Cotton Ball Collection System an engineering design activity – February 22, 2021

This is a two part, two-for-one challenge!

Part One: Create a launching system for cotton balls.  Your goal is to launch as many cotton balls as far as you can.  

Part Two: Now that you have made a mess, create a collection system to collect as many cotton balls as possible.   Your collection system must have at least one mechanical component in it (one part that moves during the collection process).  You cannot touch the cotton balls with your hands when you are collecting them.

How can you make this even more fun?! Make it into a competition!! Grab someone else in your house and go head to head – see who can launch the most cotton balls the furthest and who can clean them up fastest!

Materials: assorted cardboard, paper tubes, foam tube, recyclable material, craft sticks, cups, bowls, plastic forks, plastic spoons, cardstock, string, tape (feel free to grab other materials from around your home that you think would work well for this challenge!)

Tools: scissors, ruler

Measure of Success: successful launching of cotton balls, successful collection of cotton balls

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 launching and collecting system?  What is your best idea?

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

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

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


Bolt from the Blue a real world engineering situation – February 15, 2021

Check out the description of a real world situation below, shared by the American Society of Engineering Education’s publication “Prism” Summer 2020 issue.  How will these satellites help humans?  What types of engineers had to come together to make this happen?

“For more than 40 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has relied on a network of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) to help forecast weather and track storms.  But NOAA is halfway through a plan to assemble and launch a $10.8 billion fleet of new-generation satellites that will give it – and NASA – much greater ability to understand and forecast the increasing number of severe storms that climate change is expected to generate, according to Wired.  The four, 6,000-pound satellites, built by engineers at Lockheed Martin, carry multiple instruments that can monitor such things as plumes of volcanic ash, space weather, and lightning – a bellwether for upcoming storms, the magazine notes.  The first two of the satellites were launched in 2016and 2018.  Together they can monitor every single lightning strike across the Western Hemisphere, and they’ve given scientists a new understanding of the phenomenon.  A bolt of lightning can materialize and then strike the ground hundreds of miles away – a much greater distance than previously known.  The last two GOES birds will launch next year and in 2024.  Once aloft, the new satellites should vastly increase the ability to predict and track megastorms.”


Griffin the Materials Science and Engineering Major profile of a past staff member – February 8, 2021

Time to hear from another past ECC staff member!  Griffin, a past ECC coach, graduated from North Carolina State University in the spring of 2020.  

What I wish I knew before college: “I wish that I knew as deeply as I do now, that failure is necessary for success. And that if you have an idea or goal you want to accomplish, it is better to dive in head first and experience failure, so that you can learn from it and find value in those lessons.” 

Important skills I learned in college: “I learned that I was capable of leading others, and that I was capable of acting as an empathetic and passionate role model. Although there were bumps along the way, I graduated with a love of materials science engineering and a degree from NC State” 

What are you working on now that you are out of college?  “Before graduation, I committed to a fellowship called Venture For America (VFA), that supports and mentors its fellows as they work at startups throughout the United States. Through VFA I discovered Point Designs, a company that manufactures 3D printed prosthetic fingers for individuals with partial hand loss. At Point Designs, my primary role is as a business development specialist, where I do everything from marketing and sales to project management.”  

Why engineering? “I wanted to study engineering because I absolutely love to help people and to build things. I’m fascinated by technology and the fundamental building blocks of materials that yield an infinite amount of function. Because of that, and because of the impacts that engineers have on our society, I decided that it was the best path for me to have the greatest impact.”

One last thought: “I know this sounds cheesy, but follow your dreams and be unapologetically you. It is your unique traits that make you who you are, and that make you a valuable team member. And don’t wait for others to do what you know you’re capable of; forge your own path.”


Electrical Engineers profile of an engineering discipline – February 1, 2021

What do electrical engineers do? Electrical engineers design, test, and maintain electrical equipment and systems.  They work on a wide range of components, devices, and systems, from tiny microchips to huge power station generators.  They even manage the production of electrical projects to ensure work is completed well, on time, and within budget.  Electrical engineers design devices and systems using basic components such as conductors, coils, magnets, batteries, switches, resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, and transistors.  Whether an engineer is designing something simple or complex, large or small, they are likely using some of these basic components.  Live Science

What does an electrical engineering study? At this point we have learned that engineers take a wide variety of classes.  Electrical engineers need an in-depth knowledge of electrical and electronic theory, mathematics, and materials science.  Additional classes can include calculus, analytic geometry, physics, chemistry, computer science, programming, and courses related to material science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer engineering.  Live Science

What type of job can an electrical engineer have? Electrical engineers can work in research and development, engineering services firms, manufacturing, and the federal government.  Sometimes they work indoors planning and designing, sometimes they visit work sites to observe a problem or a complex piece of equipment.  Manufacturing industries that employ electrical engineers include automotive, marine, railroad, aerospace, defense, consumer electronics, commercial construction, computers and components, telecommunications, traffic control, and more.  Government institutions who hire electrical engineers include transportation departments, national laboratories, and the military.  Live Science


Off Road Wheelchair an engineering design activity – January 25, 2021

What happens if you depend on a wheelchair for mobility, but want to go places beyond just the pavement?  Create a wheelchair which would be able to easily travel on rough terrain.  You may use a doll or plush to test your wheelchair.  See how well it travels over grass, sand, mulch, trails…the possibilities should be endless!

