Education

Engineering Students Test Exhibit Prototypes at Oh Wow!

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Patrons at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology are used to testing scientific concepts. Visitors to the center Thursday found themselves as test subjects for dozens of displays created by first-year engineering students at Youngstown State University.

Some 200 students in this semester’s Engineering 1560 course were divided into 50 teams to develop exhibits demonstrated at Oh Wow throughout the day yesterday.

“They’re here to collect data on their projects as part of the engineering design process,” said Cory Brozina, director of first-year engineering at YSU. The children play with the exhibits designed by the engineering students and provide them with feedback.

The partnership with Oh Wow provides these first-year engineering students the opportunity to explore different facets of the field, said Greg Sturrus, chairman of YSU’s physics and astronomy department and a member of Oh Wow’s board of directors.

“The students at YSU like it and the kids certainly like it,” he said. The program gives the engineering students the opportunity to design and build something with a specific purpose, he said.

“As you can see, the public enjoys it,” said Ralf Urbach, senior edutainer at Oh Wow, better known as “Mr. Ralf.” The student projects “get a lot of testers,” he said.

Exhibits at Oh Wow need to incorporate universal design elements so “anybody that wants to play or learn about science has the ability to engage on our exhibits,” generating a “wow factor” that brings people back that also has an educational purpose, Urbach said.

None of the student projects have been added to the Oh Wow floor, but some have been incorporated into the center’s outreach programming, he said. Elements of one project were incorporated into the windmill on the center’s main floor.

“It’s a lot of fun to watch,” said Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow’s president and executive director. “School-age students love trying new things. It’s all about exploration and experimentation.”

Bartoz Blaszczyk of Canfield and his design team colleagues – Adam Cifra of Struthers, Nick Willis of Columbus and Dan Montgomery of Youngstown – designed a project that would allow kids to explore principles of gravity, kinetic energy and potential energy.

The team’s project consisted of magnet-backed grooved pieces of wood that could be adhered to a large metal cube to create different paths for a small metal sphere to ride along, going from one piece of wood to the next. The objective is to teach kids how to manipulate velocity, speed and angles to get the ball from one point to another, Blaszczyk said.

“We wanted to do a simple design, something that the kids would be intrigued by,” he said. “We knew that the most popular projects at Oh Wow were water and Legos, which are very simple and basic concepts.”

The project they designed offers “a lot of different variations,” he added. “Earlier today we had three kids that sat here for a sold half-hour just messing around,” he said.

The engineering students will use feedback gathered Thursday to make improvements on their designs, Brozina said.

One of the exhibits on display Thursday morning was designed to demonstrate fluid dynamics to kids. Engineering students Emma Daugherty, of Moon Township, Pa., Timothy Chamberlain of Westerville and Olivia Faraone of New Castle, Pa., created the exhibit.

Daugherty said she was inspired by plumbing problems at her family’s house the week her team had to come up with a project. She and her partners designed an exhibit to show how water flows through pipes and children must manipulate the valves to transfer water from one tank to another.

“It’s going great,” Daugherty said. “All the kids really love it.”

Another liquid-based project using transmission fluid and windshield wiper fluid was used “to demonstrate how certain liquids will separate,” said Carly DiPietro, New Castle, Pa.

The liquid-filled cylinder has a motor in the base to mix the two substances, which separate again once the motor is deactivated. DiPietro developed the exhibit with Jillian Penman, Poland, and Jacob Stellers, North Lima.

Testing their designs in a museum environment allows the students to see if parts of their designs are too complex for the kids and whether their prototypes are durable or safe enough. Then, they can make any modifications necessary, Barbati said.

“Any kind of project that gets developed goes through multiple iterations before it becomes ready,” she said. “It’s not a failure to have to do that. It’s part of the process.”

After making their modifications, the students will give presentations on their projects, Brozina said. He will select the top projects for a final showcase at Stambaugh Stadium’s DeBartolo Club where the winning project will be chosen, he said.

Other benefits of the initiative include introducing school-age children to the idea that exhibits don’t just appear “out of the blue sky,” and that there are people who make them, Barbati said. “That’s a pretty high-level concept for little people to grasp,” she said.

Pictured: Emma Daughtery, an engineering student at Youngstown State, shows Deion Miller how an exhibit on fluid dynamics works.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.