Build a Chair an engineering design activity – November 30, 2020

Create a chair made of newspapers that can hold a person. Your chair must adhere to the following requirements:

  1. The dimensions of the chair must be at least 10”x10”x10’’
  2. The chair must be freestanding (this means you cannot tape it to the floor, wall, or other structure)
  3. You can only use ONE type of material to build your chair, you may use as much of your ONE material as you would like

Materials: tape; newspaper OR computer paper OR construction paper OR paper cups OR another paper item of your choice

Tools: scissors, ruler

Measure of Success: meet the four requirements listed and be able to support a person

ASK: What is the problem you are trying to address?  What are the constraints?  What information do you need in order to solve the problem?

IMAGINE: What ideas do you have for creating your chair?  What is your best idea?

PLAN: Diagram your design ideas.  How are you using your materials? Are you splitting up jobs for each member of your group?

CREATE and TEST: Create your chair and test your design.  Was it successful?  Why or why not?  What worked with your design?  What could you do to make the chair better?

IMPROVE and TEST: Did the improvements you made make your design better or worse?


Schools Get Inventive a real world engineering situation – November 26, 2020

Check out the description of a real world situation below, shared by the American Society of Engineering Education’s publication “Prism” October 2020 issue.  What would you design to help this situation? Would you improve the current technologies or invent a whole new one?

“After welcoming students back to campus this fall, many universities have become test beds for new technologies to detect and contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Some could end up in use nationwide.  Rochester Institute of Technology, for example, is one of several schools using a system developed at Syracuse University to test wastewater from residence halls several times a week for genetic traces of the virus.  If COVID-19 is detected, students from that dorm are tested and any positive cases isolated.  Several schools have developed tracking apps.  The University of Arizona’s Covid Watch uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously track students’ movements and send notifications to anyone who comes within close range of a positive case, the New York Times reports.  The Universities of Alabama and Virginia are piloting a similar app, while MIT Media Lab’s PathCheck is undergoing trials at Vassar College, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Christian University.  Some campuses also are piloting speedier COVID-19 tests, such as the saliva test created at the University of Illinois that can spit out results within five hours.  Meanwhile, Boston University biomedical engineering Ph.D. student Jessie Song is addressing the shortage of coronavirus test swabs by 3.D printing several prototypes.  Once an optimal design is ready, it will undergo a clinical trial at Boston Medical Center.”


Allison the Computer Science Major profile of a past staff member – November 23, 2020

We love to keep in touch with our past staff and see how their engineering journeys are going!  Today we are hearing from Allison, a past coach who worked with our General Engineering for High School camps. She graduates in 2023 from North Carolina State University.  Here is what she had to say:

What I wish I knew before college: “I wish I had known how flexible choosing classes and creating your own schedule would be. It’s such a change from high school where there is very little free time during the day. In college, you can build your schedule to fit your learning needs.” 

Important skills learned in college: “I am learning a lot about independence which, in turn, is teaching me a lot about myself. Problem solving skills is my number one takeaway from this newfound independence.”

What do I want to work on after college? “I would like to work in software development. I am minoring in Environmental Science and would ideally like to combine my passion for coding with my love for nature. Right now, the company I am most interested in working for is SAS.” Why engineering? “I wanted to study engineering/computer science because I love problem solving and the opportunities that come with this degree are endless.”


Chemical Engineers profile of an engineering discipline – November 19, 2020

What do chemical engineers do? Chemical engineers “develop chemical transformations and processes to create useful products and materials that improve society”.  It is an extremely diverse field where engineers can improve and develop everything from fertilizers and pesticides, to fuel for rockets and cars, to medications, batteries, and even personal care products like shampoos and makeup.  The University of Texas at Austin school of engineering.

What does a chemical engineering study? Chemical engineers study a wide range of disciplines depending on the field they would like to specialize in (ex. medical, environmental, production…)  Topics they could study include chemistry, physics, math, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, electronics, process design and control, and even principles of mechanical and civil engineering. Adapted from the American Chemical Society.

