The challenge was straightforward enough. One group had to create plastic blades that would keep a toy helicopter hovering for 15 seconds with varying amounts of weight.
The other group had to make plastic wheels for a Lego tank-like vehicle that had to plow through a course consisting of Styrofoam, beads and sand and retrieve a flag from a slick, smooth surface.
Don’t confuse straightforward with easy, however. The teenagers at a two-week engineering camp run by the Tagliatela College of Engineering not only had to learn new software – the same software used at major companies such as Sikorsky – but how to produce a product on 3-D printers that uses the same plastic car-door panels are made of.
Some of their first attempts didn’t work too well.
“Our first set of wings [blades] was too light,” said Henry Lucas, 16, a student at the Engineering, Science and University Magnet School (ESUMS). “Then we put tape on them so they were heavier and didn’t break.”
And when that failed, they refabricated them.
“They design something and it doesn’t necessarily go as expected,” said Maria-Isabel Carnasciali, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and one of the co-directors of the camp. “So they have to change and adjust. This is just what happens in the real world.”
Another aspect of real-world engineering was that students worked in teams with campers at Georgia Tech and the University of Detroit Mercy. They collaborated through computer-meeting software and competed on site with their peers.
“Often engineers are working with others off site,” said Amy Thompson, another camp co-director and an assistant professor of system engineering. “Students in the camp get a taste for the collaboration that real engineers experience every day.”
Developed by Georgia Tech, the camp was made possible by a grant from Sikorsky Aircraft that provided full scholarships to half of the 20 campers and stipends to five high school teachers who attended the camp and helped cover some of the expenses of running the camp.
Sikorsky also invited the students on a rare tour of the company’s assembly line.
“This camp was a win-win for us,” said Dulcy A. O’Rourke, manager of university relations at Sikorsky. “Georgia Tech and UNH are focus schools for our engineering recruitment, and we are very interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) awareness. Having the teachers there gave the camp greater impact.”
Other sponsors of the program included Dassault Systèmes, which provided free CATIA design software licenses for the camp and additional licenses to the 20 high school students so they can use the design software once they leave the camp. Stratasys and Advanced Educational Technologies loaned UNH a 3-D printer and provided ABS plastic for the machine to make the helicopter blades and robot wheels.
Read the New Haven Register’s coverage of the camp.
Watch the Video