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Life’s A Snap for Rose-Hulman Student Who Uses LEGO to Showcase His Love of Engineering

May 18, 2011

Andrew Milluzzi's mother recognized his potential at an early age.  "Andy, you're going to be an engineer," she declared to her young son as he enthusiastically built objects with LEGO bricks one day at his home.  His response: "But Mom, I don't wanna drive a train!"

    LegoMaster article1
 

LEGO Master: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology junior Andrew Milluzzi is the youngest LEGO MINDSTORMS Community Partner in the U.S.  He has developed LEGO-based models for LEGO conventions, the launch of NASA's latest space shuttle and National Instruments.

Fast forward several years and you'll find Milluzzi driving not a train, but NASA's Enterprise space shuttle.  Well, not THE space shuttle, but rather a working replica the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology student has designed and assembled from approximately 8,000 bricks of all shapes and sizes.

However, working with LEGO isn't just a hobby.  Milluzzi is actually one of 50 LEGO MINDSTORMS Community Partners throughout the world and the youngest in the U.S.  The shuttle is the result of a four-month-long collaborative effort involving a team of Community Partners from throughout the U.S., Canada and Denmark.

"My job is to encourage the community to get excited about LEGO MINDSTORMS," he explains.  The junior computer engineering and software engineering major has combined his love of all things LEGO with his programming ability to develop interactive, engaging robotic models that provide a hands-on way for children and adults to experience the fun of science and technology. 

"The shuttle model is my most complex project to date," Milluzzi says of the project built to help commemorate NASA's space shuttle program, which is being discontinued.  "I thought it would be cool to pay tribute to the shuttle program," he says, because modern robotics is a result of technologies developed through the shuttle program.  LEGO liked the idea and the project began.

Milluzzi's Enterprise model was originally slated to be on hand for the final launch of the NASA's space shuttle Endeavor at Cape Canaveral, Fla., but launch delays prevented that from happening.  Still, the shuttle and its caretaker have become somewhat of a celebrity duo at such special events as the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis and Yuri's Night Party, hosted by NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin.

LegoMaster NASA    
Commemorating Space Shuttle: Andrew Milluzzi used nearly 8,000 LEGO bricks and other parts to help develop a scale model of NASA's Enterprise space shuttle, which has played a key role in science discovery.
 

"The owner of LEGO has played with the shuttle," Milluzzi says, but "the best part is seeing people's faces when they see it." 

Milluzzi has also created large-scale LEGO projects for this year's Brickworld Indy, an annual convention for LEGO lovers; the opening of a new Lego Store in Indianapolis; and for National Instruments, during a summer internship.  He has also created a Bluetooth-controlled Segway robot.

Gears of varying sizes, beams and other bricks occupy one side of the living room in Milluzzi's Terre Haute apartment. At the peak of the shuttle construction phase, he was receiving weekly shipments from LEGO with thousands of pieces for the project.  His apartment now has boxes and bins of LEGO parts with approximately 20,000 pieces.  "I usually have cases upon cases of LEGO parts at any one time," he explains.

You might think that after investing four months in the building and programming of the shuttle, Milluzzi would discourage people from touching it.  On the contrary, he's a firm believer in hands-on learning and enjoys seeing his creation "being played with and used" at public events.  "You gotta have something that people can walk up and touch," Milluzzi says.

An enthusiastic proponent of making science and technology fun and engaging, Milluzzi has found himself in a position to share his knowledge with audiences of all ages.  He helped arrange for a 12.5 foot-by-12.5 foot square Monster Chess board, with LEGO robotic chess pieces, to visit the Terre Haute Children's Museum in hopes of attracting youths toward careers in science and engineering.  The exhibit drew enthusiastic crowds to the museum.

As he talks to school children, Milluzzi encourages them to see the science in the interests they already have.  "Junior high girls might say, 'I want to be a photographer.'  I say, 'Great, you can do that, too, as an engineer.  Why not work at Kodak?'," he said.

"People are going to make their choices of what they've liked based on what they've experienced," he observes.  Milluzzi enjoys showing kids that "there's more to engineering than just pencil and paper.  It is a creative outlet."  He adds, "I love what I do.  I love to share it."

   Kaku Mizz
 
Meeting Commencement Speaker: Andrew Milluzzi, a computer engineering and software engineering major, enjoyed the opportunity to meet and interview groundbreaking theotrical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku during last summer's internship at National Instruments.  Dr. Kaku will be Rose-Hulman's commencement speaker on May 28.

Attending Rose-Hulman was a natural fit for the 21-year-old budding engineer.  The college uses LEGO bricks as a central theme in its recruiting literature, using the slogan "You've known it since you were a kid . . . (that you should attend Rose-Hulman)."  The brochure features a child building something with LEGO.

"When I got the brochure in the mail, it quickly caught my attention from all others.  That was me on the cover," Milluzzi said.

On campus, the northeast Ohio native maintains a 3.93 grade point average, represented Rose-Hulman at last year's world Digilent design competition in Romania, serves as a LabVIEW Student Ambassador for National Instruments and recently received the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering's Outstanding Service Award.  He plans to earn a doctorate in high performance reconfigurable computing.

Milluzzi notes that attending Rose-Hulman has given him the flexibility to pursue his career before he has even graduated.  He credits professors with making his travel schedule possible, as well as encouraging and supporting his work with LEGO.   "This is something that could only be done at Rose-Hulman," he says.