A spring tradition of science

Lincoln Laboratory hosts hands-on activities for the Cambridge Science Festival

Each spring, while runners arrive from around the world to participate in the Boston Marathon, Lincoln Laboratory engages in a different type of marathon—the Cambridge Science Festival—a ten-day celebration which showcases the leading edge in science, technology, engineering, and math. Held during Massachusetts public school's spring vacation week, this event features 175 exhibitors doing non-stop experiments, activities, lectures, and demonstrations to more than 50,000 people.

coffee can radar set upRaoul Ouedraogo of the Advanced Sensors and Techniques Group sets up the coffee-can radar for display at the MIT Museum during the Cambridge Science Festival. The "do-it-yourself" radar acts as a Doppler radar as well as a synthetic aperture radar.

Lincoln Laboratory has participated in the Cambridge Science Fair since 2010, and has shown children how to control a robot to catch a ball, why bugs swarm together, how to build a radar, and how to measure the changing speed of objects. Other booths at the fair showed participants how to make slime, extract plant DNA, test for forensic evidence, and many other educational activities.

During the week-long festival, companies and businesses throughout the city, including the MIT Museum, hosted demonstrations, activities, and special seminars. At a special MIT Museum session called "Coffee Talk," most booths explained the social, molecular, or physiological effects of coffee, but Raoul Ouedraogo demonstrated a radar built out of coffee cans. Ouedraogo volunteers as an instructor for Lincoln Laboratory's summer workshop Radar Introduction for Student Engineers which helps students learn how to build a working radar. In fact, the radar he was using for the demonstration was built by the students attending the workshop last summer.

The Cambridge Science Festival also provides an opportunity for MIT laboratories and work spaces to open their doors to the public. MIT Lincoln Laboratory Beaver Works is one such area that offers a glimpse of its innovative workspace and some of the student-built projects that are being prototyped there. Visitors of the Beaver Works open house could see a variety of deployable miniature unmanned air vehicles, productions molds, and video footage of the filght tests. Actual vehicles on display included a high-altitude micro-UAV explosively launched from a flare canister and a family of versatile, snap-together UAVs produced from a unified architecture designed to maximize production speed and minimize cost.

This year, the festival featured a new 3D-printing exhibition held at the MIT Museum. The Laboratory's Technology Innovation Laboratory (TOIL) staff took part in the exhibition, showing a prism, hand-held magnifying lens, parabolic dish microphone, stereoscope, microfluidic light pipes, and a Stirling engine, all fabricated from 3D-printed materials. Andrew March of the Space Systems Analysis & Test Group used the TOIL to create some 3D products for the exhibit. March said "One of my favorite moments was when a child was looking through the magnifying glass at the table cloth. His dad was impressed by the 3D-printed frame, and when I told him the lens was printed too, the dad, shocked, said 'No way!' and grabbed the magnifying glass to look through it."

3D printing display at CSF robotic glove
At left, young participants try 3D-printed robotic gloves at Lincoln Laboratory’s TOIL booth at the MIT Museum during Cambridge Science Festival's 3D-printing exhibit. At right, a close-up of one type of glove shows the "fingertips" designed to aid in picking up and holding onto item were also created using a 3D printer.  

The Robotics Outreach at Lincoln Laboratory (ROLL) group, participants from the very first year of the festival, hosted a booth for the "robot zoo," which featured different kinds of robots doing what each was designed to do: fly, crawl, fold, sail, play Frisbee, manipulate medical devices, or complete an obstacle course. ROLL member Jacob Huang of the Advanced Satcom Systems & Operations Group showed visitors how to control a robot that was built by a team of high-school students (mentored by Huang) for a robotic competition.

robot zooChiamaka Agbasi-Porter (right) instructs children how to guide a robot around obstacles during the Robot Zoo, a special robotics event during the Cambridge Science Festival.

Chiamaka Agbasi-Porter of the Communications and Community Outreach Office explained to children how to control the robot. Agbasi-Porter also fielded kids' questions about how fast the robot can go, if it is strong enough to crash into a wall, and how the robot works. She said, "I really like seeing kids light up when they get to 'drive' the robot. It is fairly easy, so everyone has a level of success!" Agbasi-Porter noted perhaps the most important feature of the event, adding, "The festival never fails to kindle curiosity in people of all ages."



Posted August 2015

top of page