Engineering Festival 2011

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We're planning a big outreach event, the Engineering Festival, which will take place on 18th October 2011, at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. Such outreach is very important for the Makespace community, as helping engage and inspire young people is a big part of the reason we think Makespace is necessary, and hopefully it will help us reach our engagement targets set as a requirement for receiving our bootstrap funding.

This will be a day for secondary school pupils aged 15+ to have a go at some hands-on, problem-solving engineering work, and also learn more about the engineering industry. Ideally the day will include a range of quality interactive engineering activities - very hands-on - as well as talks and demos. The event is being organised in collaboration with STEM TEAM and Duxford, and aims to attract at least 400 students from across the region, who are studying science/engineering/design&technology at BTEC, GCSE or A level.

We need your help, now, in planning and designing workshops, and on the day!

For the event to be a success, it would be great if you could offer any or all of the following things. Please add your ideas to the Meetup page, or drop us a line at if you think you can help with any of these, so that the organisers have time to pull together the plan and get schools and companies on board.

  • ideas for hands-on activities which could work within a day (~6 hours maximum) or a shorter session, with this age group. This could be from any type of engineering - we'd really like to have a wide range
  • suggestions of potential sponsoring companies (most useful if you can provide a relevant contact at the organisation) - any level of sponsorship is welcome, in cash or in kind
  • offers of talks (any duration!) which would interest the students
  • suggestions for celebrity speakers or exciting topics where a speaker could be found, which could provide a high profile "keynote" element to the day
  • volunteers to test out the ideas for hands-on activities (this testing will probably take place in late March or early April - all welcome! We'll need to figure out what can be done with what equipment, how long a task might take a 15-17 year old, etc)
  • offers of demos from companies, which could be given at a stand in a "trade show" type area
  • volunteers to help out on 18th October itself (briefing and support will be given in advance through the STEM TEAM network; existing STEM Ambassadors will probably hear about this event separately, too, in which case volunteering through STEM TEAM is fine and you don't need to contact Makespace as well)
  • contact with teachers and schools in the East of England that would be interested in attending.

Overarching Theme

We would like a theme to run through all the activities in the event, and propose something like "The city of the future" because it is possible to explain almost all engineering tasks in this light. Another possible theme that would likely easily tie in with everything for the same reasons would be "Rebuilding a city after a disaster" - this needs a catchier name, but includes a good humanitarian angle, and is also topical after the Japan earthquake.

Below are possible narratives to accompany the existing exercises.

STEM/Makespace Activities:

  • Civil/structural build: Building with less material and recycled materials
  • Bridge building with CAD: Optimising all designs using computer modelling, reducing waste and increasing safety
  • Acoustic Engineering: Avoiding 'bad areas' in cities so housing can be located near industry with no noise pollution
  • Wind Tunnels and CAD: How to make the most efficient mass transport system: Saving energy, getting people around faster.

Other/business activities:

  • ARM/Robotics: Automated warehouses, automated transport, better supply chains and clearer roads
  • Mindstorms: As above
  • Marshalls: Unknown - silent aircraft? Can they think of anything to tie in to this theme?
  • Network Rail: Reliability of transport system
  • Drawdio Pro/Engineer: Customised products, everyone has a printer in their home, downloadable and sharable designs
  • Rapman: As above
  • ART VPS and St Johns: Instant prototyping where everyone can design their own products. Fewer warehouse required.

Activity ideas

Ideas after discussion on 14th July 2011

Many of these ideas could be made more complex by adding a materials (or time/test run) cost unit.

Strongest Rope from Bags

Link to city of the future: Recycled materials, zero waste

A challenge to make the strongest rope from old plastic bags. The rope will be tested in various ways, for example load on the bottom, load in the middle of a suspended section. Other possible constraints:

  • Minimum plastic deformation
  • Must remain strong when knotted
  • Secondary prize for weight per bag used.

Testing should happen incrementally - the challenge should not be a 'success or failure' matter - rather a test of how much weight a rope can take. Could do several tests or test phases through an hour.

Extension activity: What mechanism would be most appropriate for joining sections of rope?

