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TryEngineering Today!

TryEngineering Today! is dedicated to providing the latest news and information for students, parents, teachers, and counselors interested in engineering, computing technology and related topics.

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November 7, 2018 | Diversity, Rural Students, STEM

Students at Nedrose High School in rural North Dakota have been asking for years for the opportunity to take more rigorous coursework. But there are simply no funds available for the school to hire a full-time advanced placement (AP) teacher.

Fortunately, Nedrose High recently became one of 13 high schools in the state to take part in the Blended College Readiness Program this year. The program allows students to attend online classes that are traditionally more available at larger high schools. NMSI hopes to use the program as a model for expanding to other states.

The program, available to 100 students through the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) partnership, is offered free to any high school in the state that requests it. It provides online AP classes in calculus, biology, statistics and English. Nedrose sophomore Megan Sutter and senior Mindee Boyce are both participating in the program, taking AP biology. Sutter says she likes the class because it lets students work at their own pace. Boyce, who hopes to pursue a career in agronomy, signed up for the course as soon as she heard it was available.

Thanks to funding from the North Dakota State Legislature, each North Dakota high school student can take one AP exam free of charge, or up to four exams free if the student is from a low income family. Students who pass an AP exam have the opportunity to earn college credit, saving money on future college tuition. Students who complete the courses and earn a 3 or higher on each course’s AP exam will also receive a $100 award from the NMSI.

Sixteen other North Dakota high schools take part in the College Readiness Program, with AP classes taught by a teacher in person.

Superintendent of public instruction Kirstin Baesler says, “It is more difficult for our rural North Dakota schools to offer advanced classes, particularly in math and science. This helps to close our ‘opportunity gap,’ and expand the academic options available for our rural students”

Author: Lynda Bradley


November 1, 2018 | STEM, Diversity, Girls

In the United States, only 27 percent of all students taking the AP computer science exam are female and just 18 percent of college computer science degrees go to women.

A new report titled Girls, STEM and Careers: Decoding Girls’ Futures in an Age of Social Media shows that what drives girls’ lack of representation in these fields is their waning confidence in science, technology, engineering and math as they get older. The report is based on a survey of more than 10,000 girls in the United States conducted by Ohio-based nonprofit Ruling Our eXperiences (ROX).

The report reveals a deeper understanding of behaviors, thoughts and perceptions of a national sample of girls in grades 5-12. Findings include these startling insights:

  • While girls’ interest in pursuing a career in math and/or science increases 16% from fifth to ninth grade, there’s a 15% decline in their perceived abilities in these subjects.
  • One in three girls believes that boys are encouraged more than girls in the areas of math and science.
  • 73% of girls believe they are good at math and/or science, but among Hispanic girls that number declines to less than half, and for Asian girls to only 56%.

The mission of ROX is to create generations of confident girls who can control their own relationships, experiences and decisions. In an article in the Cincinnati Business Courier, Dr. Lisa Hinkelman, ROX Founder and Executive Director and principal researcher of The Girls’ Index, said, “When fifty percent of high school girls report that they are considering a career in a math and/or science field, we celebrate this as a sign that the national efforts to increase girls’ interest in the STEM fields is having a positive impact. However, when nearly the same percentage of girls do not believe they are smart enough for their dream job, we recognize that we need to augment our efforts to support girls personally and academically."

Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, chimed in on the report findings during an International Day of the Girl celebration at the company’s Mountain View, California, offices this year, saying, “The revelations contained in this research study effectively reframe the conversation and highlight the opportunities ahead as we empower the next generation of women leaders to take their seat at the table. In a world where an understanding of STEM is quickly becoming table stakes, building confidence and capability in girls that their contributions measure up and matter is critical to their individual and our collective success. At Intuit, we have benefited greatly from talented women leading our company at every level, from the board room to our front lines, and we are champions of the important work that Ruling Our eXperiences (ROX) is driving to increase the pipeline of interested and capable girls in pursuit of their dreams.”

The full Girls, STEM and Careers impact report is available here.

