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BYU’s Splash Lab helps kids learn STEM concepts by making underwater robots

Y engineers bring national SeaPerch competition to Utah

When it comes to studying fluid dynamics, the folks at The BYU Splash Lab can be a little extreme – whether they’re destroying water-filled ornaments or ditching the lab to skip rocks at the lake.

In perhaps its most ambitious idea yet, this year the Splash Lab took on the task of teaching hundreds of Utah school children how to build and operate robots that can navigate under water.

That six-month project came to a close this month when 200-plus elementary and middle school students – from Ogden to Payson – put robots they designed and built themselves to the test in underwater obstacle courses at the first Utah SeaPerch Competition.

“When we first started in October, the students thought that engineers either drove trains or fixed power lines,” said Tadd Truscott, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and head of The BYU Splash Lab. “Now they know engineers are the people that discover new things, build amazing devices and invent technologies that change lives.”

SeaPerch is a national program sponsored by the Office of Naval Research to promote youth interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  BYU’s Splash Lab got funding to start the competition in Utah.

The program teaches public school-aged students to build small, remotely-operated underwater vehicles from PVC and inexpensive motors and electronics. The project requires that the students learn about electric circuits, tool safety, propulsion, buoyancy and various other STEM-related topics.

“There is no better way to teach STEM principles then through fun, hands-on activities,” Truscott said. “It’s already been such a great value to the local students and has ignited their interests in STEM subjects.”

More than 50,000 students have participated in SeaPerch nationwide, but this competition was the first in the Intermountain West.

There was even one group of elementary-aged children at the competition: Ten 2nd-grade students from Mapleton Elementary. These students got involved in the SeaPerch program as a part of an afterschool Technology and Engineering Club initiative started by BYU professor Geoff Wright.

In addition to the underwater ROVs these students built for the SeaPerch competition, these 2ndgraders have programmed electronic circuits, built mini-rockets, programmed video games and built battling robots. The TEC is sponsored by the Technology and Engineering Education program at BYU.

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