Pre-university engineering program project leads to long-term collaboration and research discovery | VTX

Virginia Tech’s C-Tech2 Program is meant to be a two-week, on-campus summer camp to get high school girls excited about engineering. But for four girls who attended summer camp 2020 at the start of the pandemic, C-Tech2 started out as something less, but turned out to be so much more.

Indeed, this camp of 18 months ago ends, in a way, with the publication of their research in the journal Soft Materials.

“I just didn’t expect to have the opportunity to work with a professor as a high school student and publish a paper,” said Laurel Hudson of Roanoke, Virginia.

C-Tech2 is kind of an acronym for “Computers and Technology at Virginia Tech”. Founded in the early 1990s and hosted by the College of Engineeringthe camp aims to introduce girls to the world of engineering, a field in which women have historically been underrepresented.

“Only 22 percent of College of Engineering students are women,” said Kim Lester, director of pre-college programs at Virginia Tech. Center for Valuing Diversity in Engineering (CEED). “And that’s typical of universities. Historically, it’s a male role. If you’re a woman and don’t have any female role models, you’re unlikely to lean into this. Honestly, we get a lot of women into the program because a teacher said to them, “Hey, you’re really good at math and science.” And it never really occurred to them that they could.

Up to 150 junior and senior high school students apply for C-Tech2 each year. Only 60 are accepted. About half are from Virginia and the other half come from places across the country and around the world, including India, Hungary and Ethiopia. During the two weeks, they work side-by-side with Virginia Tech faculty and learn about all engineering disciplines – from civil, mechanical, and environmental to aerospace, computing, and cybersecurity. .

“All the teachers do it for free,” Lester said. ‘They definitely live our motto,’Ut Prosim.'”

Campers also divide into teams to work on individual projects, which is how Hudson met three other up-and-coming high schoolers: Kathleen Troy of Vienna, Virginia; Gracie Cornish of Williamsburg, Virginia; and Maia Vollen of Falls Church, Virginia. They were brought together via Zoom during the June 2020 camp, which, like everything else in the world at the time, had gone virtual.

For a project sponsored by General Electric, the group was tasked with transforming an ordinary object into an innovative design. They wondered if an ordinary water bottle with straw could incorporate a filter and the principles of gravity to desalinate salt water.

Around this time at camp they met Jonathan Boreykoassociate professor at Department of Mechanical Engineering who came to Virginia Tech in 2014 and had been working with C-Tech2 since 2016. Coincidentally, he had studied the principles behind the desalination powers of mangroves.

The group approached Boreyko, who enthusiastically agreed to mentor them.

“I knew right away that we would get an article out of it just because of their persistence from the start,” he said. “But I was still surprised at how independent and proactive they were. The tenacity and joy they brought to this project really inspired me.

Their online collaboration continued after C-Tech2 ended and throughout their senior year of high school. Meeting at night online, the group shared their findings with Boreyko, who admits the sessions were an unexpected joy as he found himself working from home while caring for his four young children and his future wife. .

“Every week or two they would update me without any prompting from me,” Boreyko said. “So in their senior year, during the COVID pandemic, in their spare time at night, they worked together completely independently, without any concern from me, to write a college-level journal article. It was amazing.”

The article, “Sweat-powered desalination water bottlewas recently published by the journal Soft Materials.

“Inspired by mangrove trees, we present a theoretical design and analysis of a portable sweat-powered desalination water bottle,” reads the abstract. “We estimate that a 9.4cm diameter bottle, with a 10cm wide annular fin, could harvest about one liter of fresh water per day from seawater.”

Work on the project continued throughout their first semesters of college this fall. Hudson, Troy and Cornish are currently enrolled at Virginia Tech’s general engineering program (typically about 45% of C-Tech2 attendees enroll in the College of Engineering).

“Getting the research paper was one of the main reasons I chose Virginia Tech,” Troy said. “It showed that the staff and administration were willing to work with their students.”

Cornish added: ‘It was something very different to anywhere I have visited. Everyone at Virginia Tech was just very much in love with what they were doing. The Hokie spirit, it felt through the program even if it was virtual. For my part, even though I was miles and miles away from the current school, I was able to develop a relationship with Tech.

Vollen was also accepted into the program, but eventually chose to attend St. Andrews in Scotland for financial economics and international relations. While Boreyko gives all the credit to the students, Vollen said, “None of this would have been possible without him. It was always like a learning environment, and I feel like without his leadership and guidance there, I know none of this would have been possible in the first place.

– Written by Michael Hemphill

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