Author: Lynda Bradley

AIBO: Robot Dog
October 25, 2018 |

IEEE launched Robots.ieee.org, a new website that aims to be the world's best and largest catalog of robots. Billed as "your guide to the world of robotics," the site gathers nearly 200 robots from 18 countries and shows them off in thousands of photos, videos, and interactive animations.

Robots include, for example, consumer favorite Roomba, which vacuums floors and lightens housekeeping chores; Paro, a robotic baby harp seal used as a therapeutic tool in hospitals and nursing homes; and Atlas, an agile bipedal robot that can run, jump, and even do backflips.

"One of the things that makes the site really unique are the interactives that let you move and spin robots on the screen," said Spectrum photo director Randi Klett, who leads the project along with Erico. "We send photographers around the world to capture these robots in action."

Among the interactives are a 360-degree view of a 1,200-pound surgical robot, a crawling robotic baby called iCub, and NASA's space humanoid Robonaut.


Figure 1. Laser cutting makes elegant and complex fashion designs easy and beautiful. Source: Solarbotics/CC BY 2.0
October 15, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer D. Bosavage

With the ability to create intricate cutwork to enhance the décolletage of a gown, or scalloped lace edges that flatter the hemline of a sundress, laser cutters are rapidly becoming more popular in the realm of fashion design. They help designers bring their most creative work to life, thanks to their ability to effortlessly and precisely cut a pattern or engrave directly on to fabrics. Laser cutting is both extremely accurate and fast — important features for designers wanting to incorporate fine detail onto a variety of fabrics. Speed is also a plus in a fashion design classroom, where students may be simultaneously working on creating multiple projects.

Students will likely be interested in understanding how the laser process works, and why it doesn't pull or stretch fabric the way cutting blades can. There are several advantages to fabric laser cutting.

  • A very fine and powerful V-shaped beam of light is projected onto a tiny area in order to make the cut.
  • The intensified 0.004 in beam cuts without pressure — there is no mechanical contact — so fabric isn't distorted.
  • An intensified vacuum force is automatically applied to the area being cut to prevent the material from shifting.
  • Cuts are made quickly and accurately, so edges are sharp and clean.
  • The laser heat seals, or cauterizes, the edges of the cuts; this protects them from fraying or raveling. (One caveat: the laser’s sealing action can be a disadvantage for cutting multiple pieces or plies at once, as it may fuse edges together.)

Many types of natural and synthetic materials can be cut or engraved with lasers, which affords more creative choice for designers. Possibilities include cotton, denim, felt, fleece, leather, linen, polyester and silk; specialty materials such as stretch fabrics and Gore-Tex are also well-suited for laser use.

Designers such as Alexander McQueen and Zac Posen, as well as brands like Marchesa, have used laser technology to create dramatic effects. Studying their work can serve as foundation for a fashion design curriculum that is highly inspiring.

Given all these factors, it’s easy to see how the laser’s presence in a fashion design classroom can greatly enhance a student’s ability to turn his or her inspired ideas into reality. 

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More

Figure 1: The Epilog Zing Starter Series offers excellent entry-level laser cutters.  Source: Epilog Laser
October 4, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer D. Bosavage

The start of the school year is the perfect time for anyone considering a laser cutter to learn the foundations of this exciting technology.

Just as they are in makerspaces and fab labs, laser cutters are one of the most versatile tools one can have in a  classroom. They can cut patterns or pieces for final assembly; they can cut through a range of materials with high precision; and they are easy to use. All of those qualities rolled into one piece of technology make the laser cutter a very powerful piece of equipment -- and a great investment for schools, businesses and entrepreneurs alike. When first starting out, here are a few tips to bear in mind:

