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High school students experience engineering in COSMOS

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During the summer, high school students participate in the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS).

San Diego, Calif., August 31, 2016 – The college students may be gone for the summer, but labs on campus still teem with activity. In some hallways, high school students participating in the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS), a four-week residential program for high school students with demonstrated achievements in math and science, can be heard chatting excitedly as they work on projects such as synthetic musical instruments, giant Mouse Trap games, and red blood cell models.

COSMOS is offered at four University of California campuses and aims to encourage high school students interested in science, technology, engineering and math to continue pursuing these fields in college. At the University of California San Diego, the program has been in place for 12 years and is administered through the Jacobs School of Engineering. Some of this summer’s activities took place in the Undergrad Laboratory (UGL) spaces in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, as well as the EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Studio.

Students who are admitted to the program select from nine clusters depending on their interests, which range from computers, to bioengineering to medicine. Curt Schurgers, who runs the Prototyping Lab on campus, teaches Cluster 1: Computers in Everyday Life, together with Professor Diba Mirza from the Computer Science and Engineering Department.

“The cluster starts by teaching the fundamentals of programming where students use a puzzle-like programming language called App Inventor to create mobile phone applications,” said Schurgers. “It continues with developing code for Scribbler robots to perform tasks like finding objects and avoiding obstacles. Next we work with Arduino and connect a variety of sensors to first create musical instruments and then design robots from scratch.  The cluster concludes with a final project where students form teams of two and come up with a project that incorporates everything they learned.”

For the app project, one team created an app called Dory Dash, based on the character from Finding Nemo. It’s a game in which players must tap the screen to change Dory’s direction of travel so that she doesn’t get eaten by a shark.

For the robot project using Arduinos, the students’ task was to build and program a walking robot to move from one end of the room to the other, without using wheels. In addition to the sensors, they could use standard servos, K’nex pieces, 3D printers and other tools available in the EnVision Maker Studio.

Joshua Hnatek and Irene Chang, both students in Cluster 1, wanted to make a cube robot that used motors to push K’nex pieces out that would roll the cube over. “We quickly figured out that the cube had too much mass, so we decided to use a weight displacement system to move the cube robot across the room,” said Chang.

“At first, we tried using centripetal force,” said Hnatek. “But the table surface was too slippery. After a lot of prototyping, we decided to try a different shape. We ended up with a 3D-printed cylinder with a weight inside that rotated around an axis and rolled the cylinder across the room.”

The pair was the team that made the most use of the 3D-printer, and took first place in the time trials. After using the 3D printers, Hnatek says he discovered that while computer science is fun, he enjoys mechanical engineering more.

Veronica Tang, TA for the cluster and a high school junior, participated in the program last year. “COSMOS was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me,” said Tang. “I took a computer science and loved learning about data processing, but here I can actually do robotics – it was stuff I hadn’t been exposed to at all.”

Since participating in COSMOS, Tang started a non-profit called All Girls STEM Society and even held a workshop with the girls based on her experience with Scribbler robots in the program.

Cluster 9: Music and Technology

Cluster 9 is working on synthetic musical instruments.

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Cluster 9 is working on synthetic musical instruments.

“In this cluster, the students build simple electronic circuits that can transform audio signals, such as amplifiers, filters and effect generators,” said Mauricio de Oliveira, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and instructor for the cluster. De Oliveira also instructs Cluster 7: Bioengineering/Mechanical Engineering: The Amazing Red Blood Cell. “In Cluster 9, students learn how to program computers to analyze, modify, create music and even improvise.”

One team built a keytar using photo sensors soldered to a guitar-shaped frame, which they cut out of acrylic with the laser cutter housed in EnVision. Another group created a synthesizer based on motion. They used proximity sensors that find distance by sending out an ultrasonic ping, and assigned the distances to different frequencies using the Python programming language. A different tone is produced depending on how close an object is to the sensor.

“Many of these students are the first in their family to consider going to college,” said Kim Morris, a teacher fellow helping with Cluster 9. Morris will teach math at San Ysidro High in the Fall, and hopes to start a maker club on campus. “In two weeks, they are exposed to as many as ten  different e resources engineering students encounter in their first year of college at a school like UC San Diego, and they’ll be experts in at least two resources students choose to apply to their project by then end of the program.”

Cluster 2: Kinetic Sculptures

One of the most popular clusters in recent years has been Cluster 2: Kinetic Sculptures.

“This cluster is about bringing control theory and design together,” said Raymond De Callafon, controls faculty and instructor for the cluster. Mechanical and Aerospace engineering professor Nathan Delson also instructs this cluster, which takes place in the Mechanical and Aerospace Dept, UGL Design Studio. “We introduce students to the engineering design tools such as CAD software, laser cutters and 3D printers. But even more importantly they are introduced to the design process, which includes creativity, problem solving, and teamwork.”

The students begin by designing a clock and using a laser cutter to cut the pieces out of acrylic, a project similar to the one for freshman taking Delson’s MAE3 class. The second week, the students form teams and design a contraption to protect a balloon when it is dropped. A high speed video with 2 GoPros was used to analyze the collision dynamics, and used by students to iteratively improve their design.

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The sculptures, which resemble giant games of Mouse Trap, range from Pokémon-themed to grape launchers.

“In the latter half of the program, we focus on more advanced physics,” said De Callafon. “They learn dynamics and how things move, and have to deliver a large sculpture using Legos that incorporates sensors and actuators.”

The sculptures, which resemble giant games of Mouse Trap, range from Pokémon-themed to grape launchers, and involved metal balls rolling down an elaborate track. The students could incorporate motors and sensors to change the path of the balls along the way. For example, one team used a light sensor to sort different color balls onto different tracks.

Each cluster concludes with a team-based project of the students’ own choosing. Teams gave a demonstration of their project, an oral presentation and created a poster for parents to see at the end of the four weeks.

Additional engineering-focused clusters include “When Disaster Strikes: Earthquake Engineering”, taught by structural engineering professor Lelli Van Den Eide,
“From Lasers to LCDs: Light at Work”, taught by electrical and computer engineering professors Charles Tu, who also directs the program at UC San Diego.





Media Contacts

Brittanie Collinsworth
UC San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation

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