Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Students create robots


'Contraption' camp teaches mechanical engineering basics

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

NORWOOD - After watching clips from a video about the Mars Exploration Rovers, 13-year-old Josh Ritchie got to work Monday on his own Lego-sized version of the Rovers at Drake Science Center.

Josh and 35 other Greater Cincinnati students entering fourth through eighth grades are making rovers and other robots at "Lego Crazy Contraptions Camp" this week at the science center, part of the Drake Planetarium.

"I like building, but my rover probably isn't going to be as complex as the real one," said Josh, a home-schooled student from Corinth, Ky.

The Lego camp teaches the basics of mechanical engineering. Students design and build robotic models from scratch, including a rover, flying monkey, sumo wrestler and football launcher. At the end of the week, students will compete in an obstacle course with their robots.

"The kids who come into this camp have had lots of Lego building experiences, so we try to give them different challenges," said science center and planetarium director Pam Bowers.

When instructor Scott Heisel asked, "How many of you have worked with gears?" all hands shot up.

Bowers - who also is a Solar System Ambassador for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. - said many of the programs conducted at the science center and planetarium are based on current space missions.

"Robots are used a lot in space, so what we're doing is teaching the technology that supports education in space science," she said.

The two Mars Exploration Rovers - Spirit and Opportunity - landed on Mars in January.

The planetarium (which is in Norwood High School) and its science center (in the Fidelity Professional Building) are supported by the Tristate Education and Technology Foundation.

They've been offering science camps for 15 years.

"Little is known about our planetarium because it doesn't have a street presence in the community, but it's a valuable asset to the region," said Richard Stevie, president of the board of trustees for the foundation. According to Stevie, thousands of Tristate students come through the planetarium and science center yearly for programs.

The planetarium and the science center are funded through donations and program fees. For more information and a complete list of programs, call the planetarium at 396-5578, or visit www.drakeplanetarium.org.

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E-mail annag376@aol.com




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