Green Machines for the future

It is often said that the students of today will be the problem-solvers of tomorrow. This is clearly demonstrated at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum's summer science camp called Green Machines.

The focus of this weeklong camp is biomimicry, creating nature-inspired products and innovations.

Scientists study natural systems and organisms, and use their discoveries to solve environmental challenges.

Velcro was invented after scientists noticed how well burrs stick to animals' fur and people's clothes. Lotus leaves are naturally waterproof because of nano-sized structures on their surface, and engineers used this effect to make waterproof materials such as clothing and paint.

The students begin the week just as most scientists begin the scientific process, by observing nature and examining items inspired by nature.

They then learn about the different natural shapes and forms. In particular, they study and act out the process of photosynthesis.

The students, ages 9 to 12, inspect leaves and come to understand that photosynthesis is the process used by plants to take the light energy from the sun and turn it into chemical energy that can be used to fuel the organism's growth and reproduction.

They also learn that it is a critical process that maintains normal levels of oxygen in the atmosphere and provides energy for nearly all life on Earth.

Continuing with their theme of biomimicry, students "make" polluted water using river sediment, grasses from wetlands, oil from ships, litter on beaches, and garbage, sewers, detergents and waste from factories.

They then work to create a microbiological water filtration system using natural materials such as soil, rocks, leaves and sticks.

The campers also tour the solar-powered nursery and the ecosystem-inspired mini-marshes that are a part of the museum facility. Sunshine is turned into electricity to power the floating wetlands, filter water and irrigate plants inside the nursery dome.

As their final project, students engage in the engineering design process, which includes budgeting, creating a materials list and the actual design, implementation and testing of their designs.

The students go from form, through process, into system development — the type of scientific thinking and activity needed to solve environmental challenges.

— Sally Peterson

Share This Story