Senior Spotlight: Alena Zeni

Alena Zeni is one of the many seniors worldwide whose last year of high school is looking quite different from what they expected. Prom has been canceled; Providence’s iconic “senior presentations” were carried out online; graduation will be a bit creative this year to say the least.

Alena Zeni, Class of 2020
Yet, while noting sadness over missed end-of-high-school memories with friends, Alena’s primary sentiment is excitement for the future—and her future is certainly bright! Alena was chosen to be an intern for NASA this summer, helping the Coast Guard design and build short-range search and rescue drones. This fall, Alena will begin her studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, where she plans to double-major in Astronautical Engineering and Global Security & Intelligence. She hopes to eventually work for a company like NASA or as an intelligence analyst.
Alena (left) helps catch a wayward drone! (It was her
idea to use a sheet to catch it and thereby prevent crash damage.)
A student in the Providence Engineering Academy all four years of high school, it was actually an elective in junior high that cultivated Alena’s love of the subject. She admits, “If not for junior high engineering, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today!” Among her favorite memories of the high school Academy include building a Tensegrity ball (a structure made of beams and ropes in which no beams directly touch one another, but are held together by the tension in the ropes) and a hexacopter drone, affectionately named “Thiccarus” due to its broad dimensions. Alena spoke fondly of the drone, admitting that her class worked so long on the project that they personified the drone as their class “child.”
Madison, Alena, Todd, and Ben:
senior members of the Providence
Engineering Academy
A field trip to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena earlier this fall is where Alena definitively found her calling. Inspired by the work of JPL, Alena decided to forgo a mechanical engineering degree and pursue astronautical engineering instead.

Alena (upper right group) poses with her class at JPL
Alena’s senior project—a capstone experience required of all graduates of Providence that involves a research paper, professional presentation, and defense of a meaningful topic—is titled “Guy-ence and Men-gineering: Pushing Back Against Cultural Barriers for Women in STEM.” Alena gives credit to a “Women in STEM day” hosted at UCSB during her 9th grade year for raising her awareness of the gender gap in the STEM disciplines. Her interest in researching the reasons behind the divide developed throughout high school and became an obvious choice for her senior project.

Among many contributing factors for the gender gap in STEM fields, Alena cites gender-based micro-aggressions, stereotype threat, explicit and implicit gender-science biases, and the competitive, aggressive atmosphere where performance expectations are not conducive to work-life balance. To combat these challenges for women in STEM fields, Alena encourages companies to consider blind resumes in early hiring procedures, expand skills required to include stereotypical female strengths such as collaboration and teamwork, and actively ensure qualified women get deserved promotions based on merit. Alena brings her Christian worldview to her research, articulating man and woman’s equal ability to image their Creator. As image-bearers, men and women are both called to create solutions for problems that arise in the world.

Alena’s and Madison’s final project for the year

Alena’s design for her aircraft fuselage successfully printed!

As Alena wraps up her senior year, her final project for the Engineering Academy involves designing a powered model aircraft with classmate and good friend Madison Malone. The duo are assembling their aircraft and planning on flight tests toward the end of May. Alena’s love for engineering is undeniably evident as she speaks with excitement to see her creation fly, citing many late nights and Zoom calls to navigate the design process in an unprecedented classroom setting.

Her final advice to younger students interested in studying engineering, math, or science? “Don’t give up on the math. It can get really, really hard… but once you have that moment where it all clicks and falls into place, it is so worth it.”

Major Project: Hexacopter Drone

(The fifth in our student blog series, written by Sam in 11th Grade, is followed by the teacher’s two updates on the project, so please read all the way down! Flight tests were finally successful, as students and teacher alike learned the hard realities of “going back to the drawing board!”)

While we don’t plan on taking him to the sun, Icarus was the name we selected for our massive hexacopter drone. With a 31-inch diameter, and the theoretical ability to lift almost two pounds on top of its own five-pound weight, it is operating at the higher end of recreational drone constraints. Most commercially available drones today feature only four propellers, and a mass of around one pound.

Early sketches of the design, with design priorities listed on the side

When we were designing “Thiccarus” we decided to push the boundaries with the materials we had available. A hexacopter design, as opposed to a more common quadcopter (a standard recreational design with four propellers), gave us more lift power and stability with a trade off on speed and maneuverability. To reduce weight and maintain strength Thiccarus would be constructed with 3D printed body parts and carbon fiber struts connecting them. However, when we were brainstorming, we decided that our drone’s primary function would be cargo delivery (despite my suggestions to make it into a fishing drone or a laser-toting drone with a search and destroy mission).

Pedro, Nolan, and Joshua tear apart
old quadcopter drones from two years
ago–fare thee well!

