3D printing, Mars mission stimulate student interest in math, science

August 19, 2010

For many grade-schoolers, talk of mathematics and science invoke a nearly universal response: yuck! At Starbase Minnesota, a non-profit educational organization serving nearly 4000 students each year from more than 30 inner city schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, instructors have found an assignment that eliminates this aversion—have the students plan a mission to Mars that includes building working rockets. A key component of the five-day, 20-hour program is 3D printing technology from Stratasys (Eden Prairie, MN).

 Starbase 1
3D printing used to fabricate rocket fins.
 Launch 1
Countdown to launch
 Launch 3
"All systems go."

Although the program had seen substantial growth and success since its inception, supporters and instructors wanted students to experience the work of engineers in a more authentic way. After spending a week designing and creating models on the computer screen, students left with only a two-dimensional image. In April 2007, the Department of Defense stepped in and supplied Starbase sites with Dimension 3D printers. Now, an entire curriculum has been supplemented and student learning enhanced by adding 3D printing technology.

Instructor Christina Johnson, now in her eighth year with the program, has her students designing their own model rocket fins. "They first learn about the science behind the fins and test different rocket parts throughout the week using the wind tunnel and air rockets," said Johnson.

The week is centered on planning a mission to Mars and the culminating project is to launch a working rocket. Students build their rockets using CAD software. Fin designs are then printed on the Dimension 3D Printer and attached to the rockets on the final day of the program—the day students get to take their rockets outside for an "explosively exciting day of blast-offs."

After the rockets have completed flight, the students collect data about where the rocket lands and map the locations on Google Earth. They then discuss the results as engineers would and have conversations about how fin designs affected the rockets' flight paths.

The program's aerospace-themed curriculum provides a technology-rich environment that inspires students, builds their skills, and develops aptitude and confidence. Starbase Minnesota—funded largely by the Dept. of Defense and sponsored by the Minnesota National Guard—was established in 1993 to generate excitement and interest in science, mathematics, and technology. —[email protected]




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