Sweet Briar Engineering at 2011 NYC/NJ FIRST event

Just in case we have any blog readers in the NY/NJ area, we will have a booth set up at the NYC FIRST Celebration.  We will have faculty representation there Friday March 11 and Saturday March 12.  Come by and say hi and pick up your free pink hard-hat!

If you don’t know much about FIRST, here is a blurb about their tournaments from their website:

As part of a FIRST team, kids get to apply math and science knowledge, solve problems, make decisions, communicate complex ideas, collaborate as part of a team, exercise leadership, manage resources, create and execute business plans – all essential skills in any successful technological enterprise.

FIRST competitions and tournaments are celebrations by which communities convey the importance of their students’ achievements in science and technology. FIRST celebrations are fun, energetic and filled with excitement.

In the same fashion that scholastic athletes experience the adulation of their communities, FIRST programs celebrate students’ prowess in science and technology. Kids are inspired and motivated to succeed.

engineering capstone project with Edison2

I mentioned in my last blog that the Sweet Briar engineering capstone class is working with Edison2, the designers of the Very Light Car.  The Edison2 car won the recent automotive X prize (and $5 millions).  The Sweet Briar students are designing seating and other interior options.  The capstone class is being led by engineering faculty member Bethany Brinkman.

The folks at Edison2 posted a blog on their site after our students did their preliminary design review at the Edison2 labs.  You can find it here.

quick update, current engineering design projects

Unlike this blog, lots has been going on in the engineering program since I last posted!

We had our ABET site visit in the fall.  We had a great visit with our evaluators and received some great input on becoming an even stronger program.  We’ll hear official word on the accreditation decision in September.

We have several exciting student design projects going on at the moment.  The machine design students are designing a ski-lift system.  The capstone class is designing the seats and interior for the Very Light Car for Edison2, one of the recent winners of the automotive X-prize (minimum of 100 mpg effective).  Their lab is in Lynchburg.  And the Technology and Society class is designing assistive devices for clients at a hospital in Brazil.  Much of the class will be traveling to Brazil in June.  Stay tuned for more announcements about our program.

News Coverage of Summer Engineering Course for High School Women at Sweet Briar College

We are near the end of our Sweet Briar College  Summer Explore Engineering course for high school women.  They are designing and making robotic musical instruments, in addition to several other course activities.

I’ll write another blog about their very creative designs.  We received some nice news coverage of our course.

Here is the news story from wdbj 7 that was done on the course.


We also had a nice story run  on WSET 13.  That is here.

And the Lynchburg_News & Advance ran a nice cover story.

If you missed our summer course, keep an eye out for the dates of our fall and spring Explore Engineering weekend events for high school women.

Spring 2010 Explore Engineering Event for High School Girls- Designing Interactive Stomp Pad Games

Explore Engineering, Spring 2010

We held our fifth Explore Engineering event for high school girls April 9-10, 2010. We had 18 great students attend and everyone seemed to both have a great time and learn about engineering design.   Several of the girls had been to one or more of our previous events.  As usual the high school girls were very creative with the weekend design project.

We put together our most ambitious Explore project yet for this group.  The theme of the event was “Design, Dance, Disco” and students designed and built stomp pad games and laser disco prism/motor devices.   We had five teams each working collaboratively on their designs.  Students did everything from make their stomp pad switches to making LED based graphics to connect to their circuits.

Stomp pad games included: Twister Tic-Tac-Toe, Sweet Briar  Says (like the electronic version of the game Simon Says), Volcano Eruption w/David Bowie Theme, Piano Stomp Pad (to play classical music), and That’s the Way I Like It (designed to play the 1974 song from KC and the Sunshine Band).

You get what I meant about creativity now right?

To get an even better sense of the project (and our events for girls) you should really check out the photos on our Explore Engineering site here.

A special thanks goes out to the Sweet Briar engineering students that helped design, develop, and partly teach the high school students.  Thanks to Caroline, Lindsay, Scooter, Sarah J., Madeline, Sarah L., Elizabeth, Katelyn, and Kayla!  The high school girls always say that they really value the opportunity to work with Sweet Briar engineering majors.

We are looking forward to our summer Explore Engineering course.  More info is here.  We’ll be designing and creating robots/devices that play music (among other things…)!

