Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Controls Experiment ROTPEN QNET on NI ELVIS Wows Grade 8 Girls Interested in Engineering

Every year, Blair McKay, the electronics teacher at Listowel District Secondary School, invites Grade 8 students to his custom-designed electronics lab. During the electronics workshops - eDays - the students can find out more about electronics and robotics and engage in hands-on activities.

The eDays are held separately for boys and girls so the students are less constrained by gender stereotypes. Girls in particular seem more confident and enthusiastic when they aren’t worried about what the boys are thinking. For the girls eDay, the guest speakers are all women who have exciting careers in electrical engineering, computer engineering and mechatronics.

I have been a guest speaker at eDays since 2004. This year, I talked to the girls about how much fun I have working at Quanser, and I showed them one of our co-developed teaching solutions, Quanser's QNET Rotary Inverted Pendulum Trainer (ROTPEN QNET), which integrates with the National Instruments ELVIS II platform. It's designed to captivate young minds interested in understanding the basic self-balancing principles used in space flight. The girls were impressed that the trainer could balance a vertical rod on the tip of a rotating arm, especially after Blair McKay demonstrated how difficult it is to balance a ruler on the tip of his finger! 

Grade 8 students get a closer look at the ROTPEN QNET (inverted pendulum) experiment in order to gain a better understanding of  the self-balancing principles used in space flight.

“The goal of these workshops,” says Blair, “is to encourage young people to consider careers in electronics, robotics and computer engineering. It is a pleasure to have Heidi be a part of the girls eDay program. She always does a great job, sharing her passion for engineering. It is evident to everyone present that she enjoys working at Quanser. The fact that she is able to demonstrate some of Quanser's really cool products is an added bonus. My only regret with having her at Listowel District Secondary School is that she never leaves behind any of her toys!”

The eDay workshops are clearly successful at attracting young women to take electronics in high school. At Listowel District Secondary School, Grade 9 electronics is taught as part of an Introduction to Technology class, and there are typically two full all-girl classes!

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