Students Get Crash Course In Science

Northrop Workers Give Hands-on Workshop In Flight Engineering

April 22, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

About two dozen planes crashed at South Carroll High School yesterday. No one was hurt, if you don't count bruised egos.

Northrop Grumman Corp. engineers Peter A. Stenger and Eric Spears spent the day talking to students about what they do for a living, then had students tackle an engineering problem: Design and build a trigger launcher for a foam glider, using only the inexpensive household materials supplied in manila envelope kits.

A contest followed to see whose plane went the farthest in a straight path.

"The idea is, they're using skills that engineers would use every day, such as teamwork, problem-solving, use of available resources and creativity," Spears said.

Spears, who graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in December, and Stenger, an electrical engineer since 1982 at Westinghouse Corp., which has been bought by Northrop Grumman, came to the Winfield school yesterday to encourage students to pursue careers in engineering.

They gave a 30-minute talk about the path to being an engineer, from what classes to take in high school to what they can expect in college (lots of tough math and science the first two years to weed out the less-serious students) and the many lucrative jobs that await graduates.

Students such as Kristi Marsh, a junior, already are planning to major in engineering.

"I'm interested in chemical engineering," Kristi said. "I have two uncles who are engineers and they like it."

And others, such as Stephanie Dennison, a sophomore, are thinking of it as a possible variation on a different field. Stephanie is interested in

going into medicine, but said she might be interested in a related engineering field.

"I always like to keep my options open," Stephanie said.

"There are so many jobs [in engineering]," Kristi said.

Yesterday, Kristi, Stephanie, and teammates Rachel Gallagher and Jenny Wetzel, both sophomores, worked fast with the materials the two engineers passed out to groups of students.

Each team got a commercially made glider kit, a footlong board with holes drilled in a grid, two feet of aluminum foil, two flexible drinking straws, eight small paper clips, two jumbo paper clips, 10 finishing nails, four thumbtacks, about 15 rubber bands and a length of kite string.

Most students used all the materials in some way. One of the most successful teams even used the manila envelope as a ramp to launch the plane.

Team effort

Everyone had to work fast. While Rachel put together the plane, Stephanie and the other teammates wove the rubber bands to provide the spring for the launch. They bent the drinking straws and fastened them into a frame for the ramp, and covered the ramp with foil.

It took them about 15 minutes. When the time came for test launches, their plane went down about a foot from the launcher. Not good.

"Try to think of a trigger that wouldn't have a lot of friction," Stenger suggested.

The rubber band they were using at the rear of the glider wasn't smooth enough, he said. A paper clip, he suggested, would be more slippery. In the blink of an eye, they redesigned the trigger with a paper clip.

The next launch went up, but not straight.

"It's an excellent launcher," Stenger said. "The plane is really unstable. Tell the customer the plane's no good!"

Now, Kristi went to work quickly, adding a paper clip to the nose of the plane, and two on each wing. She wrapped the nose of the plane with a strip of aluminum foil, and stuck in a nail for more weight.

This time, it went straight for about 15 feet, but shot up and embedded its nose in the ceiling tile.

"We don't get points for hitting the ceiling?" Stephanie asked.

Northrop Grumman, and before that, Westinghouse, had been sending engineers to talk to students at South Carroll for about eight years. Several other high schools in the state participate.

More than a lecture

Robert Foor-Hogue, the South Carroll science department chairman who played host to the engineers, said this year was different from others. Instead of choosing a few classes for the engineers to visit, this year he had only students who wanted to see the presentation attend.

In past years, the visit was usually just a lecture, Foor-Hogue said. But Stenger, who lives in Woodbine, suggested the hands-on activity.

And as in the past, the engineers left a donation from Northrop Grumman -- $1,000 to be used by the science department.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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