Students ‘Build a Bone’

For 15 years, Carnegie Mellon’s Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES) has provided outreach activities during the annual National Engineers Week (NEW) at the Carnegie Science Center. Those activities are held for two days in a booth.

At its booth, ICES has offered a “Build a Bone” activity to students in grades K–12 for the past 10 years. In “Build a Bone,” students compete to build a tube-like structure (a bone) out of two sheets of letter-sized paper, newspaper, and six inches of Scotch tape.

The finish and strength of the structure is then tested by researchers who balance the bone on two parallel supporting structures. They hang a container full of glass beads from the center of the bone and keep adding glass beads until the bone snaps. At the end of the challenge, the strongest bone’s creators win a prize. This year’s winner built a record-breaking bone that held 24 pounds of marbles.

Phil Campbell, associate research professor at ICES, led the “Build a Bone” activity this year. According to the Carnegie Science Center website, National Engineers Week aims to commemorate achievements by engineers who contribute to individuals’ everyday lives. In addition, the featured presentations, demonstrations, and activities are designed to pique the curiosity of the young generation and encourage them learn about the many subfields of engineering.

NEW also featured contributions from other Carnegie Mellon engineering departments, as well as other universities and companies. During NEW, students learn the basic principles of chemistry, engineering, and life science. Besides learning useful facts, students are encouraged to enjoy themselves and make their activities memorable.

“We have students who come back every year to try and outdo their own records. So, not only are they learning lessons on basic engineering design principles, they are also learning how to improve their performance based on their past failures,” Campbell stated in a Carnegie Mellon press release.

Video footage of the “Build a Bone” contest will be included in a documentary aired on Pittsburgh’s WQED on April 10. The ICES is a multidisciplinary institute that brings together faculty members from many departments, mainly within CIT and MCS, to conduct research.

Through “Build a Bone,” ICES intended to introduce students to the fundamental concepts of science and engineering while using tissue engineering as the initial connection between students and those disciplines.

“Our programs also feed the educational STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) pipeline by touching on key times during the educational process,” Alicia Brown, the ICES External Relations and Outreach Coordinator, stated in an e-mail.

Other outreach activities provided by ICES include Moving 4th Into Engineering, Summer Engineering Experience for Girls (SEE), and the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, otherwise known as “A SURE Thing!”

Moving 4th is a program that introduces engineering to children in the fourth grade. Approximately 30 students from five Pittsburgh public schools take on a number of activities such as chemical engineering experiments with polymers, civil engineering activities, and building and launching rockets.

This weekend, Moving 4th celebrated its 15th year in the Rothfus Lab in Doherty Hall (room A100).

SEE is a program aimed at encouraging middle school girls to hold on to and develop their interests in math, science, and engineering. ICES believes that this is a vital time when many girls lose interest in these subjects, and by pushing them to continue they hope to see more women in higher-level science positions.

A SURE Thing! is a program for non-Carnegie Mellon undergraduates who either attend other Pennsylvania universities and colleges or are state residents. A SURE Thing! gives them the opportunity to conduct multidisciplinary research at Carnegie Mellon.

As a multidisciplinary institute, ICES makes educational outreach one of its primary goals. “We are able to offer engineering education programs that reflect this as well and give students a fuller sense of engineering and also how it is applied in the real-world situations,” Brown stated.
Currently, ICES outreach activities are funded by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance (PITA), but the institute will be looking for additional resources in 2009.