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  1. Abstract

    The research presented in this paper investigated the changes that occur in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when new ideas are introduced during engineering design. Undergraduate and graduate engineering students (n = 25) were outfitted with a functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) headband. Students were asked to design a personal entertainment system while thinking aloud. New ideas were timestamped with the fNIRS data across 48 channels grouped into eight regions within the PFC. The data were preprocessed using temporal derivative distribution repair motion correction, finite impulse response bandpass filter, and the modified beer-lambert law to convert optical density into hemoglobin concentration. Baseline neurocognitive activation and physiological noise were removed. The study found a significant decrease in oxygenated hemoglobin in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a subregion of the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex when new ideas were introduced during design. This finding begins to provide a neurocognitive signature of what a new idea looks like as it arises in the brain. This could be used to develop tools and techniques to inhibit this brain region or use this insight to predict when designers will experience a new idea based on their neural activation.

     
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  2. Abstract

    The think-aloud protocol provides researchers an insight into the designer's mental state, but little is understood about how thinking aloud influences design. The study presented in this paper sets out to measure the cognitive and neurocognitive changes in designers when thinking aloud. Engineering students (n=50) were randomly assigned to the think-aloud or control group. Students were outfitted with a functional near-infrared spectroscopy band. Students were asked to design a personal entertainment system. The think-aloud group spent significantly less time designing. Their design sketches included significantly fewer words. The think-aloud group also required significantly more resources in the left and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The left DLPFC is often recruited for language processing, and the right DLPFC is involved in visual representation and problem-solving. The faster depletion of neurocognitive resources may have contributed to less time designing. Thinking aloud influences design cognition and neurocognition, but these effects are only now becoming apparent. More research and the adoption of neuroscience techniques can help shed light on these differences.

     
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  3. Distributed market structures for local, transactive energy trading can be modeled with ecological systems, such as mycorrhizal networks, which have evolved to facilitate interplant carbon exchange in forest ecosystems. However, the complexity of these ecological systems can make it challenging to understand the effect that adopting these models could have on distributed energy systems and the magnitude of associated performance parameters. We therefore simplified and implemented a previously developed blueprint for mycorrhizal energy market models to isolate the effect of the mycorrhizal intervention in allowing buildings to redistribute portions of energy assets on competing local, decentralized marketplaces. Results indicate that the applied mycorrhizal intervention only minimally affects market and building performance indicators—increasing market self-consumption, decreasing market self-sufficiency, and decreasing building weekly savings across all seasonal (winter, fall, summer) and typological (residential, mixed-use) cases when compared to a fixed, retail feed-in-tariff market structure. The work concludes with a discussion of opportunities for further expansion of the proposed mycorrhizal market framework through reinforcement learning as well as limitations and policy recommendations considering emerging aggregated distributed energy resource (DER) access to wholesale energy markets.

     
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  4. Jazizadeh, F. ; Shealy, T. ; Garvin, M. (Ed.)
    Challenges associated with the design and construction of the built environment are complex. Students need training to help them deal with this complexity and to help them explore and reframe problems early during project planning and design. Concept maps provide a visual representation of complex information and the relationships between this information. The research presented in this paper tested whether priming students to think in systems by asking them to draw concept maps changes how they construct problem statements. In total, 40 engineering students participated in the study. Half were asked to draw a concept map before constructing a problem statement about how to improve mobility systems around campus. The cognitive effort (i.e., time and words) students spent on the task and the number of unique system elements included in their problem statement were measured. Students that received the concept mapping intervention spent significantly more time thinking about the problem, developed longer problem statements, and included more unique elements of systems. These findings suggest using concept mapping can aid students’ conceptualization of complex problems. 
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  5. Jazizadeh, F. ; Shealy, T. ; Garvin, M. (Ed.)
    The research presented in this paper explores the effect of concept maps on students’ neurocognition when constructing engineering problem statements. In total, 66 engineering students participated in the experiment. Half of the students were asked to create a concept map illustrating all of the systems and stakeholders represented in a building on campus. The other half of students were not asked to draw a concept map. Both groups were then asked to construct an engineering problem statement about improvements to the building. While performing the problem statement task, their neurocognitive activation in their prefrontal cortex (PFC) was measured using a non-intrusive neuroimaging technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy. The students that were asked to complete the concept mapping task required less cognitive effort to formulate and analyze their problem statements. The specific regions that were less activated were regions of the brain generally associated with working memory and problem evaluation. These results provide new insight into the changes in mental processing that occurs when using tools like concept maps and may provide helpful techniques for students to structure engineering problems. 
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  6. Engineers play an important role in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations, which aim to provide a more sustainable environment for future generations. Through design thinking, creativity, and innovation, sustainable engineering solutions can be developed. Future engineers need to acquire skills in their engineering curriculum to feel equipped to address sustainable design challenges in their career. This paper focuses on the impact of perceived design thinking traits and active learning strategies in design courses to increase senior engineering students’ motivation to engage in energy sustainability in their career. A national survey was distributed to senior engineering students in the United States (n = 4364). The survey asked students about their motivation to engage in sustainable design, their perceived design thinking traits (i.e., integrative feedback, collaboration), and if they experienced active learning strategies in design courses (i.e., learning by doing). The results highlight that higher perceived design thinking ability increases senior engineering students’ interests in designing solutions related to energy sustainability. Active learning experiences positively influence senior engineering students’ interests in designing solutions related to energy sustainability. These findings show the importance of teaching design thinking in engineering courses to empower future engineers to address sustainable challenges through design and innovation. 
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  7. The resource distribution strategies of trees and plants in the forest are applied here as inspiration for the development of a blueprint for transactive, hybrid solar and storage microgrids. We used the Biomimicry Institute’s Biomimicry Spiral and their toolbox as a design methodology to inform the structural and functional characteristics of this peer-to-peer microgrid energy market and propose its utility in addressing some of the challenges associated with grid integration of distributed energy resources (DERs). We reviewed literature from the ecological domain on mycorrhizal networks and biological market theory to extract key insights into the possible structure and function of a transactive energy market modeled after the mutualism between trees and mycorrhizae. Our process revealed insights into how overlapping, virtual energy markets might grow, contract, adapt, and evolve through a dynamic network-based protocol to compete and survive in rapidly changing environments. We conclude with a discussion of the promise and limitations involved in translating the derived conceptual blueprints into a cyber-physical system and its potential for deployment in the real world as a novel energy market infrastructure.

     
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  8. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) method and toolkit provides a well-structured approach to support engineering design with pre-defined steps: interpret and define the problem, search for standard engineering parameters, search for inventive principles to adapt, and generate final solutions. The research presented in this paper explores the neuro-cognitive differences of each of these steps. We measured the neuro-cognitive activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of 30 engineering students. Neuro-cognitive activation was recorded while students completed an engineering design task. The results show a varying activation pattern. When interpreting and defining the problem, higher activation is found in the left PFC, generally associated with goal directed planning and making analytical. Neuro-cognitive activation shifts to the right PFC during the search process, a region usually involved in exploring the problem space. During solution generation more activation occurs in the medial PFC, a region generally related to making associations. The findings offer new insights and evidence explaining the dynamic neuro-cognitive activations when using TRIZ in engineering design. 
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