ARCHIVED - Engineering Challenge 2004

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April 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

Ask any school-age kid what they want to be when they grow up and you'll likely get a wide range of answers. It's equally likely that professions in engineering and sciences do not top the list, mainly because of lack of awareness of job possibilities in these fields. That answer may have changed for some students in February based on the success of National Engineering Week. This national program is designed to reach out to students, while informing them about exciting engineering career choices.

Team 'Fire Power' from Huntley Centennial School, winners of the morning final
Team "Fire Power" from Huntley Centennial School, winners of the morning final

For a fourth consecutive year, NRC, working with others in the engineering community, celebrated National Engineering Week by leading a challenge for students in the Ottawa region. Over 1500 students from grades 5 and 6 got a taste of what it means to work as an engineer. In teams, they built and tested a device with the help of volunteer engineers from the NRC, the City of Ottawa, the private sector and local universities. Partners included National Engineering Week (national level), Ontario Public Works Association, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Professional Engineers Ontario and ADGA Group Consultants.

Each year brings a new challenge, each set in a different time and place with a unique set of circumstances – in this case, Mars in the year 2050. The participating students, working in teams, were required to build a Mechanically Powered Launcher (MPL) from common craft materials, capable of launching a payload (ping-pong ball) from the surface of Mars into a low orbit around the Red Planet. There were restrictions on the size of the MPLs and, to be successful, the payload had to be launched through a metre-wide target from a distance of 6 metres.

Students worked in teams to design and construct their prototypes. Each member had a task, Designer, Materials Manager, Builder or Public Relations person, but all collaborated to solve the problem. Volunteer engineers visited the 53 participating classes to introduce the challenge, review the teams' designs and guide their problem-solving. "Volunteer engineers in the program have as much fun as the participants," said Harry Baker, engineer at the NRC Institute for Research in Construction. Following in-school competitions, 600 enthusiastic children and their engineer mentors competed in a high-energy final event at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa on March 1.

If decibel levels could be used to gauge the popularity of the event, it was a winner! Not only did students have the opportunity to demystify and experiment everyday scientific concepts, but they also worked shoulder-to-shoulder with engineers and developed problem-solving and team-building skills. The growth of the event in the Ottawa area has been exponential; from 125 participants and 5 classes in 2001, it has climbed to over 1500 students and 53 classes in 2004.

To find out more about this program and other NRC efforts to reach out to young Canadians, please visit:
National Engineering Challenge
Student Science & Tech Website

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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