Guest Speakers: Patrick Lindsey and John Horton

Last Tuesday, our Foundations of Engineering II class had the privilege of hearing from chief mechanical engineer, John Horton, team manager and driver, Patrick Lindsey, and Lindsay Lindsey, Patrick’s wife, of Park Place Motorsports. Park Place Motorsports is a professional racing team that competes in WeatherTech, a branch of NASCAR devoted to racing sports cars.

John Horton stressing the importance of teamwork in racing.


Mr. Horton recounted his journey to a profession in the racing industry from his childhood fascination with his Erector metal construction sets to a life-changing auto shop program that he joined in high school. He stressed the importance of cooperation when working as an engineer, particularly in a field such as professional racing which combines a multitude of engineering disciplines.  On the matter of cooperation Mr. Horton said, “There’s always something that you don’t know about that you need a network to help you solve. Communication is key.”

Patrick Lindsey explains the art of cornering in a race car.


Mr. Lindsey focused on the driving aspect of the race, showing data gathered from tire sensors during a lap at Daytona Speedway. He related the shape of the graph at a particular instant to what the car was physically doing at that point and talked about the importance of such graphs in making sure that the car was operating at absolute peak performance.

Our guests were also able to relate their profession to our recently (almost!) completed project: the robotic self-driving car. Jakob explained the various elements of his team’s robot to Mr. Horton, such as the drive motor system and the rack-and-pinion steering, and Mr. Horton confirmed that the same features were present on their Porsche, just scaled-up and more advanced.


The Foundations of Engineering II class with their guest speakers.

The Park Place Motorsports Team ended their presentation with an inside-the-car video of a lap around Daytona Speedway and a directive to pursue their passion for science and engineering to wherever it may take them.

We are thankful for the visit from the Park Place Motorsports Team, and wish them luck in their upcoming 24-hour race at Daytona Speedway!

Visit to UCSB Mechanical Engineering Department

On Monday of this week, sixteen Providence teachers and students took a trip out to UCSB, to visit the Mechanical Engineering department. Kirk Fields, Senior Development Engineer, met the group there and gave a tour of a few of the lab spaces.

The “clean room” was the first stop, and we noted that this is where Sarah Jane’s father works to assemble his company’s tiny lasers. We didn’t see him through the window, but there were many interesting microscopic images of gecko feet!

The materials testing lab tied in well to what we have recently studied with our older group, Advanced Engineering I. Our students have been testing various materials in compression, carefully measuring the loads required to produce deflection, and deducing the modulus of elasticity–in layman’s terms, a measure of how “springy” a substance is. This UCSB lab held dozens of industrial-grade machines to do similar experiments in compression, tension, fatigue, and so on.

Kirk (right) shows us the materials testing lab

Kirk was also able to show us a special research project, which involved a Perspex beam that “pushes back” when it a load is applied. Ordinarily, pushing on a beam would make it bend downwards, but this beam is equipped with sensors and motors that resist the action; this creates a beam with “infinite stiffness”, so to speak.

The beam of “infinite stiffness” reacts and pushes back against applied load

We walked through some other spaces (including the wind tunnel), ending up in a robotics lab that housed an in-house competition much like what we do in our own middle school and high school classes. The college students design robots using a variety of motors, sensors, and LEGO structures; the robots (“rats”) run around a walled-in elevated platform and collect “cheese”.

One of the “rats” from last year is on display in the central case

The visit, though short, was well worthwhile. Jake, our senior, recently applied to this college and this department, so he was glad to meet some people and get a firsthand look. Mr Hurt, also present, graduated from this campus, and happily reminisced about times past.

All in all, a positive experience, and we’re grateful to UCSB and Kirk Fields for allowing us the chance to come by!

Bridges, Cranes, Robots

After some humble beginnings to the semester (Newton’s Laws, basic structural mechanics, and gear ratios), we have had a string of exciting projects in our middle school engineering elective. Within the last few weeks, students have built railway bridges, designed high-torque crane systems, and are now writing code for simple three-wheeled robots.

Mr Meadth stands watch over the first train journey of the day–all is well!
The Bridge Challenge had students demonstrate their understanding of structural rigidity. The students were told that triangular structures are inherently rigid, and can’t change shape without breaking. They also identified the bridge as being primarily subject to bending loads, in which case it is best to build a bridge that is tall.
(For all you engineers out there, they learned to use a cross-section with a high second moment of area!)

