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Summer Program Catapults High School Students into STEM

Friday, July 01, 2016
Operation Catapult Group

Still Going Strong: For 49 years, students from throughout the country have been coming to Rose-Hulman during the summer to experience Operation Catapult, a fun dive into science, engineering and math projects.

High school students from across the country are once again showing that creativity and ingenuity can come from the simplest of things, while exploring their interests in engineering and science during Rose-Hulman's Operation Catapult program.

Shower rods, balsa wood strips, wheelbarrow wheels, aluminum foil, and lots of wire and duct tape were integral parts of trebuchets, miniature bridges, solar-powered cookers, Frisbee throwing devices, and juggling machines over the course of two-and-a-half weeks in June. A second group is tackling projects in July.

Working in teams, the June contingent of upcoming high school seniors also created computer games, gravity-powered lights, a prosthetic hand, a gesture-controlled wheelchair, and biofuels-all under the guidance of Rose-Hulman faculty and staff members.

"It's cool to be around a group of really creative people who just so happen to be my peers and now my friends," says Jeremy West, from St. Louis. "I learned so much from being around them. If I didn't know something, I didn't have to go very far to find someone who could help."

West's group created a miniature quadcopter whose flight path was controlled remotely through intuitive hand glove gestures. Signals from the right hand set the device's course of direction, while the left hand established the flight speed.

"We could have used a joy stick to control things, but that would have been just too simple," says teammate Jonah Hunter from Williamsport, Indiana. "We came here to learn new things and test our ability to complete a project within a defined schedule. We certainly did that and a lot more."

Operation Catapult is providing more than 300 students this summer with an introduction to the various engineering disciplines and career possibilities, tours to visit engineers and scientists working on product development and research, and the opportunity to experience the college lifestyle by living in a residence hall, having a roommate, and participating in intramural and social activities.

"We want the students to get the entire college experience. However, most importantly, we want them to experience the fun involved with accepting the challenge of the engineering design and scientific discovery process," says program director Michael Robinson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "Some of the projects are successful, some are not. But they all go through the same process. Hopefully, they get excited doing it along the way."

That was definitely the case for four students who played key roles in the development of a trebuchet, a catapult-type device that used-for the first time in the program's 49-year history-a multi-radius linear nodes counterweight technique to propel a golf ball more than 350 feet. The mechanism used two pulleys, wire, a bicycle wheel, foam from a bicycle seat, scrap metal and wood, nuts and bolts, string, and duct tape.

"This seemed like the perfect place and time in my life to try something that I always wanted to do," says Evan Blackshear-Tvrdy, from Fishers, Indiana. He played a key role in the project, setting the device in motion by triggering the centrifugal forces that created a successful throw.

Mikhil Prakash, from Cupertino, California, was responsible for setting the proper release angle, through the use of a mathematical protractor.

"Like many of the others, there were a lot of challenges with this project. Each change brought more success and motivated us to do even more," he remarks. "We're elated with how things turned out. This experience certainly cemented my passion for engineering."