We came up with our design, then our constraints and requirements. After this, we split into design teams, each headed by ”captains.” After the protective shrouds around each propeller and control center base were decided upon, we set to starting a joint Onshape project. Onshape is our 3D design platform of choice for this project. Each team member was assigned one component of Thiccarus to design, and it came together well in a collaborative fashion. Each member of the design team is able to see in real time how their part will integrate with the other parts, which is incredibly helpful.

The eight students work concurrently on the drone CAD model,
with each one instantly able to see how their component fits into
the broader scope

The hexacopter design emerges!

The largest and most difficult piece to print: the central electronics
platform; five or six attempts at printing were required

Icarus is currently in the printing stage, and when it is fully constructed, it will be mounted with two cameras feeding to a battery powered LCD screen. Steered by the controller, it will be capable of flying high and low to deliver small payloads.

(Sam’s article was written in early October. After a delay in printing production due to some technical difficulties, the entire drone was finally fully assembled and taken for some early test flights. And now the update—which gets a little technical…)
After many hours of printing and assembly…

Sam, Ben, and Todd carefully attach
the motors and batteries and other
electronic components

The 8th Period engineering class proudly marched their huge drone out to the Providence soccer pitch. Gentle (and safe!) power-ups in the classroom had proved troublesome, with erratic behavior being immediately apparent. The drone was very touchy, and tended to spin around and roll to one side. Cutting the throttle from even six inches of altitude caused the aircraft to fall with a ungraceful “thump”, with small 3D-printed pieces occasionally breaking off.

Alena gave an insightful suggestion that we could take it outside and stretch out a big sheet of fabric to catch the drone as it fell. This would allow us to try to gain more altitude—and more time to evaluate its behavior and get it under manual control. The soft fall into the fabric would certainly keep both drone and students completely safe! As an added bonus, we would look comically like cartoon fire-fighters.

The group heads outside to try an initial flight: safety goggles on!

And look like cartoon fire-fighters we did! The plan worked rather well, except for Ben slipping accidentally in a mud patch on the field in his zeal for saving the drone. With the extra flight altitude and time, we learned that the machine wanted to spin on its vertical axis—absolutely out of control. Where it should have lifted gingerly into the air and hovered obediently, it was a veritable whirling dervish, and the group could not even agree on their recollection of whether it had spun clockwise or counter-clockwise!

It may look like the class is flinging it into the air—we promise
it is actually flying!

In a typical situation like this, the pilot should be able to add in some “yaw” trim. This means that the controller is set to always provide a little bit extra of yaw control, intended to counteract whatever is naturally happening and make everything balance out again. But adding yaw trim in either direction just didn’t change anything, and after one particularly wild spin the drone fell outside of the fabric and broke one of its 3D-printed propeller shrouds.

See that tilt to one side? About three seconds later Thiccarus
successfully escaped our circle of friendship!
Back to the drawing board…

  1. It is possible that the flight controller—the 1-inch small box that houses gyroscopes and inputs and outputs and magnetometers and so on—is just misbehaving or badly calibrated. But after several recalibrations and trying an alternate one that we had in stock, there was no improvement. Check.
  2. Is Thiccarus just way too “thicc”? Maybe. We could have designed more aggressively, and perhaps brought him down to 2 kg even (4.4 lb). But the specs say that each motor should be able to create up to 550 grams of thrust. With six motors in total, that’s 3.3 kg of thrust available (7.3 lb). And it’s definitely getting off the ground, even with the thrust output turned down for safety. So: check.
  3. It is possible that one or more motors are just misbehaving or getting bad signals. Tiny, threadlike wires carry the commands between the different components, and we have run into problems of this nature before. But replacing one bad cable fixed that, and simple individual motor bench tests show snappy, responsive motors that will blow your papers away from across the room.

When all else fails, Google it. Apparently, when your drone experiences untrimmable yaw, it is likely the result of not having set all motors perfectly level. In other words, one or more propellers might not be perfectly flat relative to the ground, but tilted slightly to one side. And yes, this is quite noticeable on poor old Thiccarus once you look for it. Fortunately, it can be easily solved by readjusting the four screws that hold each motor down, and putting a little “shim” on one side to nudge it up to level.

This is actually an interesting application of standard high school trigonometry. If a thrust vector is pointing straight up to sky, well and good. This is what the flight controller is banking on for its power distribution calculations. But if a motor is tipped to one side by even two or three degrees (barely perceptible to the eye), the aircraft will experience a mysterious lateral force equal to the thrust times the sine of the angle. If the motor is generating a healthy 500 grams of thrust (a little over a pound), three degrees of tilt creates 26 grams of sideways thrust (500sin3°). Small but significant—and the flight controller is not accounting for it.