  1. Select your materials carefully.
A laser cutter uses a laser beam that is fired to allow any shape or design to be cut out of a flat piece of material; possibilities include plastic, wood, fabric, leather and more. Lasers are able to penetrate hard and thick materials that traditional drag-knife devices, such as craft cutters and vinyl cutters, cannot. There are, however, some materials that are not recommended for use with a laser -- such as anything containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This material is not only very messy to engrave or cut on a laser, but can also release a corrosive gas that is harmful to both the inner workings of the laser system and the laser operator. If you’re ever unsure whether a material includes PVC as one of its components, you can request a material safety data sheet (MSDS) from the manufacturer.  Most other materials are laser compatible, but flare-ups can occasionally happen, especially when cutting acrylics. That’s why it’s of paramount importance never to leave the laser unattended.
  2. Take safety seriously. While even elementary schoolchildren can use laser cutters when properly supervised, it’s important to remember that these are tools, not toys. Filtration systems are needed, because the fumes and dust caused by etching can be toxic. Fire extinguishers are also recommended to combat flare-ups. Epilog recommends a Halotron fire extinguisher or a multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher. Of these two options, the Halotron extinguisher is more expensive option, but offers advantages such as the discharge of a clean, easily removable substance that is not harmful to the mechanics or wiring of the laser system. The dry chemical extinguisher, by contrast, discharges a sticky, corrosive powder that can be very difficult to clean up.
  3. Create a plan to guide your equipment choices. Having a solid understanding of your needs and a business purpose outline will allow you not only to create a great budget proposal for buying or leasing a laser cutter -- it will also guide you in selecting the best model. System cost is determined by factors such as motor type (stepper or servo); engraving table size; and laser wattage, which ranges from 30 watts to 120 watts. An entry-level cutter might have an engraving bed measuring 16 in x 12 in, which could be ideal for a classroom or startup; a new, entry-level 30 watt system costs less than $8,000. An enterprise-size business, by contrast, may need machinery on the opposite side of the spectrum -- with features such as a 40 in x 28 in engraving bed, 120 watts of power and a price tag closer to $42,000.

There is no question that a laser cutter can be an invaluable tool for growing a business or expanding a school curriculum, opening new markets and providing insight into a potential career path. Laser systems can help companies and schools alike blaze new pathways to success.

Contact Epilog Laser for more information on their laser products.

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

July 24, 2018 | Sponsored

Jennifer Bosavage

Middle school teachers who are fortunate enough to have laser cutting machinery at their disposal are faced with figuring out how to incorporate the technology into meaningful lessons. Far beyond personalized engraved trinkets, laser systems can teach children skills that will benefit them in high school (and beyond), including organization and preparation. In addition, laser cutters let young adolescents use creativity while learning science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

The best way to kick off a unit study is with a fun, hands-on activity. Hands-on activities promote a love of learning and connect abstract concepts to the real world. The following are some lesson plan ideas for middle school teachers wanting to incorporate hands-on learning through laser cutting into their curricula.

Social Studies

Objective: Learn about different cultures through their folk art. Paper cutting is a popular art form for many cultures. For example, in China, paper cutting expresses moral principles, philosophies and aesthetic ideals. In Switzerland, the art of Scherenschnitt (which translates to "scissor cuts" in German) tells stories in silhouette; early designs featured landscapes of cows, goats and herdsmen moving the animals up to the mountain pastures and back. Polish papercutting, called Wycinanki, was traditionally done using sheep shears because they were often the only cutting instruments available.

Objective: Understand and apply the Pythagorean theorem. (This lesson meets Common Core Standards for Geometry.) Students can have fun with geometry by reviewing some of the elaborate wooden marquetry work done on old floors. The laser can cut these geometric shapes in wood veneers, to be assembled and glued into a tile that has practical value as a trivet, and students use the Pythagorean theorem to measure, cut and fit together the triangular pieces.


Objective: Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events or character types from myths or traditional stories. (This lesson meets Common Core Standards for Literature.) Laser cutters can be used to create all types of costumes, allowing students to “dress the part” when reading plays or novels aloud in class. Acting out in this way helps the text come alive. For instance, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” could be enhanced with the addition of a laser-cut bird costume.

Earth Science

Objective: Students learn a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments. (This lesson meets Common Core Standards for Science.) Laser cutters are ideal for making puzzles. Here, students engrave the seven steps of the scientific method on individual puzzle pieces that they’ve cut to fit together only when assembled properly.  

Engineering Science

Objective: Demonstrate simple engineering principles by building model bridges. Students can cut arches, trusses, brackets and other parts, and measure the load-bearing characteristics while learning about building prototypes. Models of various bridge types are cut by scanning diagrams and tracing them. A contest will determine which student or team model can bear the most weight before collapsing.

