iowa exemplifies the benefits of collaboration between industry and academia. Through this project, the University of Iowa students gained invaluable real-world experience in electrical consumption and generation. “I am very proud of how the project turned out.” stated Kiana. “It’s great to know that we were able to satisfy all of DE’s requirements and provided them with an updated model that they will be able to use to teach others about solar power and geothermal systems!”

The collaboration also fostered stronger relationships between Design Engineers and UI Engineering students. Jonathan Gettler, who served as DE’s sponsor reflects on the experience:

“This partnership stands as a testament to the power of collaboration in promoting engineering education and sustainability awareness to the community. The team’s successful integration of electronic features into the Lego model not only enhances the learning experience but also amplifies the message of sustainability to clients, the community, and others.”

University of Iowa students Maneesh John, Werner Bayas, Haming He, and Kiana Erikson with Design Engineers' Principal Jonathan Gettler with the upgraded lego model at the Senior Design exhibit.

See the Lego Model at the 2023 AIA IA Convention

The Indian Creek Nature Center Lego model with all its new upgrades will be on display at this year’s AIA IA Conference in Des Moines. So, stop by booth 3 to meet our team and see the Lego model in action! To learn more about the upcoming conference, held on September 21st and 22nd at the Iowa Events Center, visit