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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Fun in the Sun" with KU and Project CREATE

Project CREATE facilitator Kathy Bowen and Professor Kevin Leonard address the campers
          The Kansas NSF EPSCoR Education and Diversity Grants are designed to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Kansas by supporting activities that will prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of climate or energy research or atomic, molecular and optical science. Last August, Kevin Leonard, assistant professor in chemical and petroleum engineering, was awarded one of five Kansas NSF EPSCoR Education, Outreach and Diversity grants to develop a 3D printer-based solar energy camp for children.  The program titled  Fun in the Sun: Using Solar Fuel Research to Educate, Challenge and Inspire Future Scientists! involves a partnership with Project CREATE, a local non-profit community group.  Project CREATE focuses on "Cultivating Responsible, Enriched, Artistic, Tech-Savvy Enthusiasts," in STEM camps for gifted students in grades 4 - 7. The camp was held June 15 -19 and hosted 43 elementary and middle school students.
        Leonard and his colleague Claudia Bode, Education Director for the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis at KU, worked with Project CREATE educators to develop activities for the camp.  Their main goals were to inspire students, in particular girls, to see themselves as scientists and engineers; to encourage student exploration of the potential uses of 3D scanners and printers; and 3) to expose the students to STEM related careers. 
The 3D printed add-ons and solar car
       All hands-on activities were energy-themed and addressed the conversion of solar energy to chemical energy through the use of custom-built devices, robotics and 3D technologies. The first task for the students was to build solar cars from preprinted 3D pieces and commercial kits. Then, they designed and 3D printed their own add-on items using an online modeling program. Once the cars were complete, the students tested the variations of engineering designs for efficiency.
        A unique feature of the camp was a new 3D printed miniature dynamometer apparatus that was created with the help of Ed Atchison, engineering technician at CBEC.  The children used the “mini dyno” to measure the speed, temperature, voltage and current of their creations, and then used the results to brainstorm ideas for modifying the cars to improve performance.
        Students reported that they enjoyed building the solar cars, visiting labs, using the modeling program and going on field trips. One participant stated “I liked the freedom you have (in free time); They (leaders) embraced our ideas and we got to do a lot of cool things….” The 3D printing was also a major program highlight expressed by all of the students. Overall, the camp was deemed a fun and educational success and the organizers hope to offer it again next summer.