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Young Engineers Make A Big Bang With The IET
On being shown our allotted 20 by 3 m strip in the marquee, my first thought was “How will we compete with that?” ‘We’ were five willing, but largely uninitiated IET STEM Ambassadors with a budget of £100. ‘That’ was an artfully constructed, expensive-looking 15 m bridge, supported by video projections and a large team of hard-hatted civil engineers from ICE. We were ‘competing’ for the attention of a future generation of engineers.
It was an early July morning in Derby, and thoughts soon turned to more prosaic matters, such as a missing table and lack of power for the soldering iron. With less than two hours until Big Bang East Midlands opened, the IET team were quick to hang the nets and lay out the workbenches needed to turn our zone into the Power Ping Pong Challenge. Building on ball launch pad kits provided by IET Education, the volunteers had worked hard in the run up to the event to design a realistic engineering task.
Four teams of young teenagers joined us for each of three design and build sessions. The simple rule was: balls must be released at least 1.5 m from the launch pad during the competition. Targeting adjustments could be made by repositioning prior to scoring, but only electronic range control would be allowed thereafter. To show how engineers work together to design and build systems from sub-assemblies, the teams were split up for a short time. Participants were briefed on the engineering and science relating to a specialist role: electronics, launching, delivery, support frame. Time and space being tight, the latter three roles worked closely on a single bench assembling canes, elastic bands, wedges and a house brick into a motley array of devices. Meanwhile, the electronics were wired onto breadboards as a truly separate module. After 45 minutes, it was time to test the fantastic machines. Last-minute adjustments were accompanied by a soundtrack of popping balls and tearing duct tape. Then to the competition! As the nostalgic aroma of smoking resistors subsided, a circular target was moved into position. Just two feet wide at a range of 4 m, it was a tough ask. Two test shots were followed by ten scored shots to find the winner. Three sessions and just five hours later, first and second place had impressive scores of 9 and 8 respectively. It was not clear if the volunteers or the children were more excited by this success!
It was an amazing and exhausting day; everyone involved left with a sense of achievement. Sadly we did not have much time to interact with the passing public, but the disappearance of the mound of Education Programme brochures, careers packs and other resources attests to a keen interest in what the IET might be about. Students and adults alike learnt something valuable about engineering and teamwork: much more, I suspect, than if they’d been erecting the shiny, designed-by-grownups kit bridge next door.
I extend my grateful thanks to all who donated their valuable time and resources to help me bring the IET to the Big Bang East Midlands and other events during my first nine months in post. I would have achieved little without them. Most of the people who have helped me are not IET members and it would be great to work with more representatives from within the Institution.