Society of Women Engineers

STEM Activities

Nuclear Engineering - Half Life

Nuclear engineering is the practical application of the principles of nuclear physics and the interaction between radiation and matter. This field of engineering includes the design, analysis, development, testing, operation and maintenance of nuclear fission systems and components, specifically, nuclear reactors, nuclear power plants and/or nuclear weapons.

The field can also include the study of nuclear fusion, medical applications of radiation, heat transport, nuclear fuels technology, nuclear proliferation, and the effect of radioactive waste or radioactivity in the environment.

Some naturally occurring isotopes of elements are not stable. They slowly decompose by discarding part of the nucleus. The isotope is said to be radioactive. This nuclear decomposition is called nuclear decay. The length of time required for half of the isotope to decay is the substance’s half-life. Each radioactive isotope has its own particular half-life. However, when the amount of remaining isotope is plotted against time, the resulting curve for every radioisotope has the same general shape.

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Materials

  • 50 pieces of plain M&M™ candy (with printing on one side), can also use pennies, or puzzle pieces. Anything with distinct up/down sides.
  • 1 resealable bag
  • Graph paper

Procedure

  • Place 50 atoms of candium (pieces of candy) in a sealed bag.
  • Shake for 10 seconds. Pour out candy and count the number of pieces with the print side up. Record the data: These atoms have “decayed.”title STEM Activities -
  • Return only the pieces with the print side down to the bag and reseal it. Shake the sealed bag for 10 seconds.
  • Continue shaking, and counting until all the atoms have decayed.
  • Graph the number of undecayed atoms vs. time.
  • Repeat the experiment using half-lives of 20 seconds, and 1 minute. Compare the resulting graphs.

Data and Observations

Half-life

Total Time

# of Undecayed Atoms

# of Decayed Atoms

0

     

1

     

2

     

3

     

4

     

5

     

6

     

7

     

8

     

9

     

10

     

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Graph Decayed Atoms vs Time

                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             

Get a Core Sample through Petroleum Engineering

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Petroleum engineers search the world for oil and natural gas. Once oil and gas are found, petroleum engineers work to figure out the best way to drill and monitor drilling. They design equipment and processes to maximize the amount of oil and gas found. Today we only get some of the oil and gas in a reservoir, so petroleum engineers research and develop technology and ways to recover more oil at a lower cost.

If you’re interested in learning more of what petroleum engineers do, check out this month’s engineering challenge. Complete this fun activity with Play-Doh to learn more about what petroleum engineers have to consider when planning a drilling site.

A core sample is a small, cylindrical section of something—typically a naturally occurring substance like earth. The sample can be analyzed to determine things such as:

  • How porous or permeable the substance is (how easy it is for air or liquid to pass through)
  • Whether there is fluid in it, such as water
  • How old the substance is
  • Whether it’s likely that there is oil there

You are the petroleum engineer on a large project that is trying to decide where to place oil wells. Using core samples of the property you’ll determine the best place to dig!

What You Will Need

  • Playdough – five colors
  • Loaf tin or Ziplock container
  • Clear plastic straws
  • Paper
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Plastic Knife

Step 1

Layer the play dough in the loaf tin (or better yet have someone else do it). Each color represents earth, water, oil and rock. Don’t make the layers all the same thickness and area. There should be at least a thin layer of the ‘earth’ layer over the top.

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COLOR CODE:

GREEN – Earth

BLUE – Ground Water

ORANGE – Sand/Clay

RED – Rock

PURPLE - Oil

Step 2

Use the straws to take core samples by pushing them straight down into the playdough so that you get the different layers in the straw. Use the space below to draw a map of where you took your samples. As well as a diagram of each sample.

Step 3

Decide where the best location is for your oil well based on the cross-section samples you took. If you don’t have enough information take more core samples!

Step 4

Did you take your samples at random locations or did you take them in a more organized way to ensure you got the best data available? Start from scratch – and this time map out your core locations to be equidistant in rows or alternating so you get a more methodical view of what is below the surface.

