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Operation Catapult Introduces Students throughout the World to New Areas of Engineering & Science
July 29, 2011
In a lab coat, safety glasses and gloves, one might easily
mistake Alesa Stallman for a professional scientist, hot on the
trail of her latest ground-breaking discovery. Holding up a
test tube about the girth of a bratwurst, she eyes the green liquid
||Exploring News Interest Areas: Conducting wind tunnel tests
during the July Operation Catapult session were (from left) Spencer
Jackson, Chris Teufel, Alexa Hylas and Zack Rooker.
"This is dried algae and it is in water and methanol, and
chloroform," she explains. The chloroform attaches to the
lipids in the solution, she adds, allowing the extraction of oils
from the green mass.
However, Stallman isn't a professional scientist. She's a
high school student from Saratoga, Calif., who participated in
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Operation Catapult
educational discovery program. Now in its
45th year, the program enables high school students who
have completed their junior year of high school to participate in
hands-on engineering projects as they experience a slice of campus
"Their Operation Catapult project was to try to grow as much
algae as they could in 10 days, while working within a set of
parameters," explains Peter Coppinger, assistant professor of
applied biology and biomedical engineering. The students then
extracted oils from the algae to create small amounts of
Stallman worked alongside Jeanette Lui of Monterey, Calif., and
Kevin Kuo of Terre Haute, Ind., as one of four teams producing
biodiesel for the second of two Operation Catapult sessions this
summer (July 11-27). There were 137 students from 30 states
and Greece in the July session.
|Explaining Project: Kevin Kuo (right) passes along
knowledge about biodiesel production onto an Operation Catapult
colleague during the project demonstration that culminated the
Coppinger helped guide the students in the biodiesel projects
through their experimentation and scientific discovery.
"What makes this project unique is that it combines biology,
chemistry, and chemical engineering," he says.
Over the course of two and a half weeks, Operation Catapult
participants work in teams to complete a challenging project.
Guided by Rose-Hulman faculty and technicians, the participants are
encouraged to take on challenging projects that interest them, but
which they don't have a great deal of current knowledge.
Besides bio-diesel, students had the opportunity to use a wind
tunnel to study aerodynamics in race cars, explore variable
star/asteroid photometry through telescopes at an observatory,
create computer games and learned about embedded electronic control
In addition to the hands-on projects, the students also attended
lectures on engineering and scientific topics, and took field trips
to Marathon Petroleum, Eli Lilly & Company, Toyota and Beckman
Coulter manufacturing facilities. Social activities led by
Operation Catapult counselors, themselves Rose-Hulman students,
rounded out the experience to give students a taste of campus
||Documenting Discoveries: Alesa Stallman keeps track of the
progress in a biodiesel project during Rose-Hulman Institute of
Technology's Operation Catapult program.
This summer's second session had an international flair with
visitors from Huazhong University of Science and Technology's
QiMing College in Wuhan, China observing the program in the hopes
that a similar one can be developed in their own country.
"This kind of project is seldom seen in China," observes
Jianqiang Li of Operation Catapult experience. Li, like the
other student members of the group, was embedded with a one of the
project teams, observing and offering assistance to the
students. He worked with students on an
entrepreneurship project in which they designed and produced
acrylic key chains that were sold to other participants, parents
Li noted that the hands-on nature of the Operation Catapult
projects was much different from the study methods used in his home
"I'm really interested in economics and management," Li says of
choosing to work with the entrepreneurship group.
In an electrical and computer engineering laboratory, students
worked on several embedded controls projects. "I have much
experience in ECE projects," QiMing's Cheng Xinyu explains of work
with the student groups. "We are familiar with electrical
devices, and can help the students with their projects. We
help with programming because American high school students don't
learn this in school," group member Song Yang adds.
"I'm surprised at the creativity of the American students,"
QiMing student Zhang Qi notes about the innovative spirit of
Operation Catapult participants. "American students are very
energetic," he says, "they complete projects in such a short
Operation Catapult Director Patsy Brackin, professor of
mechanical engineering, explains that working in groups means that
the visiting high school students must learn to collaborate with
one another. "We really try to make sure that everybody works
together and gets along."
|Successful Project: Isaac Gehman crosses a pond on the
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology campus with a mechanical device
that utilized a paddle to propel through the water.
||Making A Sale: Ronobir Mookherjee (middle) and Kaleb Blair
collect money from a customer who had just purchased a key chain
produced as part of an entrepreneurship project.
While students may compete during demonstration activities, such
as hovercraft races, Brackin says the program's goal is to
encourage students to work together to succeed. "It really is
collaborative and we expect the students to help other people out,"
Brackin added that this summer's international collaboration
further enhanced the educational value of the Operation Catapult
Photo Album from Catapult July 2011.