Curiosity Days: Engineer It! at the Pacific Science Center

Engineer It! at the Pacific Science Center took place on February 18-20 in honor of National Engineers Week! As part of the Pacific Science Center's Curiosity Days, this event was dedicated to connecting professional engineers and surveyors with kids and families through hands-on exploration of machines, ideas and people that design, move and power our society. 

From robotics and electronics to construction and bio-tech, Engineer It! showcased the innovation and creative problem-solving that the Pacific Northwest is known for.

Several Product Creation Studio team members joined the event's Tinker Tank and Fix It! Lab as engineering volunteers to help kids take apart, and learn about what goes on inside, consumer electronics. Below are their stories and takeaways from the event. 

The Engineering Prodigy

One fairly young kid (around age nine) became the resident prodigy of the Fix It! Lab.  While disassembling a large multichannel audio amplifier, he showed "his audience" and other volunteers that he could identify almost all the different types of components.

Ultimately, he took over one of the outlying workbenches and occasionally managed to recruit other kids (and some of us volunteers) to help with his masterwork, an "earthquake table".  It comprised: a speaker driver that had been excised from its cabinet, some wiring, a switch, one or more 9V batteries, some ducting, and a few more parts.  He positioned the speaker cone horizontally, pointing upward, to represent the terrain.  He then laid on the cone some spare random pieces of things to represent civilization.  He could pulse the speaker cone rapidly with the switch, making civilization rattle, topple, and even flip over.

Encouraging Female Engineers

One of our volunteers, placed at the circuits table, found herself teaching kids to make things go with electricity. A couple girls at her table really took a shine to creating circuits and seeing how many things they could make go off of one battery pack.  What was inspiring to her, was seeing so many kids with very different backgrounds enjoying the hands on aspect of this event. 

Another volunteer worked with two separate girls who were standing around the table while their brother took something apart.  She encouraged them to pick an item from the shelf and then proceeded to work directly with them to disassemble and assemble their items.

The first girl went from disinterested to really having fun and wanting to finish the job.  The second girl didn't seem to quite buy in like her sister did. Once finished with her initial project (a clock), our volunteer moved on to working with another kid. Ten minutes later, the second girl was back, without her brother, to take apart something else on her own initiative.

Here's to making engineering cool for everyone!

Old Electronics vs. Smartphone Games

Initially skeptical that old electronic equipment would be able to compete for kids’ attention in the age of smartphone games, Thomas Ruscher, our Electrical Engineer, found he was quite wrong. 

One kid took apart a CD player.  With the mechanisms still intact, Thomas showed him how to connect a battery to the motor and eject the tray. 

A cool demo.  After several moments, he tried reversing the battery polarity (on his own), and discovered he could make the tray retract.  A moment of insight!

Other fun, educational moments spent with kids included:

  • Connecting batteries to any motors/mechanisms, causing things to move

  • Controlling a computer fan with a drill trigger switch

  • Storing energy in a capacitor (with a 9V battery), then flashing an incandescent bulb

  • Tapping a battery to the terminals of a subwoofer, causing it to toss small items into the air

  • Generating electricity by turning the shaft of a toy gear motor, and using it to power a second motor