There’s a large jellyfish robot in the labs at Virginia Tech (VT). The jellyfish, which was designed by VT's College of Engineering, has made for a fun field trip for the students in VISTA’s Elementary Science Institute’s embedded camp for children from high-needs schools.
One of VT’s graduate engineering students took the time to give the students a “jellyfish tour”, showing off the robot (which is the size and weight of a grown man) to the excited group. The tour included an explanation of why the jellyfish was created, which was to provide a “mechanical understanding of the jellyfish body”.
The robot is part of a multi-university, nationwide $5 million project funded by U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research. The goal is to place self-powering, autonomous machines in waters for the purposes of surveillance and monitoring of the environment, in addition to other uses such as studying aquatic life, mapping ocean floors, and monitoring ocean currents.
The graduate student who was giving the elementary schoolers the tour offered some sage advice when considering how to design an engineering project: "If you're going into engineering, don’t rule out the simplest option."
The elementary students at the VISTA camp have enjoyed conducting science experiments in accordance with a "marine theme" over the last week. They were given scenarios which involved helping to prevent the spread of an invasive species of giant jellyfish off the coast of Virginia. Other problem-based learning, hands-on science activities at the VT site have included learning how to use a compass for navigational purposes and using iPads to examine the coast of Virginia on Google Earth.
The world of marine life and geography is a great launch pad for positive learning experiences. It could also lead to a lifelong career in the sciences. Problem-based learning can inspire students to solve real-life environmental issues and help them to understand the intricacies of complex ocean creatures. By encouraging hands on engagement with stimulating topics, VISTA is helping ensure the health and stewardship of marine environments while giving teachers the skills needed to encourage future scientists!