Another bridge with an underslung truss system

Asher and Christine carefully plan out their triangular structures
From here, we looked at the interplay between torque and rotational speed. Anyone who has ridden a bike with gears or driven a manual shift car understands that different gear arrangements really do produce a change in outcome–you shift down gears to pedal up a steep hill. Our middle school students calculated various gear ratios, and also felt the hands-on difference, thanks to Jake’s Educational Design project from last year.

Zach and Isaiah feel the increase/decrease in torque for a 3:1 ratio
The lessons in gears were put to the test in the Crane Challenge, where students used the EV3 Medium Motor to raise as much weight as possible. The structure had to be strong enough to hold the weight (think triangles and rigidity again), and the gear ratios had to be reduced down one or two or even three times. Bottom line: a slower crane is a stronger crane!

Zach and Sam added a few “characters” to their
impressive submission, and were able to
raise 800 grams (almost 2 lb)

Lily and Isabela and “The Giraffe”; they raised
a total of 300 grams

Currently, students are working with a basic robot called the “Robot Educator”. This three-wheeled design is built from instructions, and is for the purpose of learning basic programming skills. The students are learning to tell the robot to move forward/backward, turn around, raise and lower its front trap, and make noises. They are also finding out about loops and conditions and switches, which help make programs more sophisticated. All of this experience will be used later in the semester as the teams design, build, and program their own robot.

Seven Robot Educators, lined up and ready for action!

More to come, so stay tuned!

Advanced Engineering: Community Design Project

We’re in the fourth week of school now, so it’s a great time to unveil our Big Idea for the 2016-2017 school year. The Advanced Engineering group, comprising Tys, Aaron, Sarah Jane, Kylie, Jake, and Caleb, have been given a momentous task to accomplish.

From left: Jake, Caleb, Aaron, Tys, Mr Meadth, Kylie, Sarah Jane,
and a Pacific Gray Whale

Drum roll, please…

They will be working on a year-long project to design and construct a play structure for the Providence Lower Campus!

Most of these students already learned to do CAD last year, creating models of orphanages, Mars habitats, and small houses. This was all done from a purely “design” perspective, focused on aesthetics and interest alone.

Sarah Jane and Jake showing their CAD model for an African orphanage last year

By contrast, the point of this year’s work is to understand structural engineering: materials science (just when will that piece of timber break?), loads and stresses (how much tensile stress is that chain carrying?), column behaviour (when will a long thin supporting column buckle?), and so much more.

So, after making a design that is interesting and aesthetically pleasing and fits its environment, the students will bring their new skills to bear on their structure, which will enable them to select material types, choose thicknesses, add triangular structures, etc. This will be far more math-and-physics based than last year’s work.

But for now it’s all fun and games. We’ve been researching nearby playgrounds…

…appreciating local artwork…

…performing structural tests on candidate materials…

…speaking on location with the all-important client, Mr. Knoles…

…getting inspiration…

…critiquing ideas…

…and getting it all down on paper.

This week also marks the submission of a grant to a local nonprofit to help fund this project. The students wrote this grant themselves, and will be waiting hopefully for the response. Stay posted for more updates on this exciting work!

(photos by Rodney Meadth and Tys vanZeyl)

Middle School: Intro to Engineering

Our high school Academy provides a robust four-year program for any high school student who wishes to apply… but what about the younger grades? It is easier than ever for elementary and middle school students to get a handle on engineering and science concepts, both in the classroom and even at home. Along with our established science classes, Providence meets this need with the middle school elective: Intro to Engineering.
This semester, the Intro to Engineering class is following a space exploration theme. Within that framework, the students will explore the history of space travel, structural engineering topics, sensor/motor robotics technology, navigation principles, and coding. One of the first mini “challenges” given to the boys and girls was to design a Mars habitat–all within fifteen minutes!
Students outline their design prior to sharing it with the rest of the class
Presenters opened the floor for questions after their presentation
From there, they looked at an overview of space travel, beginning with Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. The last 100 years or so of space exploration were described, culminating in the incredible achievements of 2015: the flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, the Philae comet lander, astronaut Scott Kelly committing to a year on the International Space Station, and much more.
Today, the class completed a hands-on exploration of trusses. A truss is a linked system of thin, light members, that preserves high strength and rigidity for very low weight–highly favoured by space engineers the world over! Our students built their own truss with the classroom LEGO kits, and then made predictions as to which of their truss members were in tension or compression. They replaced the tension members one by one with pieces of string, proving their guesses were correct.

Two of the boys show how tension members in a truss
can be replaced with string
These explorations will pave the way for the eventual design and construction of autonomous robotic systems at the end of the semester. Plenty more projects to come before then, and we’ll keep you posted!