Note: The material potential for this challenge is endless! Feel free to try items not on our material list.

Materials: string/ribbon, scrap cardboard, paper clips, paper tubes, paper bowls, paper plates, rubber bands, tape 

Tools: scissors, ruler

Measure of Success: successful turning of wheels, safety of person in wheelchair

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 wheelchair?  What is your best idea?

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

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

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

Want to see how well WBTV meteorologist and reporter Jonathan Stacey did on this challenge? Check out the link below!

//www.wbtv.com/video/2021/01/27/mr-russell-classroom-explore-science-mechanical-engineering/


Heat Shields a real world engineering situation – January 18, 2021

Check out the description of a real world situation below, shared by the American Society of Engineering Education’s publication “Prism” Winter 2021 issue.  What other situations can this newly engineered technology be used in? Would you modify or improve this technology in any way?

“Humans spend a lot of money to maintain their interior environments at a comfortable temperature.  Heating and cooling buildings also generates a whopping 28 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, so engineers are constantly trying to find a way to reduce or eliminate the need for power-hungry HVAC systems.  One long-cherished idea was to devise an exterior paint that could reflect sunlight and keep buildings cooler.  But until now, reflective paints didn’t cool surfaces beyond ambient temperatures.  However, a new type of white paint developed by mechanical engineers at Purdue University is able to reflect 95.5 percent of sunlight and cool its daytime surface temperature to an average of around 1.7 degrees C less than the ambient temperature, the BBC reports.  The paint’s key ingredient is a large amount of calcium carbonate of differing particle sizes.  Meanwhile, mechanical engineers at the University of North Texas have invented a safer and more sustainable building insulation that the conventional polyurethane-based products now in wide use.  Current materials release volatile compounds into the air that can make people ill and contribute to climate change.  Conventional foams also don’t quickly break down once they’re disposed of and can remain in the environment for a thousand years.  The North Texas material uses a corn-based polylactic acid with cellulose fibers and supercritical CO2 mixed in, so it contains no volatile organic compounds.  Besides being safer, the foam is 12 percent more effective than keeping buildings warm or cool, and 90 percent of its biodegrades within 50 days.”


Joshua the Mechanical Engineering Major profile of a past staff member – January 11, 2021

Time to hear from another past ECC staff member!  Joshua, a 2019 coach, is currently enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at North Carolina State University.  He will be graduating in May 2022

What I wish I knew before college: “I wish I knew how to actually study and manage my time.” 

Important skills I learned in college: “The ability to form connections and make friends has saved me so many times. Whether it’s hearing about co-op opportunities or being reminded of an upcoming due date, friends have your back.” 

What do I want to work on after college?  “I would really like to work in motorsports, ideally for a Formula 1 Team. Did you know the only F1 team based in North America is right here in Salisbury?”  That is so cool!  

Why engineering? I have always been infatuated with how the man-made world works. Growing up I read about planes and cars and got more and more fascinated the deeper I dug into the inner workings of engines and the like.”

One last thought: “Get some hands-on experience! It’s one thing to graduate with a 4.0 and another to actually know what you’re doing on the job. Explore co-ops and internships and don’t be afraid of the career fair and your school’s Career Development Center!”


Mechanical Engineers profile of an engineering discipline – January 5, 2021

What do mechanical engineers do? “Mechanical engineers solve today’s problems and create future solutions in health care, energy, transportation, world hunger, space exploration, climate change, and more.  Mechanical engineers are versatile.  To meet the demands of their job, mechanical engineers may design a component, a machine, a system, or a process.  This ranges from the macro to the micro, from the largest systems like cars and satellites to the smallest components like sensors and switches.  Anything that needs to be manufactured – indeed, anything with moving parts – needs the expertise of a mechanical engineer.” Michigan Tech School of Engineering

What does a mechanical engineering study? Due to the potential variety in their work, mechanical engineers must take a wide range of courses.  They study courses in math, chemistry, physics, principles of engineering, circuits and electronics, dynamics, electrical energy conversion, elements of mechanical engineering, thermodynamics, and more.  They will even take additional courses related to other disciplines of engineering such as chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, civil engineering, and material science. 

What type of job can a mechanical engineer have? “Mechanical engineers can work in the fields of aerospace, biotechnology, computers, electronics, microelectromechanical systems, energy conversion, robotics and automation, and manufacturing.  The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) currently lists 36 technical divisions, from advanced energy systems and aerospace engineering to solid-waste engineering and textile engineering.” — “The most common jobs for mechanical engineers fall into the following categories: product design (designing products ranging from biomedical devices to internal combustion engines), research and development (researching new ideas and solutions that satisfy society’s demands or improve or expanding older ideas), manufacturing (designing and rebuilding the machines that mass produce consumer products), systems management (managing the operations of a large system, such as a manufacturing facility), and energy (planning how energy is created, stored, and moved).” Columbia University School of Engineering and Educating Engineers

Thinking of studying mechanical engineering? The first video gives you a peek at what one real-life mechanical engineer does for work – if you listen carefully he talks about how he uses the design process in his work!  The second gives you a more detailed look into mechanical engineering.


