Ryan McCarthy, PE, Plumbing/Fire Protection Technical Specialist shares his experience as a judge at the 2023 New Hampshire Science and Engineering Expo.
Back in February, I volunteered to be a judge at the 2023 New Hampshire Science and Engineering Expo. I’ve never been a judge in, nor had I ever participated in one of these events before, so I only had a passing idea of what to expect. While I wasn’t an expert on how the cadence of the event would flow, I did have engineering experience I was eager to bring to the judging section. There were over 60 entries with an equal number of judges reviewing 5 projects each. The following are the projects I had the privilege to review.
The Impaired Syringe
Used an Arduino processing unit, microphone, and AI to accept commands and send signals to a stepper motor that actuates a syringe.
The students made an enclosure from CADD and a 3D printer.
They went through multiple calibration tests and one protype.
Talking with the students they wanted to add a feedback confirmation so that the user can be confident that the device has heard them correctly.
Compact Objects Probed by Microlensing in the Universe
While I love space and the universe this project was a bit beyond me, although I can appreciate the math and the original findings this student found.
There is existing data available on NASA that this student used to find lensing events in a portion of the sky that was previously not found. Using equations for bending light around massive objects he was able to detect a pair of stairs orbiting around one another.
I was impressed with their original find and their passion for the science involved in this study.
This student won 1st place in the Earth and space science category section.
Research on Wall-Climbing Robot with Hook Roller
This was an interesting idea where the student used a low-profile robot to climb a course brick wall. The robot attached via multiple grabbing arms that were connected perpendicular to two driving wheels. The tail of the robot floated over the surface with a sprung wheel on a roller bearing so it could turn and pivot easily.
The design showed many iterations of the arms lengths, material, thickness, and density to find the configuration that best resulted in the robot climbing the wall.
While there were calculations performed, this experiment showed the practical real-work testing that is critical to making a final product. Many times the math makes sense but some seemingly small detail changes the outcome completely.
Bamboo-Based Superabsorbent Hydrogels
This experiment compared the absorbent properties of bamboo-based materials for hygiene purposes, standard cotton products have good absorbent properties but when compared to bamboo-based ones they fall short.
The experiment looked at testing a standard cotton material with super absorbent hydrogels using a testing metric where water was dripped on an angled surface and the length of the staining was measured to determine which material absorbed water the fastest.
The student showed two different ways to produce the material and showed that the cost may be in line with its cotton equivalent. It was a solid exhibit and interesting that this material may have been overlooked in the American market.
This student won 2nd place in the Engineering category section.
Soft Robotic Arm via Pneumatic Actuators
This exhibit was an interesting idea where the student used his phone to control small compressors and actuators via an Arduino processing unit to move a robot.
There was three modules of the arm with each module containing two plates with three bags at 120° from each other, the bags would fill or deflate depending on the input controls. The student used their software background to use their phone in a joystick control to move the arm around.
There was a material issue during the fair where bending plastic was fatiguing and breaking after multiple uses. The student mentioned that this was being addressed but no demo material was at the exhibit.
Different attachments were provided at the top of the upper most module.
I was surprised and impressed by the level of ingenuity on display from the upcoming engineering students. These students showed original ideas, executed them scientifically with the majority using a control and showing which variables they were changing to present their findings. I look forward to doing this again next year if they’ll have me, it gave me hope for the next generation of engineers.
Ryan McCarthy, PE
Plumbing/Fire Protection Technical Specialist