KS Analytical Systems and Texray Laboratory Services are deeply invested in the future of science and technology in the USA. We work with undergraduate, graduate and post-doc students regularly and encourage them as much as possible with support through Texray as well as technical information. Watching XRD and XRF users in higher education develop and test their ideas is always interesting, but these are not the students who are being lost from STEM fields. The battleground for the engineers, chemists, and physicists of tomorrow is happening at a much younger age so we’re always looking for opportunities to support teachers who are working to show their students that these fields are not just endless equations and tedious experiments.
With the whole country waking up to the need for more STEM graduates, there’s no shortage of organizations and competitions set up to give kids a chance to get their hands dirty with technology. We started out by sponsoring a local high school robotics team and, most recently, a high school team entered in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. The video below is from last year and I love how they describe their early failures and determination to improve. These are not your ordinary shop-class kids. Most had never used even basic hand tools. This competition put them completely outside their comfort zone.
The 2017 competition brought new challenges and more restrictive design constraint intended to push the teams further into the realm of custom components. The obvious answer for most of these vehicles had been common bicycle wheels and tires from the beginning. Their light weight and high strength make them very attractive, but taking the easy way out is not what being an engineer, let alone a NASA engineer, is all about. Using the equipment and capabilities at hand the Parish Episcopal team developed a wheel that took everyone by surprise (including myself). Multiple layers of cardboard were sandwiched together and coated in a polymer bed-liner material intended for pickup trucks. The toothed pattern of the cardboard layers created exceptional traction and the rubber coating made them extremely durable. The 2017 rover was not without its weaknesses, but these wheels were a subject of interest to everyone from the spectators to the organizers. Parish fielded two teams which finished 26th and 27th out of a 99 team field which included universities and high schools from all over the world.
The first video is from a TED talk given by two of the older students in the program from 2016. The second is from the 2017 competition and includes some race footage.