Maddening: yes. Fixable: absolutely. The motors will be checked and adjusted, and Thiccarus will be bandaged up and flown again. It is also very likely that a Mark II design will surface in the second semester, with higher tolerances for motor angles accounted for from the very beginning and a lighter airframe. Less airframe weight means longer flight times, a more responsive drone, and a greater possible payload.

Providence Engineering Academy: carry on!

(Our final update for this story on the 19th of November.  Spoiler alert: it’s a happy ending!)


As promised, the motors were checked and adjusted. Ben and Mr. Meadth stayed after school and carefully placed pieces of card under this or that side of the motors to shim them up, bringing them as close as possible to vertical. Three motors were in need of adjustment, but none of them were out of line by more than about two or three degrees.

The drone was powered up, with high hopes… but the end result was exactly the same. Thiccarus wanted to flip over to the side and rotate faster and faster, and nothing could persuade him otherwise. Forget flying too close to the sun—Thiccarus couldn’t even get off the ground!

And then…

And then

Mr. Meadth had his flash of inspiration, and it all came down to this image:

The source of all problems.

This diagram shows the initial wiring and setup instructions from the flight controller. A certain teacher thought he had carefully followed the diagram; unfortunately, he had set the actual propeller directions all opposite. For example, propeller 1 was supposed to be rotating clockwise, but it had been set up to be counter-clockwise.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, while having everything opposite would still be balanced to some degree, the flight controller uses the spinning propellers to control its yaw. Say the craft wants to yaw to the left, it chooses a propeller to spin faster to the right (like propeller 1), and Newton’s Law of Reactions takes over. If it wants to yaw to the right, it might choose a left-spinning propeller to do that (like propeller 2). But since each and every one was backwards, the corrective actions it tried to take were in every case making the situation worse. If it started drifting left, it would end up spinning more left—a classic vicious circle if ever there was one.

A quick click of a checkbox in the computer and that was solved. All propellers: backwards. Oops.

Propellers… spinning the correct way!

You know you’re doing something
right when you’re looking at the bottom
of the drone

This portable outdoor screen receives
video input from two onboard cameras

Today marks another successful series of flights. We currently get about ten minutes of air time with two fully charged batteries. Three students plus teacher have been brave enough to fly around a little bit. No major accidents—perhaps a leg snapping off here or there with a rough landing!

Lessons learned:

  1. Persistence pays off. If this is a thing that can be done, then you can do it. Just get out there and keep troubleshooting until you work it out.
  2. This is a new era of high school education. To collaborate on a CAD model, 3D print it, order the electronics, and create a hovering 2.2 kg monstrosity in the space of three months is just not something a school could have done in-house ten years ago. Truly these are amazing times!
  3. These students are capable. With the right leadership and direction, they know how to think and problem solve and calculate and design. They will go far.
The story ends here, but keep an eye out for Mark II! We just can’t resist. There are already so many things that could be optimized (chiefly, stronger airframe and lighter weight). Lighter weight means more air time, so bring it on! Look out for Son of Thiccarus in the second semester, and until then, stay posted.

Space: The Final Frontier

(This is the second in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In the light of our recent trip to Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Ben in 12th Grade describes some of the history and future of space exploration.)

The concept of space travel has captured the public eye since the late 1800s with science fiction. As humans learned to blow things up in a certain direction more effectively, what was once science fiction became science speculation and from there we continued in our search for what lies beyond.

The entire group poses inside the famous JPL facility
On September 25, 2019, the Providence Engineering Academy was given the opportunity to take a glimpse into our country’s efforts to see just what else God has created in our universe at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. We humans, as stewards of creation, have a special role in discovery and advancement of our world, and this stewardship is taken seriously at JPL. They have produced deep space telescopes, orbital telescopes, weather telescopes, rovers, etc. for this exact purpose.
Our host stands next to the life-size (non-functional!) sister of
the currently active Mars rover, Curiosity
Mankind continues our search for life on other worlds as JPL designs their next Mars rover, set for launch in 2020. This rover is designed to search the soil of Mars for any signs of life. As an engineering student, I am greatly inspired by the efforts that we as stewards make to find out more about our neighboring planets. Scientists are also hoping to research the seas of Europa, one of the largest moons of Jupiter, to see if there is any life below the outer icy shell. Since there are large bodies of water on Europa, many scientists wonder if creatures live there, just as there is sea life on earth.
Our host shares the incredible history of space exploration from
this site, with a scale model of the Cassini probe in the background
Meanwhile, deep-space telescopes have been expanding the radius of what we know. There are upcoming missions for my generation to develop, based on all of the ground-breaking work done by the gifted scientists at JPL and other locations. One such mission is to develop a telescope to photograph other solar systems so that we can see if there are similar planets to Earth in those systems.
We deeply appreciated the enthusiasm and brilliance on display at JPL, and we wait with anticipation for what the future might hold—perhaps we’ll be a part of it!

