Exciting new projects for middle and high school classroom visits

Professor Dan Wasserman of UT Austin’s Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering has three projects that he will lead in your classroom. Each will take a block of three to four hours to complete. There are some brief descriptions below. If you are interested, please contact Dr. Wasserman through Texas STEM Connections.

Make Your Own Optical Communication System

Description: In this activity students form ‘companies’ tasked with designing an optical communication system using push-button light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Each team develops a language using LEDs of different colors and transmission slots (which mimic the fiber optic cables upon which our information infrastructure is based). Students develop a business plan, to determine the number of LEDs and slots required, as well as the amount of money they wish to invest in research. After assembling and testing their communication system, the teams are tasked with accurately and rapidly transmitting a message across the room. Payouts are determined by speed and accuracy and the winning team is the one which nets the largest profit.
Technical concepts: Cryptography, optical communication, fiber optics, signals.
Non-technical: Teamwork, engineering with financial constraints, designing systems to specs, open-ended engineering, understanding the centrality of data transport in our modern world.

Click here to go directly to this offering in Texas STEM Connections

Optical Obstacle Course

Description: In this activity students work in teams to understand light propagation and manipulation. Each team is given laser pointers and a baking sheet of (clear) gelatin. The students cut shapes out from the gelatin to make their own optical components (prisms, lenses, mirrors and waveguides) and study how light of different colors interact with the homemade optical elements. The student are then presented with an “optical obstacle course” consisting of a starting point and an end point. Their goal is to guide the light from the laser (at the start) to the end point with as little loss as possible. To do so they must use the optical elements they studied in the first part of the activity.
Technical concepts: refraction and reflection, ray optics, optical communication, fiber optics.
Non-technical: Teamwork, designing systems to specs, open-ended engineering.

Click here to go directly to this offering in Texas STEM Connections

Build Your Own Hard Drive

Description: In this activity students form companies tasked with designing a data storage device (aka hard drive). Data are represented by pinto beans, and the students must develop a system to store information using the beans such that the data storage is robust (can be carrier across the room), readable, and re-writable. Students first design their system after determining the materials available to them (cardboard, straws, tape, silly putty, paper clips, toothpicks, etc.). Supplies are then purchased by each group and the hard drives are built. After design and build, the teams are split in two: “read” and “write”. The “write” team is handed a word and is tasked with storing this information in their hard drive. They then carry the device to the “read” team, which must read out the stored information. Pay-outs are determined by speed and accuracy, with the winning team netting the largest profit.
Technical concepts: Cryptography, the concept of data and information, nanotechnology.
Non-technical: Teamwork, engineering with financial constraints, designing systems to specs, open-ended engineering, an understanding of data storage in the real world.

Click here to go directly to this offering in Texas STEM Connections