2011 · FEATURES
by Susan Lassetter on December 04, 2011
This summer, Starkville morphed into a mini Gotham City when the Bagley College of Engineering played host to 23 teens hoping to find their inner Caped Crusaders.
The 13-16 year old boys were part of Becoming A Teenage Mechanical ENgineer, a new summer camp aimed at introducing middle school students to engineering. Program creator Eric Heiselt said that the camp’s name was inspired by DC Comic’s Batman character.
“Batman is one of the only superheroes with no powers, that’s why he’s my personal favorite. He’s the ultimate engineer,” Heiselt said. “Bruce Wayne is just a man who uses science and engineering to create tools that allow him to become a hero. We want these kids to see that; to understand how engineering can make a difference.”
Even though mechanical is in the program’s name, the weeklong camp exposed the participants to many engineering disciplines. Each lesson featured hands-on activities meant to teach the engineering design process while introducing new science and math concepts. However the campers often didn’t realize exactly how advanced what they were learning really was. Building model bridges was actually a lesson on loads and stresses; creating “Viking ships” introduced the fundamentals of fluid dynamics; and copper wire and batteries became a working motor, much to the delight of young minds.
“Some of the concepts in these activities would easily be seen at the high school or junior college levels,” Heiselt explained. “We pushed trigonometry, geometry and even introduced some calculus, but we didn’t tell them that until after they completed the work. Once we told them, it helped make those higher math classes seem less intimidating.”
The main project for the camp was having the students design and build functional rockets. Working in teams, the boys had a week to make an action plan, create a scale drawing and build a rocket capable of flight. Each team was given a budget and had to purchase materials such as cardboard, plastic bottles and rubber bands from the camp store.
“I really enjoyed the rocket project. I’ve built rockets before, but I think I’m being more responsible this time since I have a budget. Plus, I’m working with a partner and I don’t want to let him down,” said 13-year-old Zachary Sullivan.
He confessed that before coming to camp he had wanted to be an architect, but now he thinks engineering might be a good fit.
“I like making things, and I think engineering could be fun,” he said.
Heiselt explained that the goal of any academic outreach program is to introduce kids to fields that they might otherwise not come across. He says he is confident that through BATMEN the BCoE has a new generation of engineering heroes in the making.
“We still get comments and emails from parents telling us how much their sons still talk about the camp, and many of them are planning on coming back for additional programs,” Heiselt said.
Find your inner engineering hero by building this homopolar motor at home. All you need is some copper wire, a battery and a magnet.
• AA battery
• Neodymium magnet approximately 0.05 inches in diameter and 0.25 inches thick
• 18-gauge copper wire
• Needle-nose pliers
1) Place the neodymium magnet on the negative terminal of the battery.
2) Remove any insulation from the copper wire, then bend the wire into any shape you want, making sure that it makes contact with the positive terminal of the battery and the circumference of the magnet ** Ask an adult to make a small dent on top of the battery to help hold the wire in place
3) Balance the copper wire on top of the battery and watch it spin. Small adjustments will effect how quickly the wire moves.