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Focus on:
The Fun Side of Science and Engineering

Graduate students in Biomedical Engineering participate in Science
Olympiad program at local school

Last month, more than 30 students from the Susan Odell Taylor School in Troy had an opportunity to put their math and science problem-solving skills to the test as part of a National Science Olympiad program coordinated by Rensselaer. Under the direction of Deepak Vashishth, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, 16 graduate students from the department participated in a series of interactive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities.

“My colleague Professor Deanna Thompson’s outreach work with local community schools has sparked great enthusiasm in our students to reach out and contribute to the promotion of science and engineering,” said Vashishth. “I believe that the academic community and institutions including Rensselaer should help foster interest and innovation in engineering and science as well as share the results of federally funded research with the local community.”

The program featured seven projects. Activities included: understanding design by building a suspension bridge using straws and masking tape; exploring trajectory and angles by creating a gummy bear catapult; exploring the principles of aerodynamics through the design of paper airplanes; learning about the properties of oil and water by using food coloring, heavy cream, and liquid soap to create colorful designs; and the ever-popular egg drop challenge.

“It was great to connect with the kids and show them how science and engineering is pretty fun. I was surprised how sharp and tech-savvy a lot of these kids were,” said Arun Nemani, a graduate student majoring in biomedical engineering.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor has noted that of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, at least 15 of them will require an individual to have significant math or science preparation to successfully compete for the job.

“The United States is falling behind in math and science, with fewer American students than ever graduating from college with math and science degrees,” said Kelly Magoolaghan, head of the Taylor School. “Creating opportunities for students to experience STEM-related concepts in a problem-solving arena helps to energize and inspire students to further their knowledge in the field. The Science Olympiad is just one example of connecting these disciplines, which allows students to explore the limitless possibilities of math and science.”

Following the event, Taylor School students also shared their interests and understanding of the “wonderful research” taking place at Rensselaer. “I want to make a video game someday that helps doctors learn to operate,” said one student. And another expressed a desire to “learn how to grow new tissue to help cure cancer.”

“Working with the students at the Taylor School provided our graduate students with a great opportunity to help talented young kids with exciting projects,” Vashishth added. “It was amazing to the see the breadth of imagination by which the kids approached and solved a variety of problems, from safely dropping an egg to building bridges.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 6, April 1, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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