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30 July 2007
Crane Construction Challenge
Crane Construction Challenge
A series of 'Discover Engineering' family workshops, have been a resounding success here at the Department. They aim to introduce young people (7-12) to the fun and excitement of engineering and technology. Joy Warde, the Department's Outreach Officer, commenting on the workshops said, "The key to their success are the enthusiastic teams of student volunteers who help to make engineering more accessible and to provide role models for the next generation of engineers".
The format of each workshop is quite simple the families design and make their car, hovercraft or crane from a simple kit. The student volunteers act as 'engineering consultants' to advise the teams on their design. Each workshop ends with a 'race-off' to find the fastest car or hovercraft or the strongest crane. There is an additional prize for the most stylish creation as judged by the student volunteers.
Over the 4 events this year 300 family teams attended (1200 people). They were assisted by 50 undergraduate and postgraduate student volunteers.
Below are a few of the comments from parents and children attending the events:
"It was good because there was plenty of emphasis on the FUN!!!"
"A great introduction to Engineering"
"Excellent event, highly entertaining and educational for the children and parents alike. Thank you to all of the students for giving up their free time."
"The event was well organised and the student helpers were excellent."
Peter Ward a member of the Cambridge University Engineers' Association wrote the following summary of his day as a volunteer at one of the family workshops:
A bracing experience was provided in a hands-on Crane Construction Challenge issued by the Engineering Department as part of the two-week University Science Festival in mid-March this year. Contenders were invited to build a horizontal beam for a hypothetical tower crane from paper tubes.
A4 sheets were rolled into 20 or 30 cm paper cylinders, sealed, then flattened and pierced at the ends. Using nuts and bolts, participants assembled them into a three-dimensional, 60-cm-long, lattice. Made to the ingenious and wondrous designs of attending families, who constantly rolled up to fill the floor space available, these cantilevers were then tested to destruction.
Know-how. A sheet of simple instructions was provided, pointing out, for example, that, unlike a triangle, a square frame (bolted together at the corners) was not firmly rigid and could be squashed unless given a diagonal cross bracing; and that, unlike concrete (robust when compressed), paper tubes were stronger in tension and inclined to buckle in compression.
The young contestants who, with family helpers, replaced each other in roughly hourly cycles (a sort of dynamic equilibrium), occupied two large floors at the University Centre in Mill Lane, where the Challenge was held.
On their way there, they may have seen, rising in the sky above one of Cambridge's current construction sites, the tall slender stalk of a tower crane, with at the top an equally fine horizontal lattice like a straight branch reaching far out from the stem (and balanced no doubt with a weight at the rear) above the work area. It was this load-carrying beam that those taking part were to reproduce from linked paper tubes, with minimum waste of materials.
All-sorts. A few elderly members of the CU Engineers' Association, myself included, volunteered to guide and invigilate, along with some friendly, young initiates from the Engineering Department; at least, I did my best to reassure and encourage, hoping to recruit some young innovators as future engineers.
Loaded. The two-foot cantilever lattices were, in turn, attached by strings to opposite sides of a free-standing cabinet serving as a twin tower, with help from skilled testers - on my left, a Canadian and, on my right, an Austrian student - hanging buckets on the ends and loading them progressively with large baked-bean tins.
In early tests, buckling at four tins was a fair score but later the numbers rose into the "teens". Towards the end of the session a monstrous construction appeared, comprising a lower beam made from multiple tubes bound into a single thick branch, wrapped in sticky tape (provided as part of the "kit"), and supported by a thin catenary or chain of paper tubes, fixed as high as possible on the tower. Loading continued, eventually accompanied by a counting chant, until the bucket was full and, slowly, the lower, compression rod began to collapse. In the end redundancy proved a winner.
I turned to a youngster in the team and said "You must have an expert". "Yes", he replied proudly, "he's my dad". Later the Canadian student told me: "Actually, he's a member of the faculty" (in the Department). It took me back, some sixty years, when one demonstrator, a young and very modest Lord Caldecote, had assisted me in performing an indicator test. Not long afterwards I wrote an article, in which I noted: "Engineering is the ideal academic discipline, combining, as it does, the rigorous reasoning of science with the bloody-mindedness of life." What could inspire young people more?
This series of workshops are sponsored by University of Cambridge Active Community Fund and Research Councils UK.
There are further family workshops planned for the next academic year. Details will be available on the outreach website in September.
These workshops are just part of the Department's outreach calendar of events, during the academic year 2006/07 over 110 engineering students, staff and alumni have donated over 1200 hours as outreach volunteers. 57 of these volunteers have become Science and Engineering Ambassadors (SEAs).
For more information on the Outreach activities please visit http://www.eng.cam.ac.uk/outreach/index.html
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