New Mass. Academy Course Turns Teens into Inventors

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - A gift-wrapping system, a locker unlocker, a self-tying shoe, and a temperature control for the shower were the culminating projects completed by four teams of students in the new Introduction to Engineering course offered for the first time last fall at the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science at WPI. In December, the students described their projects to a panel of experts from the WPI faculty and area companies.

Mass. Academy chemistry teacher Jacklyn Bonneau and computer science teacher Pauline Lamarche taught the course, which provided the high school juniors with an overview of several engineering disciplines, including mechanical, civil and biomedical engineering, and required them to work in teams to form companies that would develop prototypes of devices that could solve a common problem.

The students came up with the following companies and inventions:

  • WDW: Thomas Armstrong of Worcester, Mass., a student at the Mass. Academy who formerly attended Auburn High School in Auburn, Mass., Guang Chen of Westborough Mass. (Westborough High School), and Angela Richardson of Uxbridge, Mass. (Uxbridge High School), developed a system that uses the least possible amount of paper to wrap any size box without compromising the appearance of the package.

  • Quick-Click, Inc.: Carl Chan-Aldebol of Westford, Mass., who was home-schooled before coming to the academy, Naomi Fox of Worcester, Mass., who formerly attended Notre Dame Academy in Worceter, and Jonathan Moussa of Webster, Mass. (Bartlett High School), created the Quick-Click Locker/Unlocker. The device consists of an opener installed inside the locker door and a hand-held remote control that triggers it, eliminating the need to open the lock by hand.

  • IFT Inc., The Shoe: Amy Gilgis of Boylston, Mass. (Tahanto Regional High School), Jesse Himmelstein of Worcester, Mass., (Doherty Memorial High School), and Andrew Hobgood of Uxbridge (Uxbridge High School), proposed replacing shoe laces on sneakers with a zipper that could be operated by a low-rpm motor powered by a small battery like that of a watch. The device includes an activator installed in the sole of the shoe and a pressure-sensitive switch in the tongue that would release the zipper.

  • Plumbing Concept Design, Inc.: Sean King of Sterling, Mass. (Wachusett Regional High School), Luke Phelan of Auburn, Mass. (Auburn High School), and Adam Ross of Worcester (Doherty Memorial High School), developed a device that eliminates the need to adjust the hot and cold settings on the faucet before getting into the shower. The students say it also prevents injuries because there is no longer a need to turn around in the shower to raise or lower the water temperature - thus avoiding the hazard of slipping on the wet floor.

The Mass. Academy course was based on Engineering Concepts for the High School Classroom, a program for high school science and math teachers developed at Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering in which participants are given the opportunity to define their own problems and develop original solutions. The students make testable predictions, analyze test results, search for answers, and communicate their findings in writing and orally to a review board.

The Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science is a public high school for juniors and seniors with exceptional aptitude in these disciplines. It is a collaborative effort of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, WPI and Massachusetts high schools.

In addition to Bonneau and LaMarche, the project review panel included the following individuals: Patent Attorney Gary Blodgett; Raytheon Co. engineer Carmen D'Agostino; Norton Company engineers Thomas Donohue, Ronald Leger and Paul Martin; Mass. Academy Director Leah Vetter and Assistant Director John Durkin; and WPI faculty members Denise Nicoletti, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, Physics Professor L. Ramdas Ram-Mohan, and Chrysanthe Terwilliger and Douglas Walcerz, assistant professors of mechanical engineering.