Field Trip to RPI on 7 March 2012

On Wednesday 7 March, ten 4H members and three adult chaperones attended the MIT-Lemelson Award Ceremony at RPI. The group left from the Westport Extension Office at 12:30pm and arrived almost an hour early.  After parking the vehicles, the group decided to look around until it was time to meet the RPI contacts. Right next to the garage was a building of prime interest to Caleb C.: the Materials Science building. Leader Matt went to the main office and asked about an ad hoc tour. The group was introduced to Emily and her classmate, majors in Materials Science who took the group through several labs as she explained what Materials Science  students do. The group learned that there are about 25 students in each year group in the program. This really excited Caleb.

One of the adults went and met the RPI contact at the garage (where we were supposed to be meeting him) and brought him over to the group at the Materials Science building. From there, Patrick (our RPI student contact) led us on our tour of the Engineering labs in the main engineering building.  As many of the teams arrived early, the actual tours were shuffled around. BioAusable group started in the Manufacturing Engineering lab where the group learned about the machines used to make "parts." The original machines were hand operated and are still used for some projects, but most projects use a computer driven machine. Freshman students all have a intro design class where they make parts for actual companies. Juniors and Seniors have a capstone project where they are assigned to a company with a real world problem the students solve. The group watched as a heavy duty bracket was manufactured from a rectangular prism of metal.

From there, the group went to a presentation by two students about the engineering design process.  One (a mechanical engineer) gave a presentation about engineering a mountain bike. (His goal after college is to improve the design of mountain bikes.) The other student (mechanical and aerospace) spoke about his freshman project launching a weather balloon with three cameras to the edge of space. He showed the gorgeous pictures the cameras took as the balloon ascended into space. One of our team members is a Ham Radio operator. He was excited to hear the students tracked their balloon to Maine via the use of Ham Radio. Next it was off to the Centrifuge. On the way, the group was bisected by another group. So one portion of the group went to see the Centrifuge with the RPI escort while the other portion found their way to the  Wind Tunnel Lab. The Centrifuge students then caught up with the group at the wind tunnel and the instructor filled them in on what the other group had been learning. At the wind tunnel, the group saw how the air particles flow over an airfoil. They learned about new technology being developed for passenger aircrafts to stabilize flight. The technology is being adapted from stealth aircraft technology. The students got to guess which type of object produced less drag. The activity is from the first lab the freshman do. One of the members of our group correctly identified the ball with the rough surface as having the least drag. He attributed his knowledge to watching Myth Busters.

From there it was time to head over to the building where dinner would be served. All the teams (4 Invent Teams and 3 First Robotics Teams) were present for the college student panel. Four students, representing each grade level, introduced themselves and their major and told a little about themselves. They answered questions about specific RPI programs as well as about general college life (such as how to schedule study time, class time, work and still find time to participate in outside activities.) One of the Seniors talked briefly about her co-op at Estee Lauder, giving the students an opportunity to hear how engineering occurs in many areas. During a copious Italian Buffet with something for everyone, two previous award InvenTeams shared presentations on their projects. Our team got ideas for our final video from watching the  Berlin Middle School/High School  video. (Ideas: Include pictures of our location, pictures and a brief biographical outline of team members--its ok to include our younger team members;  show the problem we are attempting to solve (they did theirs in a staged "Gumby" animation) and then show the results. They had a long clip of the local TV station talking about their project from start to finish.) BioAsuable was ready to give their presentation when it was announced everyone needed to move to the lobby to see the presentations of the 3 RPI finalists. The students got to see the project posters and meet:
1) Chris Rivel, Biomedical Engineering-- hydro-gel with electric spun fibers to provide medium to inject medicine right to the injury.
2) Zepu Wang, Materials Science-- nanocomposite filled materials for power systems to insulate high voltage power line
3) Fazel Yavari, Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering-- graphine foam to detect hazarous gases at low cost.

At 6:45, everyone was ushered into the auditorium where Rensselaer Engineering Dean David Radosky welcomed everyone. MIT and University of Illinois-Champaign joined the group via videoconference. One at a time,  the universities introduced their finalists and then awarded the Lemelson-MIT Student Prizes ($30,000). Winners were

Rensselear: Fazel Yavari
Illinois: Kevin Karch- Computer science--add techniques to establish visual techniques for photography and video for the common user
MIT: Miles Barr- Chemical Engineering- low cost solar cells that can adhere to any substance including paper and saran wrap

The teleconference ended and each winner gave a presentation on his work to his local audience. Mr. Yavari talked about the issue of air pollution in America. NO2 is the most abundant and keeps growing. 95% has been reduced by catalytic converters which transform it into N2 and H2O. However, devices are needed to ensure these converters are functioning and that NO2 is not escaping. His device uses nanotechnology and is very sensitive. Graphine is a one layer thick chain of carbon atoms. from a piece of graphine 17cm by 22cm, 400 sensors can be produced. A thin strip of graphine is placed on a p-type semi-conductor. They can be mass produced at very low cost and are just as effective as the high end super expensive hazardous gas sensors.

Fazel ended his presentation with this quote:

"Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you are good at, and what the world needs. We've been told time and again to find the first. Our schools helped us with the second. It is time we put more thought on the third."

Oliver Segovia- Harvard. 

After a reception with plenty of food, the group traveled back to Westport.

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