What type of job can a chemical engineer have? “Chemical engineers work to solve challenges in energy, human health, manufacturing and sustainability.  They are employed in the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, microelectronics, biomedical and environmental industries.  The breadth and depth of training in chemical engineering allows graduates to go on to graduate programs and careers in academia, national laboratories, medicine business and law.” Chemical engineers do not work alone, but instead work closely with a team of other engineers which can include mechanical engineers, civil engineers and material science engineers.  The University of Texas at Austin school of engineering.

Thinking of studying chemical engineering? Check out this video to see just a few of the problems you can solve in the world as a ChemE!  


Lift that Load an engineering design challenge – November 16, 2020

You are tired of picking things up the regular way! Picking something up with your hands and placing it back on a table when it falls? Boring! Let’s think like an engineer to solve this problem in a fun way. Create a lifting system which can carry a small load from the floor to the top of a table. This can be your desk, dining table, kitchen table, kitchen counter – your choice! The load can be a small snack, pencils, a pet’s toy, shoe – whatever seems like a fun challenge! Be sure to go through all of the steps of the Engineering Design Process on your way – good luck!

Materials: scrap cardboard, craft sticks, string, paper tubes, bowls, cups, cardstock, scrap wood, scrap bin item, tape

Tools: scissors

Measure of Success: successful (not dropping or damaging) lift of load from floor to table

ASK: What is the problem you are trying to address?  What are the constraints?  What information do you need in order to solve the problem?

IMAGINE: What ideas do you have for creating your lift system?  What is your best idea?

PLAN: Diagram your design ideas.  How are you using your materials?

CREATE & TEST: Create your lift and test your design.  Was it successful?  Why or why not?  What worked with your design?  What could you do to make the lift better?

IMPROVE & TEST: Did the improvements you made make your design better or worse?

Looking for more engineering activities to do at home? Check out our list of ECC-at home curriculum HERE!


Breathing Hacks a real world engineering situation – November 12, 2020

Check out the description of a real world situation below, shared by the American Society of Engineering Education’s publication “Prism” October 2020 issue.  What would you design to help this situation? Would you improve the current technologies or invent a whole new one?

“The wildfires that devastated California, Oregon, and Washington filled the September skies with thick, toxic smoke, turning Portland into the world’s most polluted city for several days and filming over the East Coast sun with a fog-like haze.  Worried about their local air quality, residents snapped up Wi-Fi-enabled pollution monitors sold by PurpleAir, a Utah tech company.  While the US Environmental Protection Agency regularly provides air-quality updates in cities, its monitors are often many miles away from where people live.  PurpleAir’s laser-based sensors track fewer pollutants and lack the accuracy of the EPA’s monitors, but they offer hyper-localized readings and more frequent updates.  Data from some 9,000 PurpleAir sensors worldwide also feed into an interactive pollution map.  A PurpleAir user group on Facebook already has more than 1,200 members, many of them ‘self-described computer nerds’ who discuss how to solder extra wires to the monitor, upgrade the circuit board, and connect the sensors to smart-home devices.  The company welcomes and encourages such hobbyist hacking.  However, most PurpleAir users are not techies who want to tinker but residents affected by wildfires seeking a clearer idea of how much smoke and particulate matter they might inhale – so they can plan outdoor activities accordingly.”


Wes the Chemical Engineer profile of a past staff member – November 9, 2020

Today we have another look at a past ECC staff member!  Wes graduated from NCSU this past spring with a major in chemical engineering and a minor in biomanufacturing.  Read on to see what he is up to now.

What I wish I knew before college: “That you don’t have to have it all planned out at the beginning. I changed disciplines early in my college career and am far better off because of it. College is as much about learning about yourself as it is learning coursework. Make sure you stay relaxed and find time to figure out what you really enjoy. College offers more flexibility than advertised and so many opportunities if you are motivated enough to seek out what you want.”

Important skills learned in college: “How to problem solve in a more effective way. Engineering isn’t just about learning chemistry or physics; it’s also about learning how to solve complex problems by breaking them down into the key components and working through them one by one in a logical manner.”

Job: “I work on the technical team for GSK (Pharmaceutical Manufacturer) at a manufacturing site just outside of Philadelphia. We manufacture a monoclonal antibody product called Nucala (asthma medication) and I support the manufacturing as a technical expert.”

