Carnegie Mellon University

Build a Bone

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Kids Try Hand at Engineering

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Carnegie Mellon's popular "Build a Bone" outreach activity recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Aimed at K-12 students, the activity challenges students to build a tubular bone-like structure. The strongest structure takes the prize. Their materials? Two sheets of letter-sized paper, newspaper, 6 inches of Scotch tape and plenty of imagination.

"What we're trying to do is provide exercises that will introduce students to science and engineering, and with 'Build a Bone,' we are using tissue engineering as the connector," said Phil Campbell, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon's Institute of Complex Engineered Systems (ICES). "Because the activity is multi-disciplinary, it's easy to squeeze in a simple lesson or two on chemistry, engineering and life sciences while we are talking to the students."

This year a new record was set for the strongest bone, which held 24 lbs.

Eager participants wait with anticipation as their structures are tested. Researchers rest the "bone" across two supports, loading a container hanging from its middle with glass beads until it breaks.

"We have students who come back every year to try and outdo their own records," said Campbell. "So, not only are they learning lessons on basic engineering design principles, they are also learning how to improve their performance based on their past failures."

Professor Campbell instituted the "Build a Bone" activity for National Engineers Week. Held this year at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center, Campbell also served as the ICES faculty coordinator for the center's 2008 National Engineers Week activities.

Video footage of the testing of the strongest "bone" is expected to be included in a documentary that is scheduled to premiere April 10, 2008, on Pittsburgh's WQED.

Photo by: Daniel Shapiro

Related Links: ICES  |  College of Engineering  |  WQED