Using hands-on instruction, educators foster the 21st century skills that students need to be successful: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Hands-on learning helps students retain information and allows them to feel the satisfaction of creation. Laser cutters help reinforce mathematical principles in every project created regardless of discipline. The happy byproduct is leaving students with a tangible sense of accomplishment.

Content sponsored by Epilog Laser: https://www.epiloglaser.com/gs-try-engineering/

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

Figure 1: Laser-cut architectural model by Joris Heitkamp. Source: FabLab Den Haag/CC BY 2.0
September 6, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer Bosavage


Laser cutters offer architecture students a unique opportunity to see their ideas quickly and precisely move from paper to miniature versions of reality. Whether a student’s creation is a home, downtown development, bridge, railway or architectural flourish, laser cutters offer tremendous advantages for three-dimensional fabrication.

Once a plan is in place — an idea has made the transfer from brain to paper — it can move from two dimensions to three through computer-aided design (CAD). Using CAD enables architects to view different aspects and perspectives of a building within the context of a single platform. Architecture students often design and develop with traditional drawing media in the early stages, followed by further refinement in an application such as AutoCAD and then full, virtual realization in a 3D modeling program such as SketchUp.

By converting CAD files into file types a laser cutter can read, students are able to build a physical model of their creations which allows them to further examine their stability and practicality. The laser cuts with precision and detail, providing an exact — albeit much smaller — version of each piece of a project. After cutting, those pieces can be assembled without the need for further post-processing. The laser cuts every component of the model — roof planes, exterior walls, ground planes, columns and beams — into compact puzzle-like pieces that can be glued together to make the final model.

In addition to bringing students’ ideas into the physical world, lasers significantly reduce production time for cutting components thanks to their speed and power. As a result more students can use the machinery. Oftentimes, the device becomes one of a school’s most popular and versatile pieces of equipment. 

Because laser cutters are so fast and powerful they can reliably cut through a wide range of materials. Any material that is typically used for cutting and engraving architectural models can be used in a laser cutter, including textiles, synthetic materials, wood, veneer, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), cardboard, paper, foam, polystyrene,  acrylics (PMMA), and plastics. That kind of flexibility offers budding architects the potential to create realistic models that cannot be achieved with other technologies.

Laser cutters can help bring a project from idea to fruition. Not all ideas can be reproduced exactly as they are initially conceived; building models helps determine the strengths, weaknesses and overall viability of an idea. The laser’s speed and precision allow students to refine their ideas quickly, helping them to identify and pursue realistic projects from the earliest stages of the design process. This can reduce students’ potential for frustration and conserve their valuable time and resources.

Seen in this light, it’s clear that laser cutters are a tool that architecture students can use to help them succeed in their chosen profession.

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

Figure 1. Students assemble customized robots from laser cut components. Source: Fabrice Florin/CC BY-SA 2.0
August 21, 2018 | Sponsored

By Jennifer Bosavage

An increasing number of schools are providing makerspaces for their students — places kids can create projects with various pieces of machinery, including laser cutters. Some of that equipment carries a hefty price tag, however, so it is critical educators can show school boards that the devices they want to include in a makerspace can provide an attractive return on investment. Often, they need to prove why a laser cutter belongs in the classroom before the class ever gets to try it out.

Laser Cutters Teach Engineering
Horology — the study of time — is a unique and accessible subject that can expose students to structural, mechanical and other engineering disciplines, as well as art. Clock making is a popular project in design and technology classes found in many schools, although it often focuses on aesthetic design elements. However, the STEM content of a horology project can be highlighted through the use of laser-cutting machinery. Clock mechanisms, for instance, are inexpensive to design; the clock itself can be as intricate or simplistic as a student is inclined to make it. According to a 2013 Loughborough University study on applying laser-cutting techniques through horology, schools have seen success in gaining pupil interest in science and technology through this type of approach.

