Wow! That's Engineering at Lincoln Laboratory!

What does an engineer do? That's the question 100 girls in grades 6 through 8 were faced with when they attended "Wow! That's Engineering!" hosted by the Boston chapter of the Society of Women Engineers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Mass., in March.

This event was a day to experience the creativity and innovation of engineering with fun hands-on activities. The goal was to "wow" girls by what they can accomplish and provide a better understanding of what it's like to be an engineer.

ROLL members during robotics demo Laboratory volunteers help participants take apart electrical devices to learn about reverse engineering.

Lincoln Laboratory staff members Dr. Pamela Evans, leader of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Systems and Architectures Group, and Dr. Melissa Choi, leader of the Systems and Analysis Group, told very different stories about how they chose to enter a scientific field, but both emphasized positive messages about the role of females in technology.

wow eventWhile creating their own lip gloss, girls practiced materials engineering and chemistry.

Aided by Lincoln Laboratory volunteers, the girls tried different types of engineering through various activities. Assembling a toy car fueled by solar energy helped the girls try their hand at mechanical engineering and testing a renewable energy source. Noting interactions of different elements while mixing lip gloss introduced chemical and materials engineering. Building and programming a Lego Mindstorms robot incorporated concepts of mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering. Fundamentals of electricity were explored by building an electrical circuit including an energy source, resistance, a light, and a switch.

wow eventBuilding a toy solar car helped the girls learn about mechanical engineering and renewable energy.

The girls could also delve into reverse engineering by taking apart their choice of a number of electronic appliances. Fascinated by this task, many girls took home broken printers, phones, laptops, and handheld games for closer inspection. Participants were also treated to a liquid nitrogen show and a video dance-off challenge hosted by game designer Jim Toepel of Cambridge-based gaming company Harmonix, maker of popular games like Dance Central, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero.

Damaris Sarria, a staff member in the Engineering Analysis and Testing Group at Lincoln Laboratory, coordinated this event as part of Lincoln Laboratory's Community Outreach program. She said "Targeting girls at this age range is so important. It's when many girls lose their enthusiasm for science, or feel that science and technology fields are not for girls. We're taking this opportunity to show them that engineering can be exciting, and that is a viable career choice for women."

wow eventDuring the liquid nitrogen show, girls rushed to get frozen pennies and try their hand at breaking them, eager to take a broken penny home with them.
wow eventThe liquid nitrogen show also gave girls a chance to make their own freeze-dried flower.

The participants weren't only "wowed," but also surprised, as proven by the quotes heard throughout the day, such as, "You can really do that?" and "This is so cool!" Kailee A. said she liked engineering because "it shows you things you may not know about the world." Ashley S. was ready to share her new scientific insights. She said "This is great! We get to take home our projects and teach our parents!"

"Wow! That's Engineering!" was a sure success as parents picked up excited girls carrying their cache of items created that day, talking a mile a minute about activities enjoyed throughout the day. Parents too were thankful that their daughters found a renewed interest in science and engineering, hoping, as the event coordinators do, that engaging girls in engineering at a young age will keep them interested for life.


Because of the success of this event, a similar girls-only event is being planned for the summer. All future events will be announced on www.LL.mit.edu.

Sponsors of this event included the Society of Women Engineers, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Exxon Mobil. Additional support was provided by Lockheed Martin, ClifBar&Co, MITRE, Newell Rubbermaid, FM Global, Costco Wholesale, and the Coalition of Space Exploration.

Posted April 2011

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