Items required:

  • Bags!
  • Pulleys to make testing more impressive (we can run normal rope through the pulleys and attach the bag-rope to the bottom section).


  • Plastics
  • Pulleys
  • Recycling
  • Tensions, plastic deformation


Link to city of the future: Modern manufacturing techniques, automation, cooler buildings

How do design options and constraints change when houses, boats, etc, can be printed and not constructed in the conventional way?

Students will draw on the top of foam (perhaps via paper) and cut out a number of 2D layers in order to make printed objects.

Things to make:

  • House, with at least two rooms and a roof, optionally a second story with stairs (!)
  • Community centre, architecturally remarkable
  • Boat - must float and have space for living in

All would require at least one window, one door and a sloped roof.


  • Many sheets of foam
  • Pens
  • Example designs
  • (Computer with software to turn 3D design in to 2D layers?)


perhaps compare additive and subtractive techniques? eg Subtractive modelling: Macbook Pro, iMac keyboard from the display

Inflatable, concrete buildings

Link to city of the future: Prepared for disaster, large population influx How can you erect structures very quickly as temporary housing, say in a disaster situation? This workshop will look at the possibility of using an inflatable structure that is then concreted.

Students start with a hard board with lots of holes in it, string, clay and a balloon. The idea is to use the string to constrain the balloon as it inflates to get different shapes of buildings. Once the building is inflated it can be covered with 'clay' (salt dough?) and then a kitchen blowtorch used to set it.

'Currently this exercise lacks a design challenge component, it is rather aesthetic

Potentially an overly simple exercise, testing required!


  • Balloons
  • String
  • Boards with holes in
  • Clay or salt dough.
  • (blowtorch)

Energy Recovery Systems

I think we didn't reach a conclusion on how this might work:

Challenge to recover energy from a system rolling down a hill? Flywheel, elastic, how to mount, etc?

Link to F1 and KERs, etc - Cosworth?


Link to 'Home of the Future': Reducing energy consumption, drug storage and transport

Challenge to use a range of materials to insulate (I love, for example, that people find it counterintuitive to use a woollen jumper to keep a cold thing cold, but it seems obvious to keep a hot thing hot!)

Students could have a 'drug' that needed to be transported at a fixed temperature, and have to design cases to keep it at that temperature.

Designs are assessed on cost, size and performance, so all 3 constraints must be considered.

Task would involve:

  • Intro: insulation, cost of all the materials, size requirements
  • Chance to test various materials
  • Design of 'vessel'
  • Testing of insulation

Example constraints:

  • Minimise cost
  • Minimise size
  • Must open to accept vessel of fixed size
  • Maximise temperature stability


  • Liquid and a way to heat it
  • Some way of measuring temperature - perferrably highly graphical
  • A large number of insulating materials to choose from
  • Scissors, tape, etc
  • Tape measure for measuring final vessels.

Energy consumption research task

Treat the incoming students as a group of highly paid consultants. They have to define the high level energy plan for the city.

Based on testing a number of different systems set-up, what do they think are the right solutions?

This would require us to set up some example systems that could easily be tested.

This task lends itself well to the Kinetic energy recovery task too - which types of KER are useful and which ones are just all talk?

Energy planning/pollution game

Laura has details and knows the organisers. They could run a game for us or train some of us to run it.

A game for 6 teams of 2-3, or 12 teams of 2-3, exploring the environmental consequences of planetary scale energy generation, and powerfully illustrative of the tragedy of the commons.

Innovation brainstorming activity designed for schools and groups - might be interesting with some context from our theme?

Strongest construction from simple materials

1 A4 card, infinite A4 paper and sellotape what's the strongest (tested how? weight bearing? repeated impacts?) shelter that can be made? (may be too simple/dull for this age group)

self-propelled vehicle

Across a 12ft tightrope, can you create a self-propelling vehicle? wood wheels, nail, elastic, string

Construction/prep for CSC day

Construct one or more chain reaction components. Details TBC by Chris Lennard.

If we made several we could run them all on stage at the end of the day and have a popular vote between any successful designs.

Miscellaneous ideas