Blaine students engineer theory into real-world products

9:55 AM, Mar 15, 2012   |    comments
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BLAINE, Minn. - A corner of Blaine High School looks like a science lab run amok, with wires, generators, PVC piping and imagination going wild.

Work tables are surrounded by students who are putting the finishing touches on their inventions.  The students are all enrolled in The Center for Engineering, Math and Science, CEMS, which is Blaine's "school within a school".

"Students who choose to be in the program are committing to taking four years of math, four years of science, four years of engineering,"  Director Lori Dykstra explains. 

It's a rigorous program staff have designed to build on a base of knowledge that grows year after year.  In their senior year, students are expected to take that knowledge and turn it into a real-world product.

"Their charge has been to either improve a product or design a new product they think would be serving some need a family has," said Dykstra.

"I never really thought I could design something new," said senior Steven Zingshein.  "It's really fun and I've absolutely amazed myself"

Zingshein is holding a self-cooling canteen he and his teammates designed.  Another team is working on linear electromatic acceleration, a process they believe could be used as cargo transport someday.

There's a heated shovel, a device to charge electronics on the go and an electronic cookbook.  Still another team is putting the finishing touches on a GPS device to track lost articles, such as a cell phone.

Senior Nikki Nelson, whose team had to study for a ham radio license to use the technology their GPS requires, sees how her four years at Blaine paved the way for this project.

"We started in introduction to engineering, and that helped us learn things like this case," said Nelson, holding up the housing for the device.  "Digital electronics, which is a class I took in 10th grade year, helped us with the the GPS, circuits and stuff like that."

Each team also had help from an outside mentor, a member of the community the students either contacted themselves, or who was contacted by the school to guide the students over the months it has taken to turn their ideas into actual prototypes.

"People in the community just so want to be involved," said Dykstra.  "I don't think I've been told no yet when I've approached somebody.

The CEMS research project is more than a chance to show off a base of knowledge.  Students learn a bit about economics as they have to stay within a $500 budget.  They also learn how to work in teams that will be together from the spring of their junior year until more than halfway through their senior year.

Students take a turn at public speaking when they present their projects to school staff, parents and their mentors at an event that also gives them a hard deadline to complete their work.

For Dykstra, it's not only fun to see what students come up with, it's validation of a four-year program that takes classroom concepts and turns them into real-world application.

"Probably for the me biggest piece is just seeing them take all the knowledge that they've learned and apply it in a practical sense," said Dykstra.  "They see that knowledge that we've been teaching them all come together in this product.  It's just an amazing thing."

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved.)

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