To get the geologic information needed, core samples may be taken miles down into the earth. When core sampling this deep, drill bits are often used to churn and break up rock in the sampling path, because it’s the only way to move through a solid rock layer. The deepest core samples on earth have been produced at the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia, which reached over 40,000 feet (7.5 miles) into the earth.

Design an Assembly Line through Industrial Engineering

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Industrial engineering looks at what makes organizations work best. An industrial engineer tries to find the right combination of human and natural resources, technology, equipment, information and finance to do the work in the most efficient and accurate way possible. Industrial engineering is important to finding the answers to many important problems in manufacturing, distribution of goods and services, health care, utilities, transportation, entertainment, and the environment. Industrial engineers design and change how things are done to increase quality, safety and productivity.

A local toy company is calling on engineering teams to implement time saving methods to help them meet the demands of manufacturing their most popular product— “color bricks.” This toy is made out of recycled brown bags and has been hugely popular.  They are constantly selling out! The toy company needs to place an order for one million color bricks in just 3 days! They will award the contract to the engineering team that can make the bricks the fastest while meeting the quality control constraints.

You are going to be an industrial engineer and design an assembly line process that will make as many “color bricks” in 10 minutes as possible and still meet all the quality control criteria.

What You Will Need

  • 30 brown paper lunch bags
  • 60 pieces of recycled paper 8.5”x 11”
  • 1 set of color markers
  • 1 black marker
  • 2 cups of different sizes or other objects that can be traced to make circles (Note:
  • could also use a compass)
  • 1 ruler
  • Timer or stopwatch

Step 1

Gather the materials to make one ‘color brick’ following the build instructions/quality criteria below, time how long it takes to make:

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Build Instructions/Quality Criteria

  • Take one brown bag and fill it with four pieces of crumpled paper. Slide the second bag over the filled bag to make the brick. Each brick must have four pieces of paper inside and be made of two paper bags.
  • One set of long sides of the brick must be filled with polka dots. (3 large 1” diameter & 3 medium 0.5” circles scattered per side). One side must have 3 blue and 3 green circles. The other side must have 3 red and 3 orange circles.
  • The other set of long sides of the brick must have 4 vertical 0.5” purple stripes with 0.5” in between each stripe.
  • The top and bottom of the brick must have Color Bricks written in black marker. Letters must be centered on the sides and 1” in height.
  1. How long did it take you to make 1 color brick? _______________________________________

 

  1. How long do you think it would take you to make five ‘color bricks’? _______________________

 

  1. What was the easiest task and why? ________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________

 

  1. What was the most challenging task and why? _______________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________

 

Step 2

The design for an assembly line is determined by analyzing the steps necessary to manufacture each product component as well as the final product. Think about the steps needed to create a ‘color brick’. Is there a way to make them go more quickly? Consider options like using templates for drawing the sides. Doing tasks in groups instead of in series. Think about the tasks that were hardest and ways to make them easier. Think about the tasks that took the longest and ways to make them go faster. Draw out your design and be sure to indicate the description and number of parts you plan to use.

 

Step 3

Build your assembly line. During construction you may decide you need additional materials or that your design needs to change. Make sure you update your design sketch!

Step 4

Test your assembly line. Set a timer for ten minutes and start making as many ‘color bricks’ as you can in that time. Remember that they all have to meet the original requirements!

  1. How many bricks did you make in ten minutes? ______________________________________

 

  1. What changes or additions could you make to your assembly line to increase the number of bricks you can make? ___________________________________________________________

 

  1. Did all of your bricks meet the quality control criteria? _________________________________

 

  1. If you had more time or different supplies what would you add, change, or do differently?

______________________________________________________________________________

The primary benefit of assembly lines is that they allow workers and machines to specialize at performing specific tasks, which can increase productivity and allow for better quality control.

 

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Create a Worm Habitat through Agricultural Engineering

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By integrating technological principles into food growing and processing, agricultural engineers help farmers produce larger crop yields while improving sustainability.

