The Design and Optimization of a Lighted Kinetic Art Surface Display; Developing Future Engineers at Home: A Deterministic Analysis of Various STEM Toys and their Effect on Learning and Enthusiasm in Children under Eight Years Old

Mazzatenta, Megan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Garner, Gavin, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The capstone project features the design of a lighted kinetic art sculpture for installation in the Mechanical Engineering Building. The overall goal of the project was to create a mystifying sculpture that emphasizes the importance of mechatronic design and optimization and can serve as inspiration for future mechanical engineering students. The team first focused on optimizing a single lighted unit for minimal cost and assembly time. Design decisions were driven by the desire to maintain a balance between simplicity, functionality, and visual appeal. The team analyzed the limitations of prior art before developing a compact actuation system that preserves the visual effect and allows the motor to control both the lifting and lowering of the lighted acrylic rod. After several prototypes, the team decided that the most cost-effective and space-efficient solution is a quad-unit that incorporates four lighted rods and their actuation systems into a small area. To demonstrate the modularity of the design, the team presented a display of four quad-units and programmed the rods to move in a simple wave pattern. The project can be expanded to a larger display for a more mystifying aesthetic effect that will spark onlookers’ interest in mechanical engineering. Future work will focus on user interaction, and the team hopes that students will be able to program in their own functions and use the kinetic sculpture as a fun way to visualize surfaces, waves, vibrations, and more.

As the demand for engineers has increased and more students are becoming interested in working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields, researchers and innovators are attempting to target the learning capacity of young children by designing STEM toys for use outside of the classroom. In addition to creating excitement about engineering topics, such toys have the potential to decrease gender bias in the field by introducing girls to STEM early, giving them more confidence to pursue engineering later in life. However, there is a lack of research to support the use of engineering toys. To address the research deficiency, the paper analyzes the effect of engineering toys on the learning and enthusiasm of children of under eight years old. Documentary research and interviews guide analysis of the different types of STEM toys and the extent to which certain toys have led interviewees to pursue study in STEM fields. The paper uses the technological determinism framework to study the ability of STEM toys to directly influence children’s career paths and to identify any negative consequences associated with the use of engineering toys. The study will serve as a guide to developing successful STEM toys, and the results of the study will allow innovators to design effective toys that will encourage real learning, promote the engineering profession, and help decrease the gender gap in STEM fields.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education, Technological Determinism, Toy Design, Kinetic Art, Mechatronic Design

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Gavin Garner
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Jack Purcell, Philip Renkert

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