Edison Lecture series aims to inspire school students about engineering

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Photo Credit: Armin Panjvani | Daily Texan Staff

With exhibits ranging from electrical circuits made of playdough to optical lasers, the UT Edison Lecture Series hosted Friday aimed to expose local middle school and high school students to the world of engineering.

Approximately 1,000 students from 40 schools in Austin attended the lecture series, said Theresa Claiborne, one of the event coordinators. The Edison Lecture Series is hosted by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Upon walking in to the Engineering Education and Research Center, the kids observed the facility’s features as well as the UT students inside the building.

“It is inspiring for the kids to have UT students who are not much older than them around and working on projects in the labs,” Claiborne said.

Christine Julien, the event’s program leader and electrical and computer engineering professor, said it also gives the kids a feel of the college atmosphere, something many of them have never experienced before.

 

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“If they thought that college wasn’t for them, maybe (this experience) will help change that,” Julien said.

The topic for this year’s event was Man-Machine Symbiosis, which refers to the development of computerized instruments that help humans accomplish tasks, Julien said.  

“(Examples of man-machine symbiosis) include devices such as robots in your household, all the way to brain machine interfaces such as mind controlled limbs for (people with paralysis),” Julien said.

To engage the kids in engineering, there was a series of hands-on exhibits put on by UT engineering clubs, individual UT students and non UT presenters from around Austin. Group exhibits included a solar car designed by the Longhorn Racing Solar Team and a robot that can carry cargo designed by Daniel Teal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Robotics & Automation Society at UT.

The Women in Engineering Program had an activity where students could make an electrical circuit out of playdough, said Nava Rabat-Torki, outreach chair of the program.

“We explained the concept of a simple circuit, what you need to make it and how electricity flows through it,” chemical engeneering senior Rabat-Torki said. “We do a lot of outreach throughout the year to reach out to younger students and encourage them to challenge themselves.”

After browsing through the exhibits, the students listened to a lecture given by Julien. The lecture gave the kids a deeper look into Man-Machine Symbiosis by focusing on devices such as the pacemaker, a device that regulates heartbeat.

Claiborne said the whole event helps show students how everyday devices in their world are related to electrical and computer engineering. School teachers in attendance said the Edison Lecture Series helps broaden students minds in terms of science and engineering.

“The event helps give students an idea of where they can go with science,” said Alex Hubbard, attendee and teacher at the Lee Elementary 6th grade leadership institute.