Where Science, Imagination Meet

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By MICHAEL LAFLEUR
Sun Staff

LOWELL -- Joe Conway III, a 14-year-old budding engineer from Tyngsboro, proudly shows off the electronic tripwire and door alarms that he made in his "Electromagnetic Gizmos" class.

In a different engineering lab on UMass Lowell's north campus, Rebecca Khalandovsky, 14, of Andover, and partner Wesley Newcomb, 14, of Billerica, have teamed up to make and program a maze-traversing robot.

"Unfortunately, it did not work," said a smiling Rebecca. "We made the new program basically last-minute, so we didn't have time to perfect the timing."

Needless to say, young Rebecca thinks a career in computer programming "might be interesting."

"We'll see," she said.

Conway, Khalandovsky and Newcomb are among nearly 400 youngsters in grades five through 10 who are taking part in UMass Lowell's Designcamp, which asks them to do things like create mechanical pets, design security systems and build stereo speakers all in the name of fostering a hands-on exploration of science and engineering.

Around 30 percent of the campers are girls.

This is the camp's fifth year. In all, 12 programs including "Shipwreck Electronics," "Robot Explorers" and "Kinetic Sculpture" will be offered in four one-week sessions, ending Aug. 6.

Friday marked the conclusion of the first session.

Each involves about six workshops, said Doug Prime, director of K-12 Outreach Programs for UMass Lowell's College of Engineering.

When Prime started the camp in 2000, he was the only instructor and offered only one class, Electromagnetic Gizmos. Today, there are 10 lead teachers, 10 assistants and 16 high school volunteers.

"Now about 50 percent of the kids are coming back year after year after year," Prime said. "We call them Designcamp groupies."

About a third of the camp's $150,000 budget is derived from corporate donations from the likes of Raytheon Co., the Noyce Foundation, Tyco Electronics, 3M and the UMass Lowell Women in Science Education program.

"It gives these kids an experience of success with something they may or may not have had success with before, and it's a safe and conducive place for them to let their ideas out," said Electromagnetic Gizmos instructor Dan Butler, 33, a technology education teacher at a Framingham middle school. "They can come up with some things I wouldn't have thought of."

Camp registration typically opens in March. There are some openings remaining this year.

For more information, visit www.designcamp.org or call 978-934-4690.

Michael Lafleur's e-mail address is mlafleur@lowellsun.com .