Summer Camp 2019

This summer, the Providence Engineering Academy once again hosted the very special Robot City summer camp. With assistance from four capable high school engineering students (Alena, Davis, Pedro, and Zach), Mr. Eves and Mr. Meadth put on an unforgettable experience!

(Please note that all photos in this article have been selected to avoid showing camper faces, since not all students are from Providence with a photo release. Apologies if you’re looking for your loved one’s smiling face!)

Day 1: Architecture
After breaking into four teams, each group selected the theme for their quadrant of Robot City. The Green Team chose Time Travel, the Blue Team settled on a Medieval Castle, the Yellow Team laid out an Alien Attack on the Beach, and Red Team was Future City. A quick lesson of folding geometric nets, and all campers from 3rd to 7th Grade were ready to build!

The skyline emerges! A colorful mess of card and tape!

Red Team’s skyscraper went up and up and up, and needed to be
tied down with guy ropes!
Blue Team’s “Nice No-Trap Castle”. Should we believe them?

With inspiring challenges like “Tallest Tower” and “Most Colorful”, each team worked hard to lay out their cities. Skyscrapers rose up six feet into the air, zip lines were strung out, and spaces carefully divided out.

Day 2: CAD and 3D Printing
It might sound complex, but physically printing CAD (computer-aided design) models is something within the reach of any elementary student! Mr. Meadth taught the campers how to use Tinkercad, a free in-browser design tool created by AutoDesk. Designers can use simple shapes such as cylinders, cones, spheres, and prisms to create more complex models, such as houses and rocketships and characters.

Two of our campers work on their CAD models (Owen’s model
on the right is shown in detail below)

This is a great tool to get kids thinking in terms of linear dimensions, negative and positive space, perspective, volume, and it’s just plain creative fun! Here are a couple of examples of what the kids came up with. We also had spaceships, tanks, flying cars, and castles. Wow!

Once created (the models above took the students less than an hour to build), the designs were sent to the 3D printer. At a small enough print size, most models were done in about an hour, in a range of colors. Of course, after the camp the students got to keep whatever they have printed!

It’s just as addictive as watching TV, but at the end of the program
there’s actually something to show for. Thanks, Raise3D!

Day 3: Electrification
Always a favorite! Mr. Meadth gave a quick lesson on simple circuits, explaining terms such as “LED”, “voltage”, “series”, and “parallel”. Each team was given a supply of copper tape, coin batteries, and LEDs, and shown how to connect them together to power their city. It wasn’t long before the entire room was lit up with red, blue, orange, white, and green!

A lovely beach paradise in the shadow of the skyscrapers
(the tidal wave was added later)

The Green Team’s time travel zone included some helpful signs
(because time travel can be confusing)

A scale replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, courtesy of Abigail

All teams took up the extra challenges as well, building working paper switches, including both series and parallel circuits, and working to match their lighting arrangements to their theme. Blue Team created “laser traps” for their medieval castle, and Green Team strung out a long neatly-lit road to mark out their different time travel zones. Billboard were illuminated and “stained-glass” windows lit from the inside.

Mr. Eves works on the Blue Team’s medieval quadrant
LEDs don’t come through well in photos, but you get the idea!

When parents arrived for pickup on Wednesday, the lights went out, and the party started!

Day 4: LEGO Robotics
What’s a Robot City without robots? This year, Mr. Meadth and Mr. Eves guided the campers on how to incorporate LEGO Mindstorms robotics sets. Rather than creating robotic systems that would move around (and potentially destroy delicate buildings and circuits!), the teams focused on stationary mechanical systems. Mr. Meadth gave some lessons on essential mechanical systems (bevelled gears, gear reductions, universal joints, cams and cranks, etc.), issued some fun challenges, and away they all went!

Does this look like anybody’s bedroom floor? Times it by 16.

A futuristic monorail glides around Green Team’s city buildings

What’s a medieval world without an authentic, functional windmill?

We were blown away by all of the amazing creations that campers and their team leaders built: several working elevators (with tracks and with pulleys/windlasses); a slowly rotating time travel portal (sadly not actually functional); a crank-powered shooting spaceship; an amusement park ride; drawbridges; a merry-go-round; several demolition machines!

(P.S. For any parents of elementary students wanting a more cost-friendly version of LEGO Mindstorms, I highly recommend LEGO Boost. At about $150, it is a somewhat simplified system, still with sensors, motors, and fully programmable using a block-based system. The only downside is that it does always need a tablet/phone/computer app to be running via Bluetooth to make it work.)

