From race cars to robotic spiders High tech fun attracts students to engineering

Photo by Sue Suchyta Melvindale High School freshman Mo Ahmed, 15, of Melvindale, experiments to determine how many pennies he can load into an aluminum foil boat before it sinks April 24 during the school's Engineering Day.

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Melvindale High School freshman Mo Ahmed, 15, of Melvindale, experiments to determine how many pennies he can load into an aluminum foil boat before it sinks April 24 during the school’s Engineering Day.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

MELVINDALE – A robotic spider skitters across the floor while nearby, teens add pennies to floating foil boats, while others build hedge hog high-rises during Melvindale High School’s Engineering Day April 24.

Teacher Nahed Bizzari said this is the second year she invited local engineering schools and companies to Engineering Day, to attract students to the fun and fascinating side of engineering.
“I hope they will love engineering like me,” Bizzari said. “I’m an engineer, and I see it as a very nice field, with excitement and fun, and they will have a job that they like.”

She said the income potential is attractive as well, and can be achieved with a four-year degree.

Sophomore Alan Hernandez, 15, of Lincoln Park, said he was excited to see interactive displays with devices and experiments from Lawrence Technological University, University of Michigan and University of Detroit Mercy, but his favorite were the race cars that Wayne State University brought.

“They have design layouts, prototypes, and how they built it,” he said, pointing to a simulation playing on a laptop.

Hernandez also was fascinated by the U-M hydrodynamic lab setup, where students were making aluminum foil boats to see how many pennies could float in their vessel design before in sunk in the water of the fish tank.

Jason Bundoff, a U-M senior research engineer at the hydrodynamic lab, said he hopes to show the high school students that engineering is an optimization problem.

“There’s a lot of goals that engineers try to do, there are structures, aerodynamics, fluid dynamics,” Bundoff said. “On top of that is a systems engineering problem. In engineering you have a lot of systems coming together toward a common goal.”

He said with floating vessels, the structural rigidity, cost to construct it and the payload are factors in its design. He said the experiment they were challenging the students with focused on the payload – how many pennies the boat could carry for a given area of aluminum foil.

He said the efficiency of the boat is measured by the ratio of the payload compared to the amount of material — aluminum foil — used.

Nearby, students were constructing towers of cards, hoping to make the highest hedgehog hotel. One reached 83 inches tall and students were still building.

“The trick to this is having a good base,” said sophomore Caroline Rodriguez, 16, of Lincoln Park. “If you don’t have a good, solid base, the rest of it is not going to work out.”

Sophomore Maherr Jaeran, 15, said “squares, patience, and ‘don’t have shaking hands’” were important to his card tower progress.

“I have restarted four times,” Jaeran said. “Hopefully this time I make it.”

Physical sciences and robotics teacher Terry Laesser said she hopes her students spend some time talking with representatives from the different engineering colleges.

“I want them to make connections with the universities that are here, so that they can see the opportunities to advance beyond high school with robotics and (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities,” Laesser said. “My goal is to get them in college and keep them in college.”

(Sue Suchyta can be reached at sue.suchyta@yahoo.com.)

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