Agricultural engineering is involved with the food production chain, from developing seeds to designing and testing farm equipment. They also optimize transportation and storage. 

Agricultural engineers work with production facilities, equipment design, food engineering, physical and chemical properties of materials, soil science, plant biology, organic chemistry, climatology and atmospheric science, waste, and water management and the sales and services within the agricultural industry. Now let's get started on creating your own worm habitat!

What You Will Need

  • One 2-liter plastic bottle
  • One small plastic water bottle (16 oz)
  • Scissors
  • One cup of sand
  • Two cups of soil
  • Two earthworms (purchase from bait shop, garden store, or online)
  • Piece of cheesecloth to cover top of bottle
  • Rubber band or string to secure cheese-cloth
  • “Worm food” – veggie or yard scraps work best. Food waste that is too salty or contains a lot of acidic remnants like tomatoes and citrus can kill worms. No meat!
  • Brown paper grocery bag
  • Spray bottle

The nutrients in soil can impact what crops we grow, and how well they grow. Farmers, with the help of agricultural engineers, maintain soil quality in many different ways. Although they often go unnoticed, earthworms play a significant role in our lives. 

Agricultural biodiversity is a broad term that includes a variety of animals, plants and microorganisms, at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, which are necessary to sustain key functions of the ecosystem, its structure and processes. As decomposers, worms have the important job of recycling waste material into nutrients that plants can use to grow and provide food for people and other animals.

We’re going to build a small worm habitat to allow us to observe this behavior, and explore how changes in available food impacts worm behavior. 

  1. Use scissors to carefully cut the top off of a plastic two-liter bottle.
  2. Put the empty, small plastic bottle inside the center of the two-liter bottle. While one person holds the small bottle in place, another person should pour alternating layers of sand and garden soil into the space between the wall of the small plastic bottle and the two-liter bottle until it is about two-thirds full.
  3. This design will keep the worms near the interface of the soil and two-liter bottle wall so we can see them. Do not pack the soil down, it should remain loose so the earthworms can easily burrow through.
  4. Use a spray bottle to squirt enough water onto the soil to make the layers damp but not soggy. Do this as you build the layers up.
  5. Earthworms like their habitat to be dark. Cut a strip of brown paper bag that can be taped around the habitat to keep the light out.
  6. Sprinkle your selected earthworm foods on top of the soil and gently place two worms on top. Cover your earthworm habitat with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.
  7. Place your earthworm habitat in a cool, dark place for two days before uncovering the paper cover to observe earthworm behavior.
  8. Replenish habitat with food and dampen soil as needed every few days.
  9. Continue with 7 and 8 for two weeks while recording your observations. Wen you’re done, release your worms into the wild!

Each time you uncover the paper cover from your earthworm habitat, record the following observations:

  • Date and Time
  • Conditions of the habitat (water, food, etc.)
  • What foods did earthworms eat from the last time you fed them?  
  • What foods remain uneaten?
  • What food did you provide today, if any?
  • Can you see the worms? If so, describe their location in the habitat.
  • What evidence is there of worm activity?
  • Draw what you think the world would look like without worms.

 

 

Build an Aluminum Boat through Marine Engineering

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What causes something to sink or float? How can engineers help explore and protect the ocean? Marine engineering refers to the engineering of boats, ships, and other marine vessels or structures as well as related equipment.

Marine engineers design and build things which will operate in water. That can include water craft like boats, barges and submarines, equipment that will be used on the water craft, steering and anchoring technology. This includes how the boat will look, the equipment on board and how everything works together.  They also need to make sure that the vessels are safe and comfortable places in which people can travel and work.

All these things have to be able to cope with the demands of a watery workplace, and marine engineers are the experts.

What You Will Need

  • Aluminum foil 12”x12” sheet (heavy duty works best)
  • Popsicle sticks
  • White glue
  • Straws
  • Masking Tape
  • Pennies
  • Bathtub, pool or sink in which to test your design

We’re going to be Marine Engineers and design a boat to carry cargo (pennies) while being as cost effective as possible.

