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EPISODE: The Engineering Physics Department Newsletter

 

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Shock tube studies bring astronomical understanding light years closer

Uncertainty models improve system design

Videos introduce UW-Madison engineering experts to youth worldwide

Students present senior design research at AIAA conference

A nuclear family: ANS student chapter builds community

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Videos introduce UW-Madison engineering experts to youth worldwide

Participants in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition

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Decorative initial cap If you’re in it to win it, you’re in it for the wrong reasons,” says Marc Couture, about the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League, an international team-based robotics competition that annually attracts nearly 90,000 kids ages 9 to 14.“This is about the process,” he says. “This is about what this group of kids has learned about how to work together—and those are the skills that are important in participating in the program."

Founded in 1989 by inventor/entrepreneur Dean Kamen, FIRST designs a series of accessible, innovative programs that build not only science and technology skills and interests, but also self confidence, leadership and life skills.

Trained as a mechanical engineer, Couture discovered FIRST programs when his son was 10. Now he volunteers full-time with FIRST as its Wisconsin coordinator. “I’m always looking for ways to enhance how the program is delivered,” he says.

His desire to improve the quality and content of competition-associated information led him in 2006 to Associate Professor Wendy Crone, then outreach and education director of the UW-Madison NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

In response, Crone and her staff and students produced a series of educational videos about nanotechnology for the 2006 FIRST LEGO League (FLL) “Nano Quest” competition. Posted to the project resources section of the FLL website, the videos were available as research material to competition participants in more than 30 countries.

Participants in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition

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Each year, FLL teams take on a new challenge. Based on a theme (past themes have included Ocean Odyssey, Mission Mars, Arctic Impact, and Volcanic Panic, among others), the students research, design and build a robot that autonomously executes several “missions.” During the competitions—which begin about two-and-a-half months after the challenge debuts—judges also score FLL participants on a 10-minute technical interview, a 10-minute teamwork assessment interview, and on a challenge-related project they planned and implemented within their community.

The 2007 challenge is called Power Puzzle. It encourages FLL participants to consider their energy choices, analyze the effect of those choices, and learn about their consequences.

Associate Scientist and UW Energy Institute Director Paul Meier led a group of faculty, staff and students who helped to produce educational videos for the 2007 challenge. “We set out to create something that introduced the subject matter for the competition, but that we also could use indefinitely as an educational tool,” he says.

Because energy is such a broad field, Meier and his colleagues produced the videos as an introduction to sustainable energy. “We wanted to demonstrate that we use energy in our everyday lives all the time, and that sustainability depends on how fast a resource is used relative to how fast it’s replenished,” he says. “Other lessons we conveyed are that energy can be converted from one form to another, but that not all forms of energy are equally convenient for doing the kinds of work that we need. And finally, because we use so much energy, decisions about our energy future must consider tradeoff side effects and unintended consequences.”

Meier, Geology Professor Alan Carroll, Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Greg Nellis, EP Professor Mike Corradini and Assistant Professor Paul Wilson, and Wisconsin Public Utility Institute Director Cara Lee Mahany Braithwait wrote the video script. However, they chose not to “star” in the actual videos, which UW-Madison hosts and streams via its high-bandwidth network. “Because of the age group, we wanted the middle school audience to see college students discussing this,” says Meier. “So, we had six student volunteers from engineering, geology and the energy analysis and policy program who worked with the script and then presented the material. We wanted role models for the young students to say, ‘In just a few years, you could be working in this area.’”

A graduate student in nuclear engineering and energy analysis and policy, Megan Sharrow is among the students featured in the videos. “It was amazing to watch it get orchestrated,” she says. “It was one of those projects that, when you work on it, it’s fun. Everyone says, ‘Yes, this is a lot of work. But yes, this is going to be so great when it’s done.’”

Participants in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition

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Participants in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition

(Larger image)

Participants in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition

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Participants in the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition

(Larger image)

 

 

 

 


On campus, the Engineering Media Services office produced the videos, with support from journalism doctoral student Wendy Swanberg and mechanical engineering undergraduate Matson Contardo.

Couture, who also worked with Engineering Media Services producer Nancy Ciezki on several short mission videos, also is happy with the result. “What I really appreciate from Nancy’s involvement and Paul’s involvement, is that by proximity, it’s made it easier to deliver some top-quality content,” he says. “They better understand from year to year what we’re trying to do.”

By the time the Power Puzzle season concludes, more than 100,000 people will watch the UW-Madison energy videos. And Couture already is working with a new group of UW-Madison researchers on videos for the yet-undisclosed 2008 challenge. “As I build relationships here, I almost don’t care what subject matter gets thrown at me in the future,” he says. “I’m highly confident that I’ll find somebody in the UW System who is knowledgeable in that area.”

To view the project video files, please visit: webstreamer3.doit.wisc.edu/lego/.

 


For help with this webpage: webmaster@engr.wisc.edu.

Copyright 2008 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Date last modified: Friday, 4-January-2008 11:49:00 CDT
Date created: 4-January-2008

 

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