Applied design of experiments: UMR’s "Mythbusters"

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On July 19, 2007

As part of her “mission to bring cool stuff to engineering,” Dr. Katie Grantham Lough, assistant professor of interdisciplinary engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla, has teamed up with Missouri high school students to develop forensics experiments based on the Discovery Channel hit show “Mythbusters” and possibly create the nation’s first undergraduate degree program in forensics engineering.

The students are from Northwest Missouri State University’s Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing and are enrolled in UMR’s Summer Research Academy. They participate in the annual Jackling Introduction to Engineering summer program and are testing Discovery Channel toy forensics kits as part of their research. The students are also conducting “reverse engineering,” as Grantham Lough calls it, which involves the dissection of toys to see how they are assembled.

In testing the toys, which include DNA and fingerprint testing kits and other models, the students are hoping to create their own kits. Product dissection teaches the students how to properly take something apart and, more importantly, put it back together. Product dissection is part of one of the interdisciplinary engineering classes currently offered on campus; however, students dissect engines rather than toys.

Grantham Lough is leading just one of the projects offered through UMR’s SRA, which is associated with the Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing program. This academy is offered for high school juniors and seniors to bypass their last two years of high school and go straight to taking college-level courses for general education requirements. Academy students are encouraged to take at least two courses in each field of science, including biology, chemistry and physics.

Mason Klenklen, a student from Kansas City, Mo, is working on a fingerprinting project to test the Discover Channel kits as part of Grantham Lough’s program. “It’s really fun,” he says of the SRA, and he hopes to return next year. He has also joined in the Jackling Introduction to Engineering program, where he has tested the forensics kits they’ve made using pretend detective exercises and gauged the interest of fellow students and the success of the kits.

Grantham Lough calls the students’ projects “Mythbusters Modules” and hopes they will allow the students “to connect paperwork to hands-on work.” She also hopes to use some of their research processes in her proposed course “Applied Design of Experiments,” which would be an introductory course in forensics. In keeping with the department’s emphasis on design, the SRA students have also designed miniature solar car design kits which have been used in the Jackling summer program.

Through her students’ research, Grantham Lough hopes to eventually create an undergraduate program in forensics engineering at UMR since none is currently available. If she were to start the program, which would fall under the IDE track, “it will be the first of its kind in the country.

The students will be testing their research and projects at a high school level to gauge both the interest of other students and the success of the SRA students’ projects. Grantham Lough hopes these fun projects will allow students to see engineering in a more interesting way.

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On July 19, 2007. Posted in Research