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A Smart Road for Driven Students

Virginia Tech Smart RoadThis ordinary-looking stretch of road is anything but. Nestled in the mountains of southwest Virginia, the 2.2 mile blacktop contains three bridges, an intersection–and a brain!

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Carving Out the Landscape

Car on roadElementary students investigate major landforms (e.g., mountains, rivers) in groups of two. They build a 3D model of a landscape depicting several of these landforms. Once they have built their model, they act as civil and transportation engineers to build a road through the landscape they have created.

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How the Rubber Meets the Road

tire in rainIn this hands-on activity, teams of students in grades 3 to 12 learn how engineers design tire treads to increase safety and reliability, then follow the design process to construct, test, and evaluate treads sculpted from clay that will be safe when driving in heavy rain.

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Cardboard Pedal Pusher

cardboard bikeIzhar Gafni’s eureka moment came a few years ago when he heard about a cardboard canoe and wondered: “Why not a cardboard bicycle?” It took several years of trial-and-error work before he succeeded in building a reliable model that weighs a mere 20 pounds, is stronger than carbon fiber, and costs only about $10 to make.

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Sochi’s Big Olympics Dig

Sochi Olympic constructionIt takes host cities a lot of time, money, and engineering to prepare for the Olympics, and Sochi, the Russian seaside resort that will welcome athletes and fans from around the world this February, is no exception. Along with luge runs and ice arenas, the area’s 218 Olympic projects include a new high-speed rail and seaport.

A recent Businessweek article estimated the total at $51 billion, making Russia’s games the costliest in history

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Chair Lift Challenge

chair lift

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Activity: Conveyor Engineering

sushiIn this activity, teams of students in grades 3 to 12 explore how engineers work to solve such societal problems as moving goods, materials, and people by designing and building a conveyor system out of everyday materials than can transport pieces of candy 4 feet, including a 90-degree turn.

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Feature: Hop into a Hovercraft

HovercraftAn Austrian engineering firm debuted a new type of hovercraft at the Paris Air Show, claiming it can take off and land vertically without using any rotor blades or fixed wings. Popular Science’s report says the Austrian Innovative Aeronautical Technology’s (IAT21) D-Dalus uses four contra-rotating turbines for propulsion, allowing “thrust to be fired in any direction, around any axis.”

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Lesson: Construct a Road Sign Support

Overhead Road SignIn this lesson, students in grades 6-12 use simple materials to design, build, and test a model of a free-standing structure used to support overhead road signs. They begin by learning about the engineering design process and researching about support structures. They then work in groups to design and build their own sign supports. The final designs are tested to see how they stand up to two different types of loads.

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