Thanks to a new grant at CEBC, 43 lucky middle schoolers spent a week this summer using 3D printers to design and build toy cars powered by the sun.
Kevin Leonard, assistant professor in chemical engineering, received a $27,000 seed grant for the 3D-inspired summer camp from the Kansas National Science Foundation EPSCoR program.
Leonard and CEBC’s education director Claudia Bode worked closely with a local non-profit called ProjectCREATE to develop the camp.
ProjectCREATE fills a gap in academic enrichment by offering out-of-school activities for high-achieving and/or highly creative children, aiming to Cultivate Responsible, Enriched, Artistic, Tech-Savvy Enthusiasts. Participants in the June 15 -19 camp included 4th-7th grade youth.
“We are thrilled to announce a new partnership with the University of Kansas,” said Kathy Bowen, gifted education consultant for ProjectCREATE.
The theme for the new camp derives from Leonard’s research, which focuses on finding inexpensive catalysts for solar energy applications.
After building their own solar cars from preprinted 3D pieces and commercial kits, the students designed something to add on to the car—such as a customized spoiler—using a free, online tool called Tinkercad. Then, 3D printers turned their designs into reality by extruding hair-like fibers of melted plastic in the shape of the model—layer-by-layer from bottom to top.
The kids assembled their cars with solar panels, an electric motor, pulleys and gears. They tested speed and voltage with “mini dynos,” or computer-controlled dynamometers that were made specifically for this camp (also 3D printed) with the help of Ed Atchison, engineering technician at CEBC.
“A key aspect was redesign,” said Leonard. “The children didn’t just make one car. They built and rebuilt, tested and retested, seeking their own answers to questions, like is front wheel drive better than rear? What about all-wheel drive? What happens if I add a second solar panel?”
Survey results showed that the camp increased students’ intent to pursue STEM careers, especially for girls, and that new 3D technologies foster camp-goers’ interest in engineering.
Overall, the camp was deemed a fun and educational success.
“We are excited with the success of this camp, and look forward to continuing to partner with ProjectCREATE in the future,” said Bode.