Virginia School Summit Shows Off Tech, Science to Students

Fredericksburg, Va., recently hosted its ninth local STEM summit, which is an event where local students of all ages are introduced to science, technology, engineering, math and robotics projects.

by Scott Shenk, The Free Lance-Star / March 4, 2020
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(TNS) — Chancellor High School had some interesting visitors Saturday, including a robot that can do tai chi.

Other interesting visitors at the Spotsylvania County high school brought with them such contraptions as 3D printers, liquid nitrogen experiments and airplane flight simulators, to name a few.

The event was the ninth local STEM summit, which introduces area students to science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’ve been growing each year,” said Leslie Baxter–Pipoly, who serves on the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce STEM Committee and is an instructional technology coach at two Fredericksburg schools.

One station that easily caught the eye was the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, where Pepper was a popular attraction.

Pepper is a shiny white robot complete with fluidly moving arms, big friendly eyes and a touch-screen tablet on its chest.

In one brief period, Pepper broke out tai chi moves, followed up with some smooth dance moves and then chatted with children. But Pepper, a $30,000 robot the library purchased through donations, does much more than bust a move.

Pepper will soon start teaching computer coding at the library, said Craig Graziano, youth services manager at the library’s Fredericksburg branch.

“We want to show this because robots are going to be a big part of the future,” he said.

He equated robots to 3D printing, which only a few years ago broke onto the scene. The library offers classes on 3D printing, and Graziano said they want to start training youngsters how to work with robots, too. That’s where Pepper comes in.

Other nearby booths included Massaponax High School engineering students; the Girls Go CyberStart group from Spotsylvania High School; a U.S. Air Force flight simulator; and an automobile driving simulator.

Another booth was manned by Michael Young, a senior engineer at the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center.

He showed visitors the effects of liquid nitrogen. In one instance, he used a set of tongs to dip a small, inflated balloon into the freezing nitrogen and lifted it back out to show visitors how the oxygen liquefied. He also poured the nitrogen over two pennies—one made of copper, the other zinc—and pounded them with a hammer. The copper penny came out OK, but the zinc penny snapped in half.

He told visitors the technology they use at Dahlgren is important for much of what the military does.

The penny demonstration gave some insight into Young’s work, which involves testing materials to see how they will work in given in real-world situations. Some of that work has included traveling to other countries to clear out explosive mines.

Another booth at the summit displayed a different type of robotics compared to Pepper.

Home-schooled teenagers Max Erickson and Luke Arcement were busy showing off robots they helped build as part of the Dahlgren Robotics Club, or as they like to call themselves, the Robotic Rat Pack.

At their booth, tiny, wheeled robots were manipulated by visitors using remote control to draw lines on a large sheet of paper.

The group had another, bigger, four-wheeled crane-like robot, one they use for competitions.

The robot, Charlie, doesn’t look like much, but it is high-tech. It has various cogs and wheels used to move the crane-like arm and is operated using a gaming controller and a pair of Android cellphones.

Charlie spent its time at the summit moving and picking up yellow blocks.

Erickson said he has been working on robots since he was 6 years old and that he does programming for the group’s robots. He plans to get into the computer programming field.

Victoria Arcement, Luke’s mother, said the group takes the robots to other events like the STEM summit, too.

“I think it’s great to have these” events, she said. “It’s neat to watch the kids’ excitement.”

©2020 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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