Metals and polymers were pushed to the breaking point and beyond Tuesday afternoon as scientists from some of Meadville’s leading industrial and academic institutions introduced high school students to careers in engineering.
The ASM Materials Camp is in full swing at Allegheny College, and by the end of the three-day event campers will likely be able to calculate the precise force of that swing, not to mention the weight required to strain the swing materials to the point of catastrophic failure.
Each day, campers will take part in a morning experiment at Channellock or Universal Wells followed by an afternoon experiment at an Allegheny lab. They’ll also hear about careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and learn about how to pursue such careers in Crawford County, according to Ryan Van Horn, an assistant professor of chemistry at Allegheny who helps to run the camp.
“These students are interested in careers in STEM fields, so the experiments that we complete show them what kind of work engineers do,” Van Horn said. “In addition, the camp exposes them to local tool-and-die industrial partners where STEM professionals work. This helps inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and expose them to career opportunities in the Meadville area.”
ASM International, formerly the American Society for Metals, has hosted camps like these at no cost to campers for talented students with an interest in math and science since 2000. Allegheny has hosted a version of the camp for the past five years, according to Van Horn, and each year one of the campers has gone on to attend Allegheny.
On Tuesday, eight high school students from around Crawford County and even as far away as Fox Chapel, just outside of Pittsburgh, gathered in an Allegheny physics lab to test the material properties of a common and highly elastic household polymer — rubber bands, just like the ones used to fold newspapers. Polymers, as Van Horn reminded the students, are commonly found in plastics. Earlier in the day they had tested the force required to break rods made of various metals during a visit to Channellock.
“Both experiments demonstrate the physical properties of materials and the kinds of mechanical tests performed to measure them,” Van Horn said.
The experiments are also more fun than just spending their summer days at home, agreed Billy Moats IV, a rising junior at Cambridge Springs Junior-Senior High, and Katelyn DeArment, a rising senior at Meadville Area Senior High.
“I don’t know how far that’s going to stretch,” DeArment told Moats as he began loading weights on a particularly flimsy-looking rubber band. With just 451 grams pulling on the band, it was already stretched to nearly a foot in length. Spectators in the area checked that their toes were not in the potential crash zone beside the lab table as Moats continued adding weights in units of 100 grams at a time.
After a few more, however, it became clear that the rubber band was sturdier than anticipated. Moats substituted heavier weights for some of the smaller ones he had suspended from the band and quickly had more than a kilogram — which is equal to 2.2 pounds for the metrically illiterate — dangling from the straining rubber band.
“Geez, Louise,” exclaimed Moats as he continued adding weights — over 1.5 kilograms, then up to 1.85 and then 1.989 kilograms until finally, mercifully ending the suspense, the rubber band snapped, a sacrifice in the name of science that sent the weights plummeting to the floor.
“It held a lot — a lot more than we expected for that thin a rubber band,” Moats concluded as he retrieved weights from where they had rolled around the lab.
DeArment disagreed as she entered figures into a spreadsheet they would use to calculate and plot the stress applied compared to the strain on the band.
“I think it was up to my expectations for a little rubber band,” she said as another group’s weights crashed to the floor behind her. “I didn’t think it was going to hold too much, but not an overwhelming amount."
Next up following the afternoon’s experiments were visitors from Seco/Warwick and Chevron, talking to the students about their experiences in engineering and navigating both educational and career paths.
“These kids are really bright,” said Gary Armour, project engineer at Seco/Warwick and an organizer of the camp. “The whole point of this is to give them an idea of making their career decision.”
The camp allows students to make such decision with a better understanding of what paths are available in northwestern Pennsylvania by “opening the the vision of what’s behind all these brick walls” in the area, Armour said.
“If you’d like to stay in this part of the country, there are opportunities,” he added.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.