Discover Engineering 2017: Breaking in students to careers in MSE

Discover Engineering 2017: Breaking in students to careers in MSE

Students watch crystal growth from a solution as part of Discover Engineering, held July 27-28. The activity, “The Magic and Mystery of Crystal Growth,” was devised by MSE professor Ashwin Shahani to introduce students to his area of research.

When Discover Engineering students walked into the Van Vlack Lab this summer, they were greeted by the following message sprawled across a big, free-standing whiteboard:

“Welcome to the room where we BREAK things (and then analyze them).”

For two days, July 27 and 28, 8th-10th graders discovered the joy of not only breaking things, but also poking and prodding hydrogels and cutting kirigami structures – all part of Discover Engineering 2017, an annual program designed for alumni and 8th–10th grade kids who want to thoroughly explore various engineering disciplines.

“Our goal was to teach students about MSE – what it is, what it’s sub-fields are, how it is useful in daily life, and what some of the common applications are that they might be familiar with,” explained Asst. Prof. Geeta Mehta, who organized this year’s MSE events. “We gave the many opportunities to learn about MSE-centric topics with hands-on experiences.”

Cutting kirigami structures with lasers was one such interactive opportunity, led by graduate student Sid Borsadia. “During the workshop we had the students cut the structures by hand using paper and scissors,” said Borsadia, who later showed them how the structures are actually cut using a laser cutter. “I believe doing the demonstration in this way gave the students an appreciation for how technology such as laser cutting has made our lives easier.”

Another kid-favorite workshop, led by graduate student Catherine Snyder, involved manipulating hydrogels, which researchers use to conduct cell experiments to better understand things like cancer and stem cells.  Snyder explained: “I had samples of hydrogels with varying stiffness for the kids to play with and feel the consistency of while explaining how the cells, too, can feel the difference in stiffness and will change their behavior.”

 Following the hands-on workshops, students toured the numerous labs that work across the breadth of materials science and engineering, and rounded out their MSE experience with a discussion about the various types of industries, companies and careers they can expect to work in as MSE graduates.

 “The kids responded very well!” summed up graduate student Rose Cersonsky, who led a workshop where kids got to break materials using both a hammer and tensile tester. “Kids love to break things, and were blown away at the fact that MSEs learn so much from breaking things.”

Click here to see photos from the event.