Day 5: Do Over
At this point in the camp, the kids have learned so many different things and have typically gravitated towards one or the other. Some of them think that LED illumination is the coolest thing, and others just can’t get enough of making CAD models online. So on the fifth day, Mr. Meadth and Mr. Eves issued a few more challenges of various sorts. The teams helped put together a welcome sign with their photo on it; they all constructed a wearable accessory lit up with more lights and batteries. Some made hats and funky glasses and others made glowing swords!

The fun keeps coming on Day 5!

Robot City continued to grow in complexity and variety. Some teams incorporated sensors into their robotic systems, using touch triggers and infrared detectors to more accurately control their elevators and bridges.

By the time parents arrived at 12:30, the teams were ready for the final wrap-up. All points were tallied, and the all-girl Green Team took the grand prize, much to their delight!

Parents were delighted to see everything
the kids had accomplished… and that
someone else was handling the cleanup!

Mr. Meadth and Mr. Eves would like to thank all families for making our third Robot City camp such a success! We intend to run this again in 2020 (new ideas are already in the works!), so please spread the word amongst family and friends. You can start by sharing this article with someone who might be interested! And remember, this camp is open to all students, not just those from Providence. We’re always glad to welcome new friends from outside our regular community.

Until next year, may these junior engineers keep on designing and keep on building!

Search and Rescue Robot Photos: Josh Guinto

One of the strengths of our Engineering Academy is the opportunity to assign older students to act as teaching assistants for the younger group. This year, we are privileged to have Josh and Claire, both seniors, working behind the scenes day in and day out. Josh and Claire take care of so many important things, freeing me up (Mr. Meadth) to focus on teaching and assisting students.
Following on from the highly successful robotic arm project, our current robotics challenge is to design and build a search and rescue robot. This idea has been widely explored by many universities and private companies. We are proud to have four separate teams, each developing a unique solution for a robot that can navigate a defined obstacle course and deliver a survival package to a person on the other end. Such a robot might be used in an earthquake scenario.
No more talk from me! Let me simply share some excellent photos taken by Josh (thanks once again!) We’ll send out an update once this project is completed, so stay posted.
Sam and Pedro arrange the motors around a differential gearbox

Zach, Sydney, and Caleb working on some very secret plans!

Sam, Pedro, and Isaiah can’t wait to add tracks to their creation!

Nolan and Alan looking for bugs in the program

Sydney gears up for safety!

Sam compares his custom 3D-printed pentagonal wheels as
James looks on

Kaitlyn and Josh hard at work writing lines of code

Davis completes some highly necessary modifications to his
team’s tracked robot

Mr. Meadth undertakes repairs to one of Zach’s electric motors

James reattaches the front wheels again

Alan considers his 3D-printed component: a rotating “jack” to
tilt their robot up and down

Summer Camp 2018

It was such a roaring success the first time that we just had to do it all over again! The second annual Providence Engineering Summer Camp finished today, and the brightly lit robot city took wings with our special theme: SPACE. We all know it’s the final frontier, and our fifteen campers interpreted this idea in a multitude of ways. Alien invasion… meteorite shower… rocket launch… solar system buildings… 3D printed rockets and planets… so much fun!

Todd helps his team with some simple geometric designs

High school engineering students Joshua, Todd, Alena, and Sam led the charge each day teams of devoted campers from Providence and the broader community. We also had a good deal of help from Isabela! These excellent engineers taught the campers how to build electronic circuits, program robots, 3D print fantastic creations, and design out-of-this-world architecture. Illuminated buildings towered high above the cityscape as tiny robots darted to and fro. Electrified copper rails ran this way and that carrying power to critical components, with printed sculptures dotting the landscape.

Success! A single 3 V coin battery powers nine blue LEDs…
or is it only eight?
There was no messing around, either—these elementary students learned their stuff! You can ask them what “LED” stands for, and what a “forever loop” might be used for. They know how to build a working switch out of paper and copper foil, and some of them even used their movie-making skills to record short action videos!
The Robot City landscape continues to become
increasingly illuminated
As the days went by, the creations became increasingly complex. First was the skyscraper that was literally taller than Mr. Meadth. Then came the red/orange/green traffic light by the illuminated airstrip. 3D printed costumes were designed (by the campers, of course) for the tiny Ozobots in the shape of cars, rockets, and trains. And—of course—there was the obligatory fiesta of robot dance parties, all happening in perfect synchronization.
A delightful blue flower stands bold and tall
The end of each day came all too quickly. With lots to take home, we hope these happy campers will continue to code, invent architecture, and design circuits all summer long! Enjoy the rest of the photos, and we hope to have as many of you as possible back next year!
The 3D CAD model (computer aided design), becomes—by magic!—
a brightly lit reality
A tall rocket stands beside a crashed alien spacecraft
Our campers working hard to create all manner of new buildings
The tallest skyscraper in the room, complete with embedded
meteorites and emergency beacons
The Copper Rocket throws an eerie light out onto the empty streets

The giant completed city!

