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Rising High School Seniors Explore Interests in Engineering & Science During Operation Catapult
July 1, 2011
Shoes, socks and cell phones were piled up on the beach at Speed
Lake on the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology campus. "Tie
your shoelaces!" advised Operation Catapult Director Patsy Brackin
to water walker Haley Bowyer, a visiting high school senior from
||Walking On Water: Haley Bowyer of Chrisman, Ill.,
demonstrated the treadmill-style device that her team developed to
successfully walk across Speed Lake on the Rose-Hulman Institute of
Bowyer was perched on her team's project in the middle of the
body of water. She propelled the machine by walking on a
tire, treadmill-style, which drove a bicycle chain that turned a
wooden paddle wheel. But her untied shoelaces were a
potential safety hazard. So, the laces secured, Bowyer
resumes her trek across the lake to the beach, where she received a
series of high-fives from onlookers and teammates.
The successful project demonstration concluded the first session
of Rose-Hulman's Operation Catapult. Now in its
45th year, the program gives teenagers an opportunity to
complete hands-on projects, attend lectures on a variety of topics,
participate in field trips to examine real-world discoveries by
engineers and scientists, and experience life on a college
campus. The projects gave students the opportunity to explore
new, exciting and innovative areas of engineering and science.
A total of 132 students from 24 states, the District of Columbia
and Puerto Rico worked in teams to create a Frisbee throwing
machine and a human body resistance machine, used embedded
microcontrollers to build Smart machines, learned the Python
computer software language to create computer games, and built
model hovercrafts and submarines. Another 16-day session is
scheduled to begin on July 10.
|Education In Motion: Matthew
Heartney, Nina Jimenez, Sarah Lawson and Mitch Hollander
demonstration the mechanical snake that the team developed during
the first Operation Catapult session.
Three project teams came up with different ways to walk on
water. Besides the treadmill-style device developed by Bowyer
and her team, another was powered by two persons, through a
hamster-wheel type of mechanism in which the students were
literally inside the machine, powering it across the lake.
Other team members help steer and propel the device with makeshift
The double water wheel craft also arrived successfully to shore
to the cheers of onlookers, and team members Eric Brower, Ethan
Hughes, Gunnar Horve and David Siceluff. Brower explained
that the team began by researching water-walking machines.
"The very first day we were looking on YouTube," said Brower, a
senior from Madison, Ala. When they found videos of a similar
machine, the team took the concept and adapted it. "It was
kind of a cool design, and a really easy transfer of energy, but we
didn't want to do the same thing," he explained.
Each project team worked within a $50 budget for supplies or
find leftover supplies on -- or both. Thanks to assistance
from college officers, Brower's team didn't spend a dime of its
budget, joking that they planned to celebrate their successful
project by spending the surplus on snacks. "We're gonna party
with some Klondike Bars and Red Bull," he laughed.
|Balancing Act: Dexter Willis of Fort Wayne,
Ind., works to solve a last-minute problem in his team's electrical
Quadrotor balancing device during Operation Catapult.
||Colorful Project: Monya Wolf, Katie Gamble and
Lyndsey Stoick are proud of the mechanical snake that they created
during the first Operation Catapult session.
Teammate David Siceluff of Houston, Texas, commented that
Operation Catapult group projects differ from a traditional school
group projects in that students are allowed to work
"With this you get to choose what you do, and you literally have
to find a way to do it," Siceluff explains, adding, "It was really
cool, the freedom we had."
|Successful Team: Creating a
model hovercraft that completed an obstacle course test was the
team of (from left) Joe McConaughy, Bryan Duerfeldt, Nathan Hui and
Elsewhere on campus, five model hovercraft teams prepared for
their own demonstrations on the next to last day of the first
session. Drag races tested the machines for speed while an
obstacle course offered a test for control.
Most of the hovercrafts were of a similar design, built
primarily from foam insulation board. Each team received an
identical motor and propeller, forcing them to attempt to gain
advantage by designing other aspects of the craft. One of the
most influential components of the hovercraft design was the skirt
which provided a cushion of air on which the craft skimmed across
"In order to create lift you need to have holes to allow air to
be pushed underneath the vehicle. It's floating on a cushion
of air," explained hovercraft builder Nathan Hui, from Santa Clara,
Calif. "Our skirt went through a ton of modification," added
teammate Bryan Duerfeldt of Minneapolis, Minn.
The team's hovercraft was whimsically named "El Tigre" and
sported a hand-painted tiger-stripe motif. Three rudders
helped steer the craft, enabling the operators to easily control
it, but the added weight of some of the projects features meant
that it wasn't as fast as some of the others.
Catching Up With Project: Kelsey Gibboney of Cincinnati,
Ohio, runs to catch a Frisbee thrown from a mechanical device
created with teammates Austin Alexander, Tommy Mulc and Tanner
Considering what they might have done differently, team member
Joseph McConaughy noted, "In a lot of cases we made trade-offs
between speed and stability."
In front of all Operation Catapult participants, "El Tigre"
successfully glided through the course in 6.90 seconds, under the
watchful eyes and hands of Duerfeldt at the remote control.
Trial and error -- learning what works and what doesn't work --
are all part of the Operation Catapult experience, according to
Brackin, a professor of mechanical engineering. Each project
had a faculty mentor. Along the way the students not only
learn valuable problem-solving skills, but experience the kind of
hands-on learning opportunities and supportive environment which
make Rose-Hulman unique in undergraduate engineering education.
Learn more about the Operation Catapult program by clicking here