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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.

Figure 1. Laser engraving machines are increasingly a part of educational curriculums. Source: Ulrikabergfors/CC BY-SA 4.0
January 24, 2018 | Sponsored

Kids love to make things — and when those things are made with machines, the fun factor increases exponentially. Local libraries as well as school districts are building "makerspaces," places where children can design, build, test and rebuild. Such labs comprise digitally controlled fabrication machinery, including 3D printers, laser cutters and milling machines. 

Teaching kids about laser cutting software as part of a shop class or art curriculum is a natural extension of STEM programs. It also provides an opportunity to learn a skill that could lead to future opportunities.

The laser cutting software chosen should be as flexible as possible. For example, Epilog features an open-architecture software design, so these systems work with nearly any Windows vector-based graphic design software. Many manufacturers require users to learn their proprietary design software, which takes time away from the enjoyment of creating. Most Epilog operators use CorelDRAW software, but other popular programs like Adobe Illustrator andAutoCAD can be used as well.

The software operators use is what drives the laser, which can be used in three modes: raster engraving, vector cutting or a combination of both. The way the artwork is set up in the design software will determine how the laser operates. 

Raster Engraving 
Raster engraving can be best described as high-resolution dot matrix “printing” with a laser. It prints many thousands of dots per inch (dpi). Depending on how dark the area to be etched is, the more dpi will be applied.

Raster engraving is used to create highly detailed graphic images. The laser head scans back and forth, left to right, engraving a series of dots one line at a time. As the laser head moves down line by line, the dot pattern forms the image that was printed from the computer. Scanned images, text, clipart, photographs or line drawings can be raster engraved.

Vector Cutting 
In vector cutting, the laser follows a continuous path that traces the outline or profile of an image. Vector goes in a straight line that will etch much like a knife will cut. Vector cutting is normally used to cut completely through materials such as wood, acrylic, paper and others. It can also be used for quick marking of characters and geometric patterns.

Combined mode is used when a user is both engraving and cutting within the same job. The laser itself is very much plug and play. It’s learning the design software that can be more challenging, especially for those without a design background. That’s why it’s so important to understand how the laser sees different images and lines. Once users have those fundamentals down, learning how to design for the laser becomes much easier.

Laser cutters/engravers are exceptionally versatile when it comes to different materials. While many substrates engrave and cut differently, the only non-compatible laser material is polyvinyl chloride. Aside from being extremely messy to work with, PVC releases a corrosive gas that is harmful to the inside of the machine and the laser operator. Other than that, students can use nearly any kind of material (wood, acrylic, fabric, cardstock, etc.) Just make sure to use the recommended settings provided in the manual, and never leave the laser unattended.

A major part of the learning experience for children is prototyping and testing their designs. Encourage experimentation: different types of wood will engrave and cut differently; a slightly thicker sheet of acrylic might need just a hair slower speed or a smidgen higher on the power than a thinner one.

The laser cutter quickly becomes the workhorse of any makerspace or fab lab. A few possible educational projects include:

  • Laser-etched hieroglyphics to learn about ancient civilizations (humanities studies).
  • Laser-cut, eco-friendly smart houses; kids design eco-friendly house plans and then laser cut the walls, roof, floor, furniture and fixtures and build prototypes (science and engineering).
  • Laser-cut Etch-A-Sketch; students learn about slope by laser cutting gears and building their own Etch-A-Sketch mechanisms (mathematics).
  • Laser-cut gliders, where students design and build gliders as part of an aerospace unit (science and engineering).
  • Engraving trophies for chess tournaments, making signs for the school garden and other school citizenship projects.

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.

circuit sketching components
December 14, 2017 | Announcements, Teacher Resources

Introduce students to fundamental electrical engineering concepts with two new free lesson plans.

Sketching Circuits - Expanding on understanding of simple circuits, this lesson explores conductivity and introduces students to the new technique of drawing electrical pathways for circuitry with pens. Students will design, and build a simple circuit using drawn connectors and construct a device for testing materials for conductivity.

LEDs and Resistors -  This lesson explores LEDs and resistors and reviews the differences between parallel and series circuit design and functions. The  activity encourages students to build a simple circuit on breadboard using simple electrical components including LEDs and resistors. Students work in teams to predict and test how different resistors impact LED brightness. After testing several predictions about each circuit type, the groups will compare results and discuss findings. Advanced students may also explore and test on the breadboard how arranging LEDs in parallel and series impact brightness.

TryEngineering.org. lessons encourage problem solving, critical thinking and team building skills. Each lesson includes step-by-step instructions, a list of low-cost materials, background information, and student worksheets. All lesson plans are aligned to national education standards including the Next Generation Science Standards, ITEEA Standards for Technological Literacy and Common Core Mathematics Standards where applicable.

Chalmers banner
November 28, 2017 | Student Opportunies

Win a 100% scholarship (worth around 28000 USD) at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, including a scholarship award ceremony in Seattle, Washington.
The deadline to complete the Sqore challenge and apply to the program is January 15th, 2018.
Learn more about the opportunity here.