Lasers Invigorate Art and Design Curricula
Laser cutters can produce complex patterns for sewing class, for making stage costumes or for cutting out intricate mandalas. Felt and other flexible materials can be cut to create puppets and stuffed animals; tiles lined with felt can be used as coasters. Balsa wood can be fashioned into bird houses or clocks, or engraved with pictures or designs. When a cutting device is part of an art program, creative juices flow, alongside the refinement and further development of both mathematics and tactile skills.

Lasers Energize Robotics
Many schools start robotics activities in elementary school and continue them up into the final years of high school. As a result, young children get exposed to computer programming skills and learn the importance of following directions. As older learners, they can understand the depths of applied mathematics and take on advanced technology design. Robotics activities can include etching printed circuit boards (PCBs) from a piece of copper-clad board, coated with spray paint and blasted with a laser. A laser engraver can also cut wooden models and etch logos into robot bodies. All age groups are afforded opportunities to practice communication, judgment and decision making through this type of curriculum.

Laser cutters add a dimension of interactive learning to the classroom. They allow teachers to incorporate a hands-on approach, which studies have shown lead to better mastery of complex concepts. For many schools, laser cutters can help reimagine curricula, helping to nurture a connection between the digital mindset and the physical mindset. Students who can transfer their designs into physical reality gives them the experience of "making.” It’s a connection that can be parlayed into a pursuit of engineering, science, art, architecture and much more.

This content was provided by Epilog Laser. In business since 1988, Epilog Laser has worked hard to become the leader in the laser engraving, cutting and marking industry. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. We are committed to designing and manufacturing the highest-quality laser systems, right here in our Golden, CO headquarters. Read More.

July 25, 2018 |

Grace Dille

Registration is open for the 2018-2019 Future City competition! This is a national competition for middle school students to imagine, research, design and build cities of the future.

Future City allows students to showcase their solution to a citywide sustainability issue. The theme for this year’s competition is Powering Our Future. “Teams will design a resilient power grid for their future city that can withstand and quickly recover from the impacts of a natural disaster,”  according to the Future City website.

Teams of three or more students, an educator, and a mentor will participate in five areas of competition. The areas include a virtual city design (using SimCity), a 1,500-word city essay, a scale model built from recycled materials, a project plan and a presentation to judges at regional competitions in January.

Teams that win their regional competition will receive a free trip to Washington D.C., where they will compete at the national competition. As the grand prize, national winners can win a trip to Space Camp and $7,500 for their school’s STEM programs. Cash prizes are also awarded to second, third, fourth and fifth place.

This competition is a great way to get middle schoolers involved in hands-on STEM activities and teach them how to think like an engineer. By applying math and science concepts to real-world issues, students learn more about how communities work and become better citizens.

Registration closes October 31, so don’t miss out on this awesome opportunity! Check out Future City’s website to learn more and register today.

July 17, 2018 |

Grace Dille

The gender disparity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields has caused researchers to question why most girls and young women do not consider a degree or career in these fields. New research from Microsoft provides some answers and solutions to help close the STEM gap.

In their study, Microsoft surveyed over 6,000 girls and young women from ages 10-30 to examine their attitudes towards STEM, school, and the workforce. They hope the results from their study will help policymakers, educators, parents, and employers to better understand and overcome the challenges girls and young women face when it comes to pursuing studies or careers in STEM.

The main research findings showed that girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. Research suggests they need more exposure to STEM jobs, female role models, and career awareness and planning in order to empower them to pursue a career in STEM.

The research also found that girls initially don’t see STEM careers to be creative or have a positive impact on the world. However, even a little exposure to real-world applications of STEM knowledge dramatically changes their outlook.

Another finding showed that girls who participate in STEM clubs and activities outside of school are more likely to say they will pursue STEM subjects later in their education.

According to their research, encouragement from teachers and parents makes an enormous impact in girls’ interest in STEM—especially when it comes from both teachers and parents.

Finally, they found that educators can foster a “growth mindset” among their female students by tapping into their willingness to work hard for results. The research suggests that rewarding the process and effort of learning, rather than exclusively rewarding results, is a powerful way to support girls.

Read the results here from their “Closing the STEM Gap” study, which dives into more detail with real numbers, quotes from girls and young women involved in the study, insightful graphics, and steps to turn this insight into action.


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