Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians for Service

Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians for Service (SEMFS) is an on-campus group started by myself and twoother engineering students in the spring of 2010. SEMFS serves to educate and inspire local students K-12 by introducingthem to technical fields from math to biology to electrical engineering. We currently hold 3-6 Saturday workshops a semester and work closely with on-campus groups Keep It Real, NSBE Jr, Investing Now and CMU's Women in Computer Science. In spring 2011 we held a weekly after school program at the UPrep school in Pittsburgh. SEMFS is targeted mainly at students in underprivleged public schools including Somali Bantu refugees living in local areas. SEMFS is a lot of fun foreveryone involved. Working with the kids gives all of the volunteers the challenge of taking fairly complicated subjects andsimplifying them to the point where they are easily understood by middle schoolers. SEMFS is also a great opportunity for engineering students to practice their presentation skills and improve on their ability to interact with younger kids. Below is a non-exhaustive list and image gallery of projects that we have presented to the kids and had them get directly involved in.
  • Chemistry and Biology:
    • DNA Extraction: DNA extraction laboratory done using peas and cheek swabbing.
    • Protein Modeling: After being taught basic information about proteins, the students were able to fold proteins on the computer. They experimented with various proteins.
    • Thermodynamics: We discussed in moderate depth the first and second laws of thermodynamics, as well as entropy. We demonstrated an interesting thermodynamic phenomenon using exploding gummy worms.
    • Bacteria: Basic information regarding bacteria, their history on earth, and their effects on other organisms was given. The students cultured environmental bacteria by swabbing any object they wished.
    • Slime: Students learned about polymers and the manner in which ionic bonds affect the properties of physical materials. Specifically, we taught them about the properties of slime and had them create their own slime.
    • Fireworks: Flame tests were used to demonstrate that colors can be produced by burning various chemicals. The physics of fireworks were discussed.
    • Non-newtonian Fluids: Oobleck was put in a subwoofer to demonstrate its unusual properties.
    • Enzymes: Explanation of enzymes and denaturation and an activity involving taped hands and picking up pennies.
    • Frog Dissection: Hands-on dissection and discussion of frog anatomy.
    • Tissue Engineering: Made artificial veins.
  • Mathematics and Engineering:
    • Computer Simulations: The basics of computer simulations were presented and students could edit parameters on a prewritten simulation of a solar system.
    • Fractals: We discussed the basic ideas of dimensionality and geometrical shapes; we briefly delved into the idea of objects existing between dimensions. The students created their own cut-out fractals.
    • Cryptography: An introduction to cryptography using monoalphabetic substitution, caeser ciphers, and modular arithmetic.
    • Robotic Systems and Sensors: Explanation of ultrasound, infrared sensors, microcontrollers, and building complex systems. Included a demonstration using The Agourdian.
  • Physics:
    • Sound Waves: A presentation about sound was given using a guitar and audio software to demonstrate concepts about sound waves, such as frequency, interference and other basic signals processing techniques.
    • Mousetrap Catapults: Gravity, projectile motion, and torsion springs were discussed and students designedtheir own catapults with the intention of launching a marshmallow as far as possible.
    • Balsa Towers: Structural design was presented and students built towers of balsa wood.
    • Balsa Planes: Drag force and lift were demonstrated before letting students construct model airplanes.
    • Second Law of Thermodynamics: We discussed Carnot cycles at basic levels and slightly elaborated on the second law by talking about heat engines and refrigerators. We had students do a mental exercise: we set-up a concealed magnet to spin a metal wheel; this reinforced that work cannot be done spontaneously.
    • Magnetics: Magnetism and magnetic flux were discussed at a relatively basic level. We had the students build their own magnetic motors from kits, and held a contest to see who could make their coil spin the fastest.
    • Impulse-Momentum, Stress, Drag: We broadly described the notions of drag force, stress, and impulse-momentum. We emphasized the equivalence of impulse-momentum in a physical system as well as its applications to designing cars, climbing ropes, etc. We also emphasized the geometric dependence of drag coefficients. Students were instructed to create containers for an egg drop using the concepts they were taught.
    • Mousetrap Cars: Explanation of torque and a competition to builded the most efficient mousetrap car.
    • Tesla Coil: Introduction to induction using a tesla coil. The tesla coil was also used to ingite methanol rockets.

    Oh... and we have labcoats.