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Holly Golecki1

1, The Haverford School, Haverford, Pennsylvania, United States

Educational institutions that foster inquiry and innovation prepare students for future careers in science and engineering. Inviting students, as young as high school age, to engage in materials science research is mutually beneficial to aspiring scientists, as well as the university faculty who engage them. A case study for such work details research performed by high school students contributing to the Soft Robotics Toolkit. The open source nature of the soft robotics field presents opportunities for students outside of a university research lab to participate and advance the field. Exposing secondary school students to this rapidly growing field allows for evolution of the soft robotics industry in new and imaginative ways. Students at The Haverford School in Pennsylvania are developing materials-based approaches to soft robotics problems. From this, they gain fundamental knowledge in materials, develop technical communication skills, and are empowered to innovate in the future. As a co-curricular program, secondary school students, ranging in age from 13 to 18 years, collaborated to successfully design and build solutions to fundamental materials issues and prototype a soft robotic device to achieve a goal meaningful to them. In year one of the program, students developed gelatin-based actuators which are biodegradable and edible. In year two, the team developed a simple, one-step fabrication process for building actuators and applied them in a glove. The students collaborated with an art teacher to program the glove to transfer motion from accomplished to novice artists. This group now has a new skill set and confidence in the field to allow them to approach larger problems. This presentation will discuss the technical merits of their work as well as the broader benefits to the field of materials science. In a controlled study, we found that when students were presented with an opportunity to innovate: synthesizing a novel solution to authentic problems without the constraints of a prepared kit, common at the high school level, they were more creative and less constrained in future projects or design challenges. Outreach programs like this generate interest in the field of materials science and present opportunities for faculty to perform outreach that will generate the creative and prepared students they want in their laboratories. Soft robotics is just one application of accessible materials science outreach. This presentation will detail methods of developing this type of unique outreach initiative across the materials science field. Making students aware of what is possible will inspire the next generation of materials scientists, while stimulating the current practitioners with creative new ideas.

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