No Snag Zipline an engineering design activity – December 28, 2020

Create a zipline which can deliver a snack, or other fun cargo, to a family member who is standing six feet away from you.

To set up the zipline: Find two spots within your home which are six feet apart.  Check with your family to be sure that they are both a safe place to tie a string or ribbon to.  When tying the two ends of the string be sure that one side is higher than the other. 

Note: The material potential for this challenge is endless! Feel free to try items not on our material list.

Materials: string/ribbon, scrap cardboard, paper clips, paper tubes, paper bowls, paper plates, tape 

Tools: scissors, ruler

Measure of Success: successfully (not sticking or stopping or dropping) delivery of snack to family member

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 zipline?  What is your best idea?

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

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

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

Want to see how well WBTV meteorologist and reporter Jonathan Stacey did on this challenge? Check out the link below!


Water View a real world engineering situation – December 21, 2020

Check out the description of a real world situation below, shared by the American Society of Engineering Education’s publication “Prism” November 2020 issue.  What other situations can this newly engineered technology be used in? Would you modify or improve this technology in any way?

“When Carlyn Loncaric worked as a lifeguard to help pay her way through engineering school at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, saving swimmers’ lives was often on her mind.  Lakes posed extra challenges: A head that failed to resurface quickly meant clearing the area and trying to locate the person using only a pair of goggles, Loncaric explains.  ‘With some places in British Columbia, even though the water is clean, you can barely see your fingertips in front of you underwater.  It gave me nightmares.’  That inspired her to form her own company, VodaSafe, and develop a handheld, artificial intelligence-enabled sonar device that can scan 85,000 square feet of underwater in just a few minutes.  AquaEye looks like a radar gun that displays different forms of life using icons on a screen.  The tricky part was developing the algorithm by ‘training in all sorts of environments, collecting data, and slowly teaching our system to identify what is human and what isn’t,’ says Loncaric. ‘The more we work with it, the smarter it’s becoming.’  Rescuers credit the $4700 device with finding a missing swimmer in North Carolina’s Outer Banks this past summer.  Before designing AquaEye, Loncaric interviewed firefighters, policy officers, and search-and-rescue teams.  They explained that sidescan sonar is very effective but requires considerable time and effort to deploy.  As Loncaric puts it, ‘I wanted to develop something extremely simple to operate and keep the features at a minimum’ – a critical factor where mere minutes can determine life or death.”


Sean the Electrical Engineering Major profile of a past staff member – December 14, 2020

Time to hear from another past ECC staff member!  Sean was a part of our summer 2020 team and worked with both high school and middle school programs.  Sean currently attends the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is majoring in electrical engineering.  He expects to graduate within the next year.

What I wish I knew before college: “The biggest thing I wish I knew before attending college is that you cannot do it on your own when you are studying engineering and it is okay to seek out help.” 

Important skills I learned in college: “I have learned more than I can count while in college the biggest things are time management and professional development.” 

What do I want to work on after college? “When I graduate I want to go into clean energy hopefully solar energy or hydroelectricity.” 

Why engineering? “I chose to study engineering because I know the impact and change that an engineer can make on the world. Last but not least do not give up easily engineering may be difficult but it is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life.”


Civil Engineers profile of an engineering discipline – December 7, 2020

What do civil engineers do? Civil engineers develop and improve structures such as buildings, hydroelectric dams, roads, railroads, subway systems, airports, water supply systems, and bridges.  You’ll even find civil engineers working on the space station, shipbuilding, and improving  the strength of automobile chassis, doors, and bumpers.  As with the other types of engineers we have learned about, civil engineers work with other engineering disciplines including material science engineers, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, environmental engineers, and computer scientists. Adapted from Columbia University School of Engineering

What does a civil engineer study? Civil engineers, just like all other engineering disciplines, take a variety of classes. These include math, physics, general introduction to engineering principles, mechanics of structures, fluid mechanics, structural engineering and materials, transportation infrastructure and systems engineering.

What type of job can a civil engineer have? “Civil engineers work in designing, building, and maintaining the foundation for our modern society – our roads and bridges, drinking water and energy systems, sea ports and airports, and the infrastructure for a cleaner environment.  They work in the fields of transportation, coastal engineering, utility engineering and surveying, engineering mechanics, agriculture, construction, and the environment.”  If you are looking for a field of engineering where upwards of thousands of people interact with your creations each day – then civil engineering might be the field for you.  American Society of Civil Engineers

Can’t get enough of civil engineering?! Want more?! Take a peek at this first video if you’d like a general overview of what civil engineers do.  Check out this second video to hear about three real life civil engineers are doing to help our world.


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?

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?

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


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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