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ACCIS CDT students take part in The Crypt School's second Engineering Day

Pupils design spaghetti and marshmallow bridges in small teams Aewis Hii

A finished bridge design. Will it hold? Aewis Hii

22 July 2016

Following the success of last year’s event, PhD students from the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science (ACCIS CDT) participated in The Crypt School’s second Engineering Day on 7 July 2016.

Over the course of the day the School’s Year 7 pupils were treated to a series of exciting hands-on workshops run by teams from the Universities of Bristol and Leicester, and companies, such as EDF and Renishaw.

The ACCIS CDT’s involvement in the event was led by a team of three PhD students, Simon Bates, Aewis Hii and Shashitha Kularatna, and coordinated by the CDT’s student-led Public Engagement Committee. The student designed workshop aimed to educate the school's pupils on design principles in engineering and composite materials through a series of talks and practical activities.

Simon, Aewis and Shashitha ran five sessions over the course of the day, each lasting for an hour and involving approximately 30 pupils. Each session started with introductions from the CDT students, followed by a presentation on everyday engineering applications. The discussion was then narrowed down to the properties of composite materials and their advantages in applications.

Simon led an experiment to test the properties of composite materials. Two blocks of ice, one reinforced with drinking straws and the other with sawdust, were the test specimens, alongside a control pure ice block. The pupils actively hypothesised the reaction of the blocks to a hammer blow and then three volunteers tested the three blocks to destruction. The experiment successfully demonstrated how even low volumes of reinforcement can drastically improve the toughness of an otherwise brittle material.

Aewis introduced the pupils to design principles in bridges, i.e. why do bridges look the way they do? He guided them to think through different aspects whilst designing an engineering structure. The pupils were tasked to ‘bridge the gap’ between theory and practice with a bridge design competition. They were given spaghetti, marshmallows and lasagne sheets to build their own bridges in small groups. The finished bridges had to use a minimum amount of materials and withstand the weight of a half-filled water bottle. After evaluating the various designs, prizes were awarded to the teams that built bridges with the most efficient structure.

Shashitha demonstrated how virtual reality, motion tracking, and haptic feedback technologies can be combined to train composite laminators. He explained how this could aid the standardisation of hand lamination. Participants got the chance to use a Leap Motion Controller, which senses the movement of the users’ hands and fingers so they can interact with a computer in a whole new way, and a Samsung Gear Virtual Reality headset. It was such a fun experience; even the school staff were queuing to have a go.

Reflecting on the day, Shashitha said: "The level of enthusiasm and engagement shown by the kids was amazing. It was incredibly refreshing to spend time with younger students and it certainly did help with relighting the spark of enthusiasm and passion within me."

Simon said: "All classes attacked the problems we set them with great enthusiasm and I was really impressed with how quickly they grasped the concepts related to composite materials. Each class was able to critique the scientific validity of the composite experiment and also formed some very well reasoned hypotheses."

Aewis said: “I was really impressed with the students' participation in the questions, particularly their outstanding dissemination and hypotheses on questions like, 'What are some potential issues if we were to have bridges as simplistic flat plates?'"

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Further information

Find out more about the ACCIS CDT's public engagement activities here:

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