Gliders Launched!

There was a mixture of feelings in the Advanced Engineering II class last week, as they put the finishing touches on their gliders. These thirteen students had conceived, planned, and brought forth finely-tuned creations over the past nine months. The thought of now—literally—throwing them to the wind was somewhat concerning, to say the least.

Aaron throws his team’s glider from the roof to the field

Aaron, Caleb, and Megan had worked on a design with the shortest length from nose to tail, which resulted in the lowest weight of all four teams: 281 grams (a bit more than half a pound). They pulled cellophane over 3D printed ribs to create an aerodynamic lifting wing, and they opted for a balsa tail and body, connected by two carbon-fiber rods. Their team was also the only one to decide against undercarriage, relying instead on the rounded fuselage itself to land safely on the grassy field.

In total, this smooth sailplane made about four throws, with some repairs along the way! Sporting flashy silver and gold control surfaces, they reached a maximum distance of 68 ft. It also bears mentioning that the cumulative report with the conceptual and detailed design, plus appendices, came out to a whopping 23 pages. Well done!

Megan, Aaron, and Caleb standing proudly

Kylie, Luke, and Josh had the great honor of building the largest plane, dubbed by some The Spruce Goose. Click here for some serious aviation history behind that name! With a wingspan of 100 cm, a chord length of 22 cm, and a total nose to tail length of over 80 cm, it took to the air for an historic maiden voyage, with Luke at the helm.
Unfortunately, things did not fare so well for this 502 gram glider (a little more than 1 lb), which only made it 17 ft out into the field. Mr Meadth also tried his hand at throwing this one, but this was hampered by some sticky undercarriage. The good news is that the egg onboard was well protected!
Kylie proudly holds the Goose aloft

Luke, showing some signs of stress before the big throw

Left to right: Colby, Mikaela, Tys, Victor, Luke, Kylie, and Josh
Next in line was the Banana Grinder, so named in honor of some typographical errors early on in the design process. Tys, Mikaela, Victor, and Colby also chose to pull cellophane over printed ribs, but decided to rely heavily on the CAD skills of Tys and Colby to construct many other components of the aircraft, resulting in a high construction precision.
Colby and Tys did great work on matching the CAD model
to the real thing

The team worked powerfully together to build a sleek-looking machine. Others commented on the slender, low profile, the extensive use of carbon-fiber rods in wings, tail, and body, and Mikaela’s cover page artwork! The Grinder’s best launch took it an impressive 60 feet.

Colby waits for the wind to pass before making the throw

Our final team boasted several different features not seen on any other glider. Blue Wonder was the only glider to have a dihedral angle (where the wings slope upwards), it was the only one with a T-tail instead of conventional, and it had the longest wingspan of 120 cm, resulting in the highest aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is a comparison of the wingspan to the wing chord. The students had been taught in class that a high aspect ratio would lower the induced drag. Other teams had aspect ratios around the 4 to 8 mark; Blue Wonder was 12.6.

Eva, Gabe, and Claire also made extensive use of 3D printing and carbon fiber, much like Banana Grinder. Finally, they chose to skin the wing with tissue paper soaked in dope (a kind of glue that dries hard and pulls the paper tight). This resulted in a smoother, tougher lifting surface compared to the cellophane. Click here for the CAD model of their components.
The completed 120 cm wing and T-tail (not yet skinned), connected
by a carbon-fiber rod
It is an unfortunate fact of history that the maiden voyage of this aerial acrobat was a complete disaster. After several successful short-range tests, Gabe hurled the machine into the air… only to have it bank around to port and crash violently into a row of bleachers! With a total distance of only 4 ft and a broken tail, Claire brought out the masking tape to get it ready for another flight.

Gabe hefting the Blue Wonder down on the ground

A second throw left the crowd speechless, as the Wonder curved gracefully into the breeze. After gaining a dozen feet of altitude, it swooped down across the field, showing none of its port-side tendencies, and landed smoothly at 97 ft! Gabe and Mr. Meadth were both able to make a few more flights just as successfully before a few rough landings left it crippled and grounded like the others.
At the close of the experiments, Victor commented that he would never look at an aircraft the same way again; he now sees the c.g. and the balance and all of the work that went into it. And needless to say, Eva and Gabe and Claire were glowing with pride.
So—what was learned?