Buoyancy is a net upward force caused by displacement. A boat displaces a certain amount of water based on its weight and shape. If the weight of the boat is less that the weight of the water it displaces, it floats! If the boat weighs more than the water it displaces, it will sink.

We want to design a boat that will carry the most pennies. Think about different boats you have seen. What is the same about them? How are they different? Is it better to have a small bottom and tall sides, or a wide bottom and small sides?

title STEM Activities -Take some time to look at your materials and decide on your design then start building! You don’t have to use all the materials. Using the cost of materials below, calculate how much your design will cost.

Lumber (popsicle sticks)                             =$50 each

Sheet Metal (aluminum foil                       =$25/sheet

Welding Materials (glue)                            =$50/ bottle

Reinforcement (straws)                              =$25 each

Cable/rope (masking tape)                        =$10/inch

Once your boat is built fill a large bowl, bathtub or sink with water. Float your boat and add pennies one at a time until your boat sinks.

How many pennies did your boat hold? Did it tip over? Did it fail completely or was there one part that didn’t work very well?

Can you modify your design to be more cost effective or carry more weight? Redesign and try again!

STEM Activities for Summer 2020

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The school year is over, and the summer fun is just beginning! Here are some really cool STEM activities that you can try out at home with your family this summer!

MAKE YOUR OWN ICE CREAM

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All you need is:

  • Ziplock Baggies
  • Ice
  • Cream
  • Sugar
  • Optional flavors like vanilla, fruit, or cocoa powder
  • Your muscles... there will be a whole lot of shaking!

With your parent or guardian’s help, check out this tutorial. What flavors will you invent?

DESIGN AND BUILD A FORT

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These fort ideas take blanket forts to a whole new level! With your parent or guardian’s permission, gather materials from around the house to build your very own, unique fort!

Build Your Own Circuit and Learn about How Electricity Works!

One of my favorite activities I got to do as a kid is the Science Fair. 

An experiment I really enjoyed was building my own circuit. I used:

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  • A D battery – Some people use AA, too.
  • A lightbulb – A small LED lightbulb like the ones used on holiday lights will work well here
  •  
  • Copper Wires – If you don’t have copper wires, aluminum foil can work
  • Alligator clips – Bare aluminum paperclips can also be used
  • Electrodes – I used metal rods, but nails will also do the job
  • A beaker – You can use a glass mason jar or something similar
  •  

In my experiment, I tested different types of liquids like vinegar, orange juice, or milk to see if they could conduct electricity. You could try something similar, too!

With your parent or guardian’s help, you can design your own circuit! Here are a few different ideas!

Have a Mystery Engineering Bag Challenge with your Family!

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Watch this video to learn more about electricity. Be sure to be safe when doing your experiment so you don’t get shocked!

Get your siblings, or whoever is on your Quaranteam to join you on some cool engineering games! You can have your parent or guardian help gather the materials needed. Some of the items might be around your house!

Your parent or guardian can help you create a bag full of tools that you and whoever you are playing against can use to build things like a catapult or a marble run.

With your parent or guardian’s help, check out this site for inspiration!

Other Free Resources to Stay Sharp This Summer!

  • Bill Nye the Science Guy: watch episodes about STEM experiments and play STEM games.
  • PBS Kids: check out some cool educational games and activities.
  • NASA Kids’ Club: lots of games, missions, and learning activities.
  • Khan Academy: stay sharp with lots of school-related activities, lessons, and games.
  • Ask Dr. Universe: explore and learn about how everything works, find coloring pages, and more!
  • Hooda Math: lots of math and strategy games, video tutorials, and movies.
  • Tynker: free online coding classes and games.
  • Nova: learn about rockets, Leonardo DaVinci’s inventions, and much more!
  • STEMWorks: learn about cool jobs in STEM, genetics, wind energy, and try out some fun STEM activities!
  • Code.org: learn to write a real app or game!
  • ComputerScienceOnline.org is an in-depth website for potential and current students considering a career with computers, software engineering, and more. For more information about pursuing a career in computer science or in anything related to tech, please visit: