“At first, I didn’t think it would work, but then it flew…”
Jirada from Nakhon Pathom finds excitement in STEM at Enjoy Design Challenges
From the stack of materials, Jirada Angphet selected a plastic lid, paper cone, and three pieces of foam, then wrapped everything together with a pipe cleaner.
A student from Sri Wichai Wittaya School in Nakhon Pathom, Jirada was one of 71,406 Thai students who participated in Enjoy Design Challenges, a hands-on activity that challenges students to exercise their design engineering mindsets by building a satellite that can hover at a certain height.
“At first I didn’t think I could do it, but I put it in and it actually flew,” Jirada said. In fact, Jirada’s satellite balanced perfectly in the target zone, meeting the challenge on her very first try.
However, it wasn’t just beginner’s luck; Jirada had been shrewdly observing the other students craft and test their satellites and learned from their mistakes. She noticed that a satellite with six foam pieces didn’t fly, while a satellite with no foam pieces shot straight out of the top of the tube.
Jirada conjectured that a plastic cup would be too light if not well-weighted, and the shape of a paper cone would not generate enough lift if too heavy. In the end, she opted for the paper cone with a plastic lid to catch air, counterweighted by three pieces of foam. Spotting the weak points in existing designs, Jirada adapted their models to create a well-balanced satellite.
As she put the satellite in the tube, it hovered in the target area between two pieces of red tape, swiveling slightly. “One, two, three, four… five!” the National Science Museum employee remarked. “Very good!”
It was Jirada’s first time attending the National Science and Technology Fair, Thailand’s largest annual celebration of science and technology. “I’m excited to be here,” said Jirada, “I want to learn about science and what can come out of it.”
Jirada already had an idea of how well-designed technology can improve people’s lives. When Jirada was young, she was frequently ill. “I went to the hospital and saw how hard medical doctors worked, long hours to help the sick.” Her eyes glisten with admiration. “If I want to be a doctor, I might not get accepted, but if I choose the medical technician field, I can really help doctors.”
“I know that science is a basic knowledge requirement for that work,” Jirada said, noting that while her marks weren’t stellar, she was driven to gain a sophisticated understanding of science in order to pursue her dream career.
“This [kind of activity] is better because in the classroom we only read from the book, take notes and listen to the lecture,” Jirada said. “We don’t have the chance to do experiments like this.” In an informal learning environment, where students like Jirada can apply their creativity to explore their own interests, they can learn to love science.
“The Challenges help students understand the science because they need to apply it to improve their designs and reach their success,” added Devyn Curely, Engineering Education Associate at the Museum of Science Boston.
No longer was the field of physics mere equations on a blackboard, but forces of motion Jirada had to control and balance in order to balance her satellite. Gauging forces like weight and lift, Jirada and her classmates observed the effects of their designs and adjusted toward the desired outcome.
In the process of observing, designing and iterating toward their goals, Jirada and her classmates built not just an airborne contraption, but an understanding of STEM concepts that they could take back to their classrooms and beyond. And perhaps, like Jirada, they would carry with them the surprise and wonder of watching their creations soar.