  1. It is better to have high accuracy construction, which 3D printing perfectly lends itself to.
  2. A dihedral wing angle really does promote roll stability.
  3. The planes’ distances were directly linked to their wing aspect ratios (how slender they were).
  4.  Lighter planes flew further and better.
  5. The doped tissue paper seemed to lower the drag compared to the cellophane.
  6. Carbon fiber really is as awesome as it sounds.
With only a few weeks of school left, the students are now turning their attention to a special project, funded by a grant awarded by the EnergyPartners Fund. Broken out into five new teams, they are assembling electronic components for a quadcopter drone. They will design and 3D print the body of the drone, holding all the pieces together. More to come!

MS Science & Engineering Expo 2018

The annual Middle School Science & Engineering Expo was a huge success once again, thanks to the hard work and positive attitudes of so many students, parents, teachers, and staff. This year’s theme of The Human Machine inspired a range of hands-on explorations, from Masa and Cameron’s tennis and baseball clinic, to Heidi and Ella’s eye dissection, to robotic prosthetic hands built by the Intro to Engineering class.

Harry, Ruby, Isabela, and James show off their robotic hands

Elementary students get in on the action!

Masa shows Mr. Sunukjian how it’s done!

Mr. Alker worked hard with every 8th Grade student over a period of several weeks to hone their demonstrations to perfection. With such a rich inspiration as the human body itself, students were well able to explore athletics, biology, physics, and engineering.
Never too young to begin!  Providence class of  2033?

Mr. Alker explains the human lung to a captive audience

Maya walks her family through the inner workings of
the human digestive system

Zach, Isaiah, and Sam with their lung test apparatus

Mr. Meadth also brought some high school engineering students to show off their recently completed gliders. High school 3D printers were running hot all the while, courtesy of Todd and Alena, producing Providence keychains for our guests.
Mr. Hurt, high school science teacher, measures his heart rate
alongside Ava

Heidi and Ella showing the inner workings of a cow’s eyeball,
much to the delight of visiting parents

Todd and Alena busily keeping those
printers running on behalf of the high
school Engineering Academy

With sweet treats provided by parent volunteers (thank you!) and Mrs. Luy welcoming guests at the gate, there were plenty of smiles all around. Good things are happening at Providence! For more information about middle school science, please contact Mr. Alker. For more information on our engineering programs, please contact Mr. Meadth. Don’t forget to check out the other articles on this blog, and subscribe for automatic updates.
Ella helps two elementary students fill out their scavenger hunt

Abby and Liza calculated the energy delivered in tasty snacks

Lily taught how music affects heart rate

In the Steps of Orville and Wilbur

The Advanced Engineering II group has a unique and challenging task in front of them. In fact, it is quite possible that none of the students has ever undertaken something quite like this: a group project that lasts from September to March—designing and building a model glider!

The students have been hard at work learning the fundamentals of aerodynamics, as applied to conventional aircraft. They understand Bernoulli’s principle, the momentum shift theory of lift, what induced drag is, and why most modern aircraft have those little turned-up ends on their wings. They know the value of the theoretical lift curve slope, and how much lift an uncambered airfoil produces at a zero angle of attack, and they can check it all in a virtual wind tunnel test! Impressed yet?!

Luke (11th) and Kylie (12th) consult their extensive course notes
as they work on the detailed design spreadsheet

Divided up into four teams, the students have just put the finishing touches on their complex design spreadsheet, which describes in precise detail the various features of the glider they are going to build. Each glider will be thrown from the top of the science lab building onto our field, carrying a single (unboiled!) egg to safety as far downfield as possible. The plane that successfully flies the farthest and lands safely wins!

Tys (12th), Victor (11th), Colby (11th), and Mikaela (12th) happily
nearing the end of their design calculations after several weeks

The students will be using a variety of materials and techniques; we are currently amassing a stockpile of carbon fiber tubes, balsa wood pieces, tissue paper, cellophane, lead weights, aluminum wire, and other bits and pieces. The teams are creating CAD models of their wing cross-sections, intending to 3D print them in the coming weeks. Most of the gliders are about three feet across the wingspan, about two feet long, and weigh a bit more than half a pound. (By the way, all of our work is done in metric units, to be in keeping with international physics standards!)

In order to get a real hands-on feel for the work, the group also took a special visit up to the Santa Ynez Airport, where they were shown a variety of gliders and powered aircraft. This was the perfect chance to connect theory to practice, and it no doubt helped inspire the students as they move into the manufacturing phase.

Josh and Gabe look at the cockpit
of an older glider

Dave and Colby, employees of the airport, graciously showed us around the couple of dozen light aircraft sitting on the runway, answering student questions about wing design, gliding techniques, and the pilot license process.

Megan and Caleb dreaming big as they stand by another one of
the gliders
The students look on as Colby describes the sleek and elegant
Cirrus light aircraft


As more airplanes took off and landed around them, the students got up close views of a shiny Cirrus, many older Cessnas, and an unusual-looking Long-EZ. Colby described to us the great thrill of flying, being in perfect solitude up in the sky; he is working towards his powered pilot license.

