May 3, 2011

Traditionally, engineering and creative writing are the equivalent of oil and water – the two simply do not mix.

But, for a group of LSU Mechanical Engineering (ME) students, these seemingly unrelated disciplines have joined forces, giving these seniors an unconventional approach to their ME Capstone Design project.

John Gilbert and his team are designing the “next generation paintball gun,” a concept which required the team to combine innovation with practical design and construction skills. The team learned that defining “next generation” to suit its and paintball players’ expectations called for some creativity.

“The idea part of this project has been more like creative writing,” said Gilbert, a Lafayette, La. native. “In the middle of the night, an idea hits you, and you have to wake up and write it down. It’s different from anything in engineering that I’ve ever done before.”

Typical paintball guns use compressed air to launch a paintball. With these guns, maintenance issues often arise. Everything must be properly sealed in order to prevent air leaks from the gun, said Gilbert. Moreover, the paintballs must vary in size.

The team of senior ME students is constructing a battery-powered alternative to the compressed air paintball gun. Instead of a compressed air tank, the group’s design will feature a small DC motor (an electric motor that runs on direct current electricity) that will launch the paintball in semi-automatic fashion. A rechargeable battery, in theory, will eliminate the need to constantly refill the gun’s air tank. 

The goal of the team’s project, which is sponsored by ExxonMobil Corp., is to create a competitive alternative in the paintball gun market. Gilbert said the typical gun will accommodate about 2,000 paintballs. The group hopes to match this performance standard with its 15-by-8 inch paintball gun.

Group members include the following senior, mechanical engineering students: John Gilbert, Nicholas Gilbert (Lafayette, La.) and Edwin Mathews (Arabi, La.)

The Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) will host the ME 4202 Capstone Design annual seminar presentation May 4-5 in the Frank Walk Design Presentation Room, 140 ELAB. ME undergraduates worked throughout two semesters on a design project of their choice. Projects are judged by a design panel consisting of local industry leaders and LSU faculty and alumni.

All ME faculty members, project sponsors, faculty advisors, alumni, graduate students, ME undergraduates and the general public are invited to this event each year. To obtain information for next year’s event, submit an area for research, or to become a judge or sponsor, please contact Larry Dufour at or Dimitris Nikitopoulos at 


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