Asee peer logo

Improvisation For Engineering Innovation

Download Paper |


2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Special Session: Innovation through Improv

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.706.1 - 15.706.18



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Peter Ludovice Georgia Institute of Technology

visit author page

Pete Ludovice is an Associate Prof. of Chemical and and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He received a B.S. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois and M.I.T. respectively. Pete carries out research on the molecular modeling of synthetic and biological macromolecules, and the use of humor and improvisation to improve technical innovation, communication and education. He works as a stand-up comedian in front of technical & non-technical audiences internationally. Pete hosts a weekly radio show entitled INSIDE THE BLACK BOX on WREK-Atlanta which uses humor to demystify science and technology. He also directs a Living Learning Community at Georgia Tech that uses humor to improve technical innovation, communication and education.

visit author page


Lew Lefton Georgia Institute of Technology

visit author page

Lew Lefton is a faculty member in the School of Mathematics at Georgia Tech, where he is also the Director of Information Technology for the College of Sciences. He received a B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Illinois. Lew is an accomplished and experienced comedian who has done stand up and improv comedy for over 25 years. He is also involved in the community, where he directs a high school Improv comedy troupe called D.U.C.K., and leads a "geek" club at a local middle school called S.T.E.M.C.E.L.L. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math Club to Encourage a Love of Learning).

visit author page


Richard Catrambone Georgia Institute of Technology

visit author page

Richard Catrambone is a Professor in the School of Psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He received a B.A. from Grinnell College and and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Michigan. Richard is interested in the design of teaching and training materials--including software and multimedia environments--based on cognitive principles that help students learn basic tasks quickly and promote transfer to novel problems. In particular, he uses task analysis techniques to explore what students need to know in order to solve problems in a domain and then to use the results of the task analysis to guide the construction of teaching and training materials/environments.

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Improvisation for Engineering Innovation

Abstract Enhanced creativity among U.S. engineers and scientists is required in the face of strategic needs for innovation in numerous technical areas including: energy, the environment and health. NSF’s third generation Engineering Research Centers explicitly require an educational component to enhance creativity to improve innovation. We have applied an approach to improving creativity that has traditionally not been used in technical innovation. The approach uses improvisational humor exercises to generate innovative ideas. The equivalence of humor and innovation is well established, and recently Sweeney and co-workers have systematically applied improvisation to enhance innovation. While this approach has been successful in non-technical fields, such as business and marketing, success has been limited in technical fields such as engineering. We have suggested a protocol based on a combination of humorous improvisation and stochastic molecular simulation to effectively search technical idea space. Humorous improvisation is the random idea generator for a stochastic search algorithm in innovation space; just as random number generators are used to sample molecular conformation space. We hypothesize that a more comprehensive refinement of idea space is required to make this approach effective for technical innovation. We have made some preliminary investigations of this protocol by carrying out workshops with undergraduate engineering design students. These preliminary results have suggested a basic protocol that uses a two-stage process: an improvised random idea which then inspires a technical problem solution. This two step approach is not used in Sweeney’s approach, and may be responsible for its lack of effectiveness in technical areas, such as engineering.

Introduction The importance of creativity was aptly described by Dr. Joseph Bordogna, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the National Science Foundation as “what societal progress… is all about,” in a 2002 speech at the Rochester Institute of Technology.1 Numerous others have extolled the importance of creativity, including the Editor in Chief of “Power Electronics Technology” who points out that Engineering Innovation requires creativity.2 Given recent science and technology challenges for new enabling technologies in the fields of energy, health and the environment, it is generally agreed that creativity is of critical importance to produce this required technical innovation. Manifestations of this desire to produce more creative engineers and scientists abound. They include, for example, the recent announcement by the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) that its new admissions policy will specifically include creativity as an admissions criterion in up to a fifth of the incoming freshman class.3 This drive to produce creative engineers is also reflected in the focus of the Generation III Engineering Research Center (ERC) Program of the National Science Foundation. This program is designed to produce “engineering graduates who will be creative U.S. innovators in a globally competitive economy”.4 This program explicitly requires that ERC proposals address the educational requirements needed to produce creative engineers. According to a National Academy of Engineering study, increasing creativity in engineering may also help attract a more diverse demographic to the engineering field.5

Ludovice, P., & Lefton, L., & Catrambone, R. (2010, June), Improvisation For Engineering Innovation Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16646

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015