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Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Unveils the Future, and It’s Called Mechatronics

Carousel of Physics showcases newest opportunity for senior engineers to demonstrate their skills, ingenuity

Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy director Amir Abo-Shaeer presented the Carousel of Physics Mechatronics installation to thrilled parents and DPEA family members.
Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy director Amir Abo-Shaeer presented the Carousel of Physics Mechatronics installation to thrilled parents and DPEA family members. (Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy photo)

In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, an astronaut who has seen what was coming in the future answered a question about what he had observed with the immortal words: “Something ... wonderful.”

Ask the same question of anyone who has seen the Carousel of Physics, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy’s new Mechatronics project ... and you’ll get the same answer. From the Elings Center for Engineering Education at Dos Pueblos High School, something wonderful is coming indeed.

Over the past decade, DPEA has become well-known for its robotics program, which has brought a table full of awards to its senior classes.

Starting in the fall of 2014, Mechatronics joined robotics to become one of two “capstone” projects the academy’s seniors could choose from. Since September, 65 DPEA seniors have banded together to create the first Mechatronics installation, the one-of-a-kind Carousel of Physics.

The Carousel made its public debut last month at the enormous Bay Area MakerFaire, where it was admired by standing-room only crowds.

“The most exciting part of the whole year-long process for me was the chance to show it off to so many people at the MakerFaire,” senior Drew Richard said. “All the hours of hard work came together and the entire project looked really good together.”

Adding to the public acclaim, the Carousel was awarded Best in Class and Editor’s Choice awards by MakerFaire organizers, as well as a special education award from Make Magazine and an invitation to return next year to present the 2016 edition of Mechatronics on a larger stage.

At the MakerFaire, an annual celebration of engineering, creativity, art and invention, attendees spent as much time looking at some of the sections that were still in progress as they did looking at the finished sections. That turned out to be one of the serendipitous successes of the DPEA presentation.

“From our perspective, it could not have gone better,” DPEA admissions director Emily Shaeer said about the San Mateo event, which was visited by more than 100,000 people over two days.

“First, no one could believe that high school students had made this. But what was really beautiful about it, since we had never done a MakerFaire before, was that having the exhibit split into two areas — one where the students are working out in the open and one that showed the finished sections — was ideal for the MakerFaire.

“That arrangement was not what we expected, but it turned into something really profound.”

The Carousel itself is about eight feet across, built on a metal skeleton surrounding a core of computers and electronics, all built and programmed by the students. On the skeleton are laser-cut and 3-D printed shapes, devices, machines, art and more.

The Carousel is a circle divided into 15 slices of pi, if you’ll pardon the pun. All of the structural and design elements of each slice, or sector, were created from scratch by DPEA seniors who combined the elements of design, computer programming, machine shop work and engineering physics that they have studied since their freshman year.

Each Carousel slice features demonstrations of a branch of physics, including sound waves, light, electromagnetism and more. Adding to the science is a heavy layer of art and design; the red, yellow and blue color scheme was inspired by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s classic shapes.

On top of that, students learned presentation and public speaking skills needed to explain the Carousel to the adults and children who crowded around the Mechatronics tent at the MakerFaire.

“The most fun part has been watching what everyone else has made,” senior Maren Rose said. “I was so focused on my sector and my project, it has been thrilling to see all the other things my classmates have created.”

This original Carousel will eventually be put on display at a location in our community. In future years, DPEA organizers hope that the seniors can work with local organizations to craft customized Mechatronics installations so  the students can add the knowledge of working with a “client” to their skill sets.

Throughout the year, DPHS and UCLA alumna Bria Little has been documenting the project to highlight the development and creation of this unique educational endeavor. The feature-length documentary focuses on personal student experience and growth as the team comes together to complete the ambitious senior project. The film is produced by John Dent and DPMedia. Check back with Noozhawk for more details.

At two events in recent weeks, parents and the rest of the DPEA family were able to view the Carousel “in action.” As it spins slowly, each slice of the pie goes into action, showing off the students’ creativity as well as their technical wizardry.

Imagine a 21st-century Rube Goldberg machine or the world’s most creative kinetic-scientific sculpture and you’ll get only a small part of what the Carousel is and represents — the ingenuity and hard work of the students who will be making all of our 21st-century future.

Click here for more information about the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. Click here to make an online donation.

— Jim Buckley is a communications mentor for the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

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