Why I studied engineering: “Engineering opens doors to a variety of careers that allow you to go to work and make an actual, tangible impact every day. Whether it’s making medicine, building bridges, or working on new sources of renewable energy, engineers improve the world a little bit every day and it’s extremely gratifying knowing you are a part of that change.”

One last thought: “Make sure you always have fun! If you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing then it isn’t for you. Also never forget that failure is an important step towards success, so never let short term mishaps discourage you from your long term goals.”


Biomedical Engineers profile of an engineering discipline – November 5, 2020

What do biomedical engineers do? Biomedical engineers apply their knowledge of biology, medicine, and engineering to solve problems for medical purposes such as diagnostics, treatments, and improving healthcare for patients.  Specific projects they may work on include pacemakers, prosthetics, 3D printing of organs, surgical robots, internal chips for diagnostics, MRIs, EKGs, and even improving safety regulation in hospitals and medical facilities. Biomedical engineers work closely with other fields of engineering including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, materials science, and computer science.

What does a biomedical engineer study? Biomedical engineers must understand not only engineering principles, but also the biology and chemistry of the human body which the engineering will be applied to.  They will take math courses and science courses including chemistry, physics, anatomy, molecular biology, and genetics.  They will also take many engineering courses include mechanics, electronics, fluid dynamics, programming, and engineering design.

What type of job can a biomedical engineer have? Biomedical engineers can work in hospitals, universities, and manufacturing companies.  Some biomedical engineering majors even choose to go to medical, dental, or veterinary school after they complete their degree.

Thinking of studying biomedical engineering? Check out this video to see some reasons why BME might be the right career for you!  


Rooftop Pool Paradise an engineering design challenge – November 2, 2020

You have been hired by Uptown Construction to design and create a new apartment building that will be located just outside of Uptown Charlotte.  They would like you to submit a design and prototype of your idea for this new apartment building.  Due to its location, there will not be room to place a pool on the ground.  The pool must go on the roof!  Your prototype must be at least 18’’ in height.  Remember to think about creating a safe structure, a layout on the rooftop floor which would make sense to its residents, as well as making it aesthetically pleasing to those who live in the building. 

Materials: craft sticks, straws, assorted scrap cardboard, foam sheets, bubble wrap sheet, scrap bin item, zip baggie, cups, bowls, assorted wood scraps, tape, cup of water (for the “pool”)

Tools: scissors

Measurement of success: No leaking of pool, structure does not collapse

ASK: What is the problem you are trying to address?  What are the constraints?  What information do you need in order to solve the problem?

IMAGINE: What ideas do you have for creating your rooftop pool?  What is your best idea?

PLAN: Diagram your design ideas.  How are you using your materials?

CREATE & TEST: Create your rooftop pool and test your design.  Was it successful?  Why or why not?  What worked with your team’s design?  What could you do to make the rooftop pool better?

IMPROVE & TEST: Did the improvements you made make your design better or worse?

Looking for more engineering activities to do at home? Check out our list of ECC-at home curriculum HERE!


The Bear Essentials a real world engineering situation – October 29, 2020

Check out the description of a real world situation below, shared by the American Society of Engineering Education’s publication “Prism” March/April 2020 issue. What would you design to help solve this problem?

“Weighing up to 1,500 pounds and standing up to 10 feet tall on its hind legs, a grizzly bear is more than a match for most creatures in the natural world.  But it doesn’t stand much of a chance against a train – the leading cause of death at Canada’s national parks among grizzlies, a threatened species under Alberta provincial law.  While bears have acute hearing, sounds can be obscured by vegetation, snow, or topography, especially around track curves.”


Trevor the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Major profile of a past staff member – October 28, 2020

We love to keep in touch with our past staff and see how their engineering journeys are going!  Today we are hearing from Trevor, a coach from our 2017 summer session.  Here is what he has to say:

Currently in school at NCSU: 5th year senior in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering with a concentration in Biomanufacturing Sciences 

Engineering experience: Co-Op with Eastman Chemical Company and Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies

What do you wish you knew before college? “I wish I had known more about the kinds of jobs that chemical engineers have and the industries they primarily work for prior to starting my degree.” 

What has your degree taught you? “My degree taught me problem solving, critical thinking, and informed decision making, as well as giving me an in-depth understanding of a variety of topics.”