November 28, 2017 | Student Opportunities

Enter for a chance to win US$4000.

Are you a university student who loves developing video games? Do you want to make a difference in the lives of young students? 

If so, enter the IEEE STEM Video Game Competition today!

The 2017 IEEE STEM Video Game Competition challenges university students to create STEM video games for students ages 8-17. Winning games will be published on TryEngineering.org and IEEE TryComputing.org to be enjoyed by students and teachers globally.

Enter here by 1 December 2017:  http://tryengineering.org/stem-game-competition

drone at sunset
November 13, 2017 | Announcements

Check out two new lesson plans on TryEngineering.org!

Designing Drones - This lesson focuses on helicopters and drones, how they fly, how they are used in different ways that help people and the environment. Teams of students explore helicopter flight; and design, build, and test their own simple rotor out of basic materials.

Take Flight This lesson explores flight and how the design of a glider will improve aerodynamic function. Teams of students discover the forces that impact flight and design, build, and test their own gliders out of simple materials.

TryEngineering.org. lessons encourage problem solving, critical thinking and team building skills. Each lesson includes step-by-step instructions, a list of low-cost materials, background information, and student worksheets. All lesson plans are aligned to national education standards including the Next Generation Science Standards, ITEEA Standards for Technological Literacy and Common Core Mathematics Standards where applicable.

October 3, 2017 | Student Opportunities

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, Get involved with one of these great competitions now open for registration!

CyberCenturion (UK)

Are you aged 12-18 and enjoy puzzles, code breaking and cyber? The competition is played by teams of four, with an optional reserve player. Each team must include a responsible adult as the liaison between the organisers and the participants, and every team participant must be aged 12-18 years during the entirety of the competition; to include the final.

To encourage further diversity in the competition there will be a series of ‘tracks’ for CyberCenturion: girls only teams, boys only teams, mixed teams and cadet teams. Read more on this here. Places in the final will be awarded to the top scoring teams in the overall leaderboard and each tracks’ leaderboard.  The National Finals of CyberCenturion will take place in early March 2018 in London with 10 teams battling it out for prizes and the accolade of CyberCenturion champion 2018.

Register your team by 6 October 2017!

Learn more at: http://cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/competitors/cybercenturion/

CyberPatriot (US)
CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program.  At the center of CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. The competition puts teams of high school and middle school students in the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company.

In the rounds of competition, teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services in a six-hour period.  Teams compete for the top placement within their state and region, and the top teams in the nation earn all-expenses paid trips to Baltimore, MD for the National Finals Competition where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money.

Register your team by 4 October 2017!

earn more at: http://www.uscyberpatriot.org/home

group teen selfie
October 2, 2017 | Student Opportunies


First, complete a coding activity to build a Snapchat Geofilter that expresses your vision for the future. Then write a statement about the future you envision and how you plan to achieve it. Submit both to the #MyFutureMe Challenge for a chance to build your own live Snapchat lens and more!

This challenge is open to residents of the United States who are 13-18 years of age at the time of entry.


Five finalists will join us at TEDWomen in New Orleans with their parent/guardian. There, they’ll receive mentoring sessions from Google engineers and work with Snap Inc. engineers to create a lens.

One finalist's lens will go live nationally!



Deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m. PT on October 8, 2017

young girl coding on laptop
September 15, 2017 | Student Opportunities

Coding is the new team sport for future tech leaders and innovators. This year, teams will participate in three rounds of missions over a five-month period to become eligible for a Wonder Workshop sponsored Invitational Round in Spring 2018. Teams of kids, ages 6-8 and 9-12, will design solutions for real-world science and technology challenges by programming Dash & Dot. They will develop problem-solving and creativity skills while building meaningful relationships with their peers and having fun! Plus they will display their scientific thinking through authentic journaling. 

Grand Prize

• $5,000 STEM grant
• Each member of a winning team receives a Dash robot
• National recognition
• Official Invitational Round Winning Team Certificates

Top 5 Teams

• Each member of a winning team receives a Dash robot
• Official Invitational Round Winning Team Certificates


• Recognized Honorable Mentions
• Official Invitational Round Participation Certificates

Register today!

paper and light bulb
August 28, 2017 | Student Opportunities

Navigator paper is celebrating 25 years of innovation by launching an app idea competition which challenges brilliant minds to come up with the best ideas that can make the digital world and office paper work together. 

The best idea will be awarded $20,000 USD, the runner up $7,500 USD and the third place $2,500 USD.

Learn more at: https://navigator-app-challenge.com/ 

light blox and lens

TryEngineering has partnered with Laser Classroom to bring you an exciting new lesson on optical engineering. The goal of this lesson is to provide students with an open-ended opportunity to explore and work with the materials, make and share observations, and build a foundational understanding of the relationship between gelatin shapes and light. Open-ended exploration encourages creativity and problem solving useful to meet the final challenge of designing a lens system to improve vision.

Check out the lesson here: http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/an-eye-optics


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