Competition designed to teach about engineering

Students build, test models of transportation in statewide challenge

April 25, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

If engineers in Baltimore and Washington are chosen to design the nation's first magnetic levitation train, they can call on 13-year-olds Ryan Corces and Drew Graybeal for help.

With 75 cents' worth of Styrofoam, tape, glue and a motor half the length of a shotgun shell, the duo from Mount View Middle School in Howard County had one of the fastest trains to zip down a 24-foot track set up in the Baltimore Museum of Industry yesterday for the Maryland Engineering Challenge.

"If we had started with this one we would've gotten at least 20" trips down the track, Drew said, holding the speedy red Mount View train that made six trips. The boys started the competition with a train made of wood and pink cellophane that didn't run.

About 400 students were at the museum yesterday for the statewide competition that teaches children the successes, pitfalls and processes of designing a useful mode of transportation. The middle and high school teams took on projects to build robots that could walk the length of a 6-foot table with hurdles, sailboats with remote-control steering, motorboats and airplanes that carry cargo, tractors that can pull more than seven times their weight, and magnetic levitation trains that float above a track of magnets.

They were judged not only on whether the project worked in competition, but on the amount of research that went behind it. Each team had to document the steps it took in building the project, its test results and the modifications it made in design. After competing, the teams were interviewed by judges.

Ryan and Drew spent a few weeks building their two trains, and about a month of testing, adjusting and balancing them. By the end, the teens were talking torque and aerodynamics.

"Torque is in the motor. When it spins to one side, it makes the whole car turn to one side. It causes the car to flip off the track," Drew said. "You can prevent the car from turning by offsetting the motor."

"We're trying to interest young people in careers in engineering and teach everyone what engineers do," said Margaret Leonard, assistant coordinator of the Maryland Center of Career and Technology Education Studies, which sponsors the event. "Engineers don't just think and build. They make prototypes, and they test and improve."

Try, try again was the secret of success for a team of four teens from Queen Anne's High School that won the tractor-pull competition.

Michael Carlo, Dani Dixon, and April and Brian Vermillion went through about seven designs for their tractor before settling on a triangle-shaped model held together with gears, rubber bands and thermoplastic.

"Two weeks ago, we pitched the old design and went with a new one," Michael said. The 600-gram tractor with medium-grade sandpaper wheels pulled 4,500 grams of weight. He said it took two weeks to build, but the group studied tractor design for months.

"The idea came from watching real tractor pulls," Dani said. In Queen Anne's County, "we have tractors all around."

Daniel Keen said he also drew from his surroundings in Kent County when building his yellow-and-white remote-control sailboat. The 16-year-old, who also participated in the competition last year, is considering a career in naval architecture.

"I didn't know much about boats when I took it on," he said. "It's opened a whole new world."

Emily Kan, 14, of Catonsville High School said she gained a greater appreciation for aeronautical achievement by building a project airplane with classmate Betsy Sanderson.

"People have accomplished by going out and risking everything they believe in to get something to fly," Emily said. "If you can make something get off the ground, you can get into space."

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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