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CMU Field Trip 2014: Robots, DNA, and Virtual Mentors

IMG_20140131_130301_381Third and fourth grade research fellows from Baden Academy had the honor and joy to spend a day on CMU’s campus.  A ride in Doctor Who’s Tardis couldn’t have been more exciting.  Our adventures landed us in four different labs. The Baden Academy fellows not only gazed upon visions of the future, but were able to tap into the most extraordinary resources known, the incredible minds of students and professors at CMU.

IMG_6914Our first stop was the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.  We became members of the interdisciplinary team of programmers, psychologists, education designers, software architects, and computer engineers. We helped the team test their computer generated tutor as it interacted with our students to develop scientific hypotheses.  Read More

Back through hallways, stairs and bridges, we met up with several researchers from the Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology and the DNA Zone.   Here our Baden Academy Research Fellows witnessed TAML® hydrogen peroxide activators (catalysts that oxidizes pollutants in water) and were able to build their own model of a DNA strand … Read More

IMG_20140131_124557_154Even lunch was an adventure.  We entered the busy Asiana café in the Atrium of Newell-Simon Hall and had to split the kids up into several tables. Owen, Gavin and Eli sat with a visiting professor from Japan, and Ava had no hesitancy describing (with whole body animation) our tour to several CMU students. While at lunch, Rauhit Ashar from Robotics Education Lab saw us through the window of the lab and invited us in as small groups to look at student projects.  Familiar NXT Mindstorm robot kits lined one wall with two raised platforms painted with winding strips of black tape for line following challenges (The complexity reminded me of the indoor climbing walls). Another section of the lab had desktops that included the Groma robots we a have in the Media Lab integrated with a second platform of robotic arms. A final project of a giant scorpion was in the center, a collaborative project suspended for testing. All of us (even Karie, Michelle and I) wanted to stay!  The resources, the obvious hard work that students were doing, and the luring temptation of creative code on the computer screens were a highpoint for the fellows. We, of course, visited with Tank the Roboceptionist, before beginning our final visit for the day.

IMG_20140131_133738_333Winding stairs took us into yet another new world, a Field Robotics Center warehouse of robotics projects that have already changed our world and researchers building new ways to respond to the needs of humanity with robotic technology.  Dr. Marcel Bergerman, field roboticist, systems engineer, and co-founder of Green E Academy, gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the most impressive robots to be created. Read more

And now we have months ahead of analysis and reflection on each moment of the trip to do in the Media Lab.  What impresses me with the scholars, researchers, and professors at CMU is their genuine desire to inspire a younger generation and engage them in challenging questions. Karie Walaan, Michele Lishack and I extend our deepest and most sincere gratitude to everyone involved in the trip, particularly Lauren Bensink and Baden Academy Charter School for the transportation and support.


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