Why did you pick your engineering degree? “I picked my degree because of the wide range of applications and the variety of industries and professions one can go into following graduation.”

What are your plans after college? “Following my graduation, I have plans to attend either PA or Medical School.”


Aerospace Engineers profile of an engineering discipline– October 27, 2020

What do aerospace engineers do? Aerospace engineers design, build, maintain, and improve machines that fly like aircraft, spacecraft, and satellites.  They can work in research, development, testing, maintenance, and the upgrade of new technologies.  Problems that an aerospace engineer might address can include flight safety, fuel efficiency, operating costs, environmental impact, and investigating crashes and malfunctioning parts.  

What does an aerospace engineering study? Aerospace engineers will take many courses in science, math, and technology.  They will also take more concentrated courses covering topics like aerodynamics, avionics, propulsion, systems integration, stress and dynamics, thermodynamics, numerical and experimental methods, solid mechanics, structural mechanics, design optimization, flight dynamics and control, flight testing and analysis, and computer-aided design.

What type of job can an aerospace engineer have? Aerospace engineers can find jobs with manufacturing companies, the military, government research agencies, and training institutions. They do not work alone, but instead work closely with a team of other engineers which can include mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, chemical engineers, and material science engineers.

Interested in practicing your skills as an aerospace engineer? We have a week for that! Summer 2021 will host an aerospace engineering focused week at our camps July 5-9. Enroll here!

Let’s hear more about aerospace engineering!  Choose the first video if you want a quick overview.  Choose the second video if you’d like to dive even deeper.


Straw Rockets an engineering design challenge – October 26, 2020

Build a rocket that can be launched by blowing into a single straw.  The straw cannot be part of the rocket itself – it is only used to propel the rocket.  You may use only the items in your bag (plus tape and scissors).  Be sure to spend time on each step of the engineering design process – good luck!

Materials: construction paper, computer paper, coffee filter, paper plate, item from recycling bin, tape

Tools: scissors, ruler, straw

ASK: What information do you need in order to solve the problem?  What questions do you have so that you can be successful?

IMAGINE: What ideas do you have for creating a straw rocket?  What is your best idea?

PLAN: Sketch out and label your plan on paper.

CREATE & TEST: Create and test your design.  Test your design by launching your rocket against the wall, your desk, the back of your chair…

IMPROVE & RETEST: Take a moment to pause.  What is going right?  What is going wrong?  What steps do you need to take next?

Looking for more engineering activities to do at home? Check out our list of ECC-at home curriculum HERE!


The Engineering Habits of Mind – October 25, 2020

Engineers need to know more than just math, science, and the engineering design process.  There are skills, called the ENGINEERING HABITS OF MIND, that are important too.  As you read through the six skills below, think about which ones you are good at now, and which ones you can practice to make yourself an even stronger engineer.


The Engineering Design Process – October 24, 2020

When engineers have a problem to solve, they don’t just grab a bunch of materials and start building something – there is a cycle that they work through to solve these problems.  This is called the ENGINEERING DESIGN PROCESS.  Although you can find many variations of this process, each has the same goals.  

Ask – Jot down any questions you have once you identify an engineering problem to solve. These questions could be about the materials and resources available, how you know when you are successful, who will be helped by solving this problem, and who you might need to look to for help and assistance.

Imagine – This step is just like brainstorming.  Let your imagination run!  Make a rough list, either using words or pictures.  Choose your best idea from this step to move forward with.

Plan – Make a detailed illustration of your idea.  These do not have to be hand drawn – many engineers use a drafting software or CAD program to illustrate their plans.  Label things like the dimensions, types of materials, and even the job of each small part of your design.  Be sure that your plan is clear enough so that someone else could create your design if they needed to – the same team of engineers that plan are not always the same ones that create.  

Create and Test – Time to bring your plan to life. Follow the design you made during the create phase but remember that its ok to be flexible and adjust your plans as you go. Test the parts of your design as you go along, and allow time for final testing to determine what works and what does not.

Improve and Retest – What happens if your design does not work? This is the step that allows you to learn from a failed design. Take the time to look at the specific parts or steps of your design that are not working properly and redesign. Be sure to test again to make sure your improvements worked!

Want more examples and information? Check out the Crash Course Kids video below for their version of the design process! (Note: Listen for when the host is listing the types of engineering and says “or a type of engineering that doesn’t even exist yet”. Engineering is always changing!  It’s exciting!)


What is an engineer? – October 23, 2020

We will be talking a lot about engineers here – the types of engineering, how to get into a good engineering program in college, engineering activities you can do at home, how engineers think, how engineers solve problems…  

But what is an engineer?  What kinds of things do engineers do?

Engineers solve problems and help people.  Sometimes they invent brand new designs to solve these problems while sometimes they improve on designs that have already been created.  

Here are a few examples of the types of engineers, what they study, and the work they do:

Aerospace engineers apply concepts of math, physics, and engineering to develop and improve upon vehicles which travel above the surface of the earth.

Biological engineers apply concepts of math, biology and physical sciences to solve problems related to the management of soil and water resources, pollution control, farm structures, and more.

Biomedical engineers study medical and biological sciences, math, and physics to solve problems and make advancements for hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical device and testing companies, and more.

Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, physics, and math to solve a variety of problems ranging from converting crude oil into useful products, to minimizing pollutants reaching our air and water systems, to manufacturing textiles, personal care products, and microchips.

Civil engineers apply their study of math and physics to address the planning, construction, and improvement of structures such as bridges, buildings, power facilities, dams, airports, and roadways.

Computer engineers is an exciting field which creates and improves biomedical devices, home automation systems, environmental controls, intelligent automobile control systems, industrial robotics, and more.

Computer scientists work on designing and improving computer systems which assist in everything from medical imaging systems, cars, and communication systems to vending machines, video games, and the monitoring of agricultural production.

Electrical engineers study physics, math, electronics, and computer programming to design and improve on both a small and large scale: microchips, communication systems, robots, biomedical devices, and the larger distribution of electrical power to people’s homes and businesses are just some examples.

Environmental engineers rely on their knowledge of life science, physical science, and math to solve problems addressing waste management, air and water pollution, hazardous waste disposal, and keeping our environment safe while populations grow.

Industrial engineers are often forgotten – these engineers study physical and social sciences to optimize the quality and productivity of systems, often in manufacturing and production, even including crowd flow in entertainment venues and theme parks.

Material science engineers design and improve upon all of the materials that surround our days and are essential to the fields of energy, medical devices, manufacturing, textiles, paper, and even aircraft and automotives.

Mechanical engineers play a hand in anything that has moving parts and spend time studying thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, machines, controls, and engineering design.

Nuclear engineers not only work on the design, maintenance, and improvement of power plants, but also on problems such as the diagnosis and treatment of disease and power systems for deep space travel.

Adapted from NCSU’s list of engineering majors and careers

The coolest thing about engineering is that no discipline works alone. Want to build an airplane? You will need aerospace engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, material science engineers, and chemical engineers.

Instead of thinking about the type of engineer you want to be, try thinking about the problems you want to solve.  You might be surprised about all of the different paths you can take to your ideal career!

Want more information?  Both of these videos from Crash Course Kids do a great job of sharing lots of examples of the types of work that engineers do – it’s limitless!


Welcome! An introduction – October 22, 2020

Welcome to the Think Tank – the blog of Engineering Camp Charlotte!

If you are new to the ECC family – welcome!  If you have been with us for some time – welcome back!

Our parent company, Cynosure Learning, was established in 2014 with the goal of bringing a new type of engineering education experience to Charlotte.  A focus was placed on the skills that students sometimes miss in school, yet are necessary for becoming a successful engineer: collaboration, communication, creativity, optimism, systems thinking, and ethical consideration.  We believe that simple materials can pack a big punch and that there is endless learning and fun to be had through a failed design.  We believe that engineers do more than just build things – they solve problems and help people.  We believe that engineers have played a hand in nearly every aspect of our lives and we want our students to see just how far reaching and diverse the field of engineering is.

Since our establishment we have welcomed over 1500 students into our summer camps.

Be sure to check back in each week as we post engineering activities you can do at home, profiles on real life engineers, descriptions about the different types of engineering, and take a peek at current, real life problems that engineers are solving all over the world!

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