Is it a spaceship of some sort? The Long-EZ design is not
recommended for the students to imitate for their glider design

The class’s six seniors from left to right: Tys, Mikaela, Caleb, Megan,
Aaron, and Kylie; our guide Colby on the right
With plenty to fill their heads about glide paths, turbulent flow, night navigation, wing construction, parachutes, and fuel pods, the students took one final pose on an aircraft they were allowed to sit in! Thanks very much to Dave and Colby and all of the crew up at Santa Ynez—perhaps we’ll see you again sometime soon! Airport Day is coming up on Saturday, May 20th, and all are welcome.

Educational Design Project

In the Providence Engineering Academy, we emphasize the idea that technology ought never to be an end in itself. Technology for technology’s sake rings hollow, and as Christians we ought to see all things as being good and useful for God’s kingdom purposes. A very real question for us is this: how can we use engineering, design, and technology to love others? As engineers, are we perhaps able to serve others in ways that others cannot?

In answer to this question, the 9th/10th Grade Foundations of Engineering I class asked for and received requests from our school’s own teachers and staff. We asked them what they could use in their classrooms and offices that we could design and then 3D print. In the past, the students have produced models of ziggurats, pyramids, and Solomon’s temple. They have made gear ratio demonstrations, ten-sided dice, and computer monitor stands.
This year, the entries were just as exciting. We start with several geometric demonstrations for Mrs. Smelley, our 7th and 8th Grade mathematics teacher, designed by Ava and Peter. Ava created some simple trapezoid area demonstrations, as well as a cubic volume demonstration. Peter built a folding box that opens up to show how a 2D net is created from a 3D shape. Mrs. Smelley was delighted, telling the students “you have really supplied the tools for our class.”
Mrs. Smelley gratefully receives the cubic volume project from Ava 
Peter’s folding box design: click here to view the online version

Next up was Sam, with his large model of a cell for Mr. Alker’s middle school biology class. Sam created each piece as separate, so students can pull it apart, and really “feel” what they have seen in the textbook.
Sam looks on as Mr. Alker identifies the various bits and pieces

Todd produced a somewhat unique request: an anti-theft device! Mr. Hurt finds that his classroom calculators tend to go “missing”, and so he is embarking on a social experiment. Will fastening a distinctive 3D printed science-themed design to the back of them change the outcome? Only time will tell. At the very least we appreciate this practical use of the scientific method.
Todd’s design features a striking gold-on-black circuit board pattern
Next in line is Caleb, who designed something along more structural lines: a replacement door handle for a cabinet in our science and engineering lab. This project was a good lesson in meeting external constraints; it had to be strong enough, match up with the existing screw holes, and allow for screws to actually take hold of it. Caleb also added some extra pizzazz.
The new door handle, with Providence logo, in place and ready to go!

Madison designed some calendar labels for Mrs. Penton, enabling her to easily highlight different events as the year rolls by. The labels are removable and have pre-printed words on them for common activities and events.
Mrs. Penton shows off her new designs!

Ben also went the structural route by creating some shelving brackets for Mr. Meadth. Why go store-bought when you can have custom-made? Mr. Meadth greatly appreciated Ben’s creativity, as he created dozens of “bubbles” and carefully placed holes to match up with the existing bolt locations.
Ben’s brackets support a display shelf for the Calculus class

Pedro helped complete a design that was begun last year by 11th and 12th Graders. The idea was to build a column compression demonstration, showing how compressed columns form a variety of buckling modes, depending on end fixity conditions. Pedro adroitly designed a sliding attachment, which keeps the end of the column from rotating while allowing one-dimensional translation. This will see use next year in classes!
The column testing device is finally
complete, thanks to Pedro

Alena chose to work on the Engineering Academy keychains for next year. We have a tradition of producing simple keychains for everyone in both classes, and Alena is working on something that echoes next year’s themes of robotics and structural engineering.

A miniature wrench, courtesy of Alena

And finally, Josh designed a caddy for Ms. Svoboda in middle school. Ms. Svoboda teaches between different classrooms, and this caddy allows her to quickly bring some essential items for her afternoon class. In this case, Josh worked to supplement an existing file holder with customized attachments. Ms. Svoboda was delighted with the results!
Have caddy, will travel!

As a final word, Mr. Meadth and Claire (our 11th Grade T.A.) also worked to produce some pieces for the Providence Preschool. Our new director, Cheri Diaz, wanted some “natural” items, so we printed a starfish, a seashell, a honeycomb, and some ice cubes (all but the ice cubes were found online on Thingiverse). We hope the children enjoy playing with them!