It’s Engineer’s Week, and outside of celebrating by reading Col. Chris Hadfield’s new book, “An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth”, I’m also doing some volunteer work, representing Mouser Electronics at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. We have both a display, showing kids various functioning LEDs, chips, speakers and a nifty little robot built from a Parallax kit, and a hands-on table showing young kids how to build their own homopolar motor. This fascination with how things work and being able to build it yourself is a common trait I’ve seen in engineers of all ages.
Since watching the moon landing live on TV, a young Chris Hadfield knew that he wanted to be an astronaut, and in turn, an engineer like his hero, Neil Armstrong. He decided to live his life like he felt an astronaut would, including cultivating a very curious personality. I saw these same qualities in every child that came up to our table. When they saw the copper wire continuously spinning while balanced atop a battery, they asked the important questions: “How?” and “Why?” Many of the kids already knew of magnetic fields, how batteries worked, and basic motor principles. They were happy to learn about The Lorentz Force, Michael Faraday and the homopolar engine, while constructing their very own.
But this fascination wasn’t just coming from the kids. As they shuffled on to the next display, their engineer parents sat at the table and began tinkering as well. “What would happen if we added another battery?” “I would assume that the wire would spin in the opposite direction if we flipped the magnet around.” “Hey! I’m getting sparks to shoot out of the wire!” It’s refreshing to see that in a life dedicated to engineering, that level of curiosity, even in simple projects like this, never disappears.
It’s great that there seem to be so many STEM programs, tinker kits and more popping up to bring electronics knowledge to young, curious minds. From the recently funded Kickstarter project, Circuit Scribe, which blew away its initial goal by offering a special pen that allowed you to draw with conductive ink and create simple circuits. To Goldie Blox, which seeks to keep young girls interested in building and overcome the false impression of “boys’ toys.” And let’s not forget the global FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) organization, which not only brings boys and girls from around the world together in the spirit of robotic “coop-etition”, but also turns it into an exciting spectator sport.
The next generation of engineers are every bit as eager and curious as Col. Hadfield’s generation. Considering how far they’ve pushed the limits of our knowledge, technology and exploration, these kids could very well take us past Mars and out of our solar system. And it could all start with a simple trip to the museum. I hope to see you all at FWMSH! Happy Engineer’s Week!
Erik is the Social and Multi-Media Manager at Mouser Electronics. When he’s not tweeting about what’s next in the world of engineering for @MouserElec or uploading videos to YouTube, he can typically be found nose-down in a good Sci-Fi book. You can see what he’s up to on Twitter: @ErikSmith80
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