The Process of Development

The UConn STEAM will be developed in two phases.

PHASE I of the project will involve

  1. Planning of the UConn STEAM Tree
  2.  Design and construction of the tree prototype
  3.  Outreach and public engagement

PHASE II of the project will involve implementation of the potential novel research aspects identified in Phase I and further development of the Tree as a constantly evolving research / teaching tool for diverse disciplines.


Picture from an In-person design meeting* from October 2020.
Picture from an in-person design meeting, where we sketched how we want out tree to look like.

Planning the UConn STEAM Tree


Our multidisciplinary team collaboratively worked on planning the Tree. Each team member performed a thorough literature search and data collection in order to identify areas of interest for research that the Tree could be utilized for.

Researchers hired graduate, undergraduate and high-school students who were involved in literature research on potential research aspects of the tree, collect and process technical data and public feedback, summarize findings, and help build the prototype tree.

Through its careful and considered design, the group planned the design of the 8-10’ tall Tree to support a range of engineering experiments for new and emerging clean energy materials, and renewable energy harvesting solutions, as well operating with fully functional solar panels concurrently.

The Tree is envisioned to generate electricity using several clean energy options. Some of these being solar, piezoelectric and mechanical energy from people activity. In Phase I, we planned to build the prototype of the Tree with off-the-shelf solar cells in order to test and refine operation and public response.

We will implement several charging power outlets and lighting options, with the plan to develop these concepts further in Phase II. The prototype will explore a variety of leaf shapes for efficiency. Close collaboration between design, engineering, biological and social science is vital to the coherent and creative planning and development of this prototype.


concept of the tree by Christopher Sancomb
Concept drawing of the STEAM Tree design by Christopher Sancomb


Prototype of the tree by Christopher Sancomb











Designing & Constructing the prototype


The design of the Tree begun with an iterative stage explored through 3D modeling, working concurrently with team researchers to establish the parameters for scale, load and accommodations for the electrical system. These computer models can run simulations for wind load and other important considerations for design pre- fabrication to help make critical observations. Computer models were processed to become small scale maquettes for proof of concept and aesthetic feedback from the team and the community.

picture of collaborative design process
Collaborative design process

Once we have settled on a visual design that integrates all of the required systems we proceeded fabrication of the full scale operating prototype. We will connect with the appropriate UConn entities to discuss the design, seek feedback, and establish plans for implementation of campus at agreed upon sites. The fabrication is taking place on campus and involve students from the emerging Industrial Design program as shop assistants, project documentors, and observers.

We are utilizing the metal studio in the Art building as it has the requisite space and equipment for the production. Once the prototype Tree has been built we will utilize the Art building in the courtyard for a test period for safety and functionality before deploying on campus.


Clip from meeting, in which we choose what kind of leaves we were gonna have on the tree. Images by Christopher Sancomb

Outreach and public engagement


The UConn STEAM Tree will serve as a research tool on how design can influence opinion, understanding and accessibility, to public facing renewable energy sources. The Tree will be carefully designed to be aesthetically appealing and positioned in public areas to enhance its effect on social interactions. research on social interactions, novel education.

The prototype STEAM Tree developed in the proposed Phase I would be designed to be portable to allow for temporary installation in various settings. The design would allow for the STEAM Tree to be easily moved to a variety of sites, assembled or simply unfolded to be deployed and begin its function.

We will design a public feedback board to be placed beside the tree. During Phase I we will organize engagement events,, focus groups and design charrettes, where we will seek public opinion on the topics of the Tree artistic design, the connection to nature, the perception of renewable energy, and the social interactions surrounding the installation. Outreach events such as visits to local schools/science museums will be arranged to raise awareness of clean energy, and collect feedback from the public on the design, functionality and social aspect of the Tree.

Data will be collected in the form of surveys and processed to provide input for Phase II project planning. In Phase II, the intention is to develop, test and refine the materials and methods of interaction with the public around the STEAM Tree. We envision that in the future there could be a downloadable APP to allow students to track the location of the Tree for that day/week, check its generating capacity/potential for the day, plan meet ups with peers at the site, as well as provide feedback and opinion.

All proposed technologies and research resources currently exist at UConn and are available to each discipline to facilitate completion of the project. Each collaborator has a lab, or workspace to pursue the development of the various components. Materials that would be used in development, design and fabrication of the STEAM Tree are readily available, and would be sourced from the surrounding communities and within the state, thereby contributing to local and regional economy.