I should point out that our Explore Engineering events for high school girls are currently supported by the National Science Foundation (STEP 0525388 and S-STEM 0850092 projects).

coloring contest winner…

We have a winner for the radio astronomy/Drake equation coloring contest.  The winner is Marie G.!   Congratulations!

Winning entry from Marie G., Radio Astronomy/Drake Equation Coloring Contest

FIRST robotics events and Sweet Briar (NYC and Richmond, Va)

Team Techno Girls, team #1968 (an all girls team!) practices with their robot

I just got back from New York City where the Sweet Briar Engineering Program had a booth at the NYC Regional FIRST robotics competition.  Caroline Sorensen, a sophomore engineering major, went as well.  We gave out over 150 of our speaker kits and got to talk with some great high school students about Sweet Briar.    The pirate shown here is holding one of our speaker kits (simple parts that be turned into a speaker that will play music from an ipod).

Students really get into supporting their teams - See Pirate

If you haven’t heard of FIRST, their mission is “…to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”   FIRST sponsors robotics competitions at a variety of levels all across the country.   More info on FIRST can be found here. Sweet Briar also offers scholarships to students that have participated in FIRST, see our website for details.

The Sweet Briar Engineering Program will also have a booth at the Virginia Regional FIRST competition March 19-20 at VCU.  Drop by our booth and visit with Sweet Briar students and faculty.  We’ll also have tons of information about our upcoming Explore Engineering events for high school girls (April 9-10 and July 25-30, see our website for more info).

Caroline talks to students about our upcoming Spring Explore event (yes, we told the males we were a women's college...)

physics is everywhere, including on U-Haul trucks (and coloring contest)

Yes, you hear it all the time.  The world of physics and engineering is all around us.  And yes, it is true.

But it really is everywhere, including on the sides of U-Haul trucks!  I was pretty surprised when I saw the U-Haul truck below.   It is sort of hard to see but there is actually an equation on the truck.  If you look just above the dish you’ll see the  Drake Equation.

U-haul truck with Drake Equation

The Drake Equation is an attempt to quantify the number of communicating civilizations in our galaxy.  A nice explanation of the equation with a fun interactive calculator for the Drake Equation from PBS Nova can be found here.

The U-Haul site also has some nice info about the Drake Equation and radio astronomy.  I especially like the coloring book they have –  coloringbook_uhaul_drake.  I like it so much I want to have a coloring contest!

Hank’s Blog Coloring Contest
Submit your colored Drake Equation coloring page to me (mail, email, whatever).
Deadline for submissions is March 10, 2010.
I’ll take submissions from anyone.
I’ll post the best submission on my blog here.
I’ll also send the winner a $10 gift card to Starbucks or some other such place.
Go color!

Physics and the ONION

The Onion ran a great “story” about physics recently that got me thinking.  If you don’t know about the Onion it is a very funny (potentially offensive) fake newspaper. They actually run several physics related fake stories a year.

Side personal note: I’d love to be a writer for something like the Onion.

Anyway, the reason why the Onion story is so funny is also why physics is such an exciting enterprise.  Here is the story from the ONION:

World’s Physicists Complete Study Of Physics
January 14, 2010
HARIMA, JAPAN—Saying that there was no more knowledge to acquire about the physical nature of the universe, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics announced Monday that it had concluded the scientific study of matter, energy, force, and motion. “Yeah, that about does it for physics,” said IUPAP member Sukekatsu Ushioda, powering down Japan’s Super Photon ring particle accelerator. “All done. Math can pretty much take it from here.” The world’s top physicists also announced that they would celebrate the conclusion of physics by meeting at PJ’s Pub later tonight for drinks.

So why is the story so funny?  Leave me a comment.

Welcome back Sweet Briar students!

Applied physics and technology – wireless electricity

So, I’m teaching a class next term on the very broad topic of Applied Physics.  The idea behind the course is to get students excited about technology and then to have the students dig into the physics behind the technology.  Two exciting developments came to mind that I hope students get excited about: wireless electricity and optical cloaking (yes, physicists and engineers are working on making objects invisible).

The video here is of Eric Giler, CEO of WiTricity, a company working on wireless electricity for devices.  Imagine how having wireless electricity might change how you live your life?  The video here is from the 2009 TED conference.  I haven’t been to one (they are by invitation) but the talks are all available on their site.  TED conferences seem very cool.

If you are interested in technology and physics, consider taking my special topics applied physics course.