July 12, 2013


(Cambridge, MA) Sixteen high school students from around the country are getting the experience of a lifetime at MIT this summer as they participate in a two-week hands-on residential program that submerges them in an ocean science challenge and helps them solve it with engineering solutions.

The challenge this year involves the design and construction of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), modeled after the Sea Perch. The students receive special instruction from MIT Sea Grant staff and guest lecturers, who impart vital information on all aspects of building and employing unique ROV designs for solving underwater dilemmas.

The participants are split into teams of four and are role-playing as ROV design firms contracted by the local power plant, Kendall GenOn, which cools its equipment with water from the Charles River and later discharges the hot recirculated water back into the river. The teams are charged with designing a vehicle to help Kendall GenOn test the water quality of various areas of the Charles River potentially affected by the hot water.

MIT Sea Grant Engineering Educator Kathryn Shroyer who designs and leads the annual program explains that OEX is meant to help bridge the gap between what is typically taught in a regimented classroom setting, and experience students may later encounter in college and in their careers beyond. The program is also intended to bring tools such as physics and science that students may have already learned, or will learn, into the bigger picture and to show them how to use these tools for engineering solutions.

But that’s not all they learn, explains Shroyer, herself a 2009 MIT Mechanical Engineering alumna. “Learning specific engineering skills makes up only about 25 percent of this program”, she says, “the other 75 percent helps shapes students into becoming human beings equipped with important life skills and the capacity to think on their feet and solve problems on their own”. Shroyer says her main goal for this program is to set her pupils on an innovator’s life path. “It’s more than just about memorizing facts or learning how to solder”, she explains, “I want students to walk away from this experience with new understanding and confidence that they too can tackle and conquer complex problems and come up with valuable solutions to contribute to society”.

Four undergraduate engineering students are also part of the program this year, accompanying the high schoolers and acting as mentors and lab assistants. They reside at the MIT dorms with the participants the whole time, chaperoning and advising them throughout the two-week camp packed with activities from morning to night. Shroyer and the assistant mentors also provide participants with constant feedback, ideas, and suggestions as they fabricate, test, and troubleshoot their projects.

In addition to the portion in the program where students learn about the engineering industry, they also attend special lectures by MIT Ocean Engineering experts. They participate in various related extracurricular activities that add context to their engineering challenge, including a special tour of the MIT museum, an excursion to the Boston Harbor islands, and visits to the New England Aquarium and Boston’s Museum of Science. They also get a detailed tour of MIT Sea Grant’s AUV lab where they meet with staff research engineers and sit down for a special lunch lecture with MIT Sea Grant director and prominent ship designer, Professor Chrys Chryssostomidis.

The program culminates with a public presentation at MIT on Friday, July 19, 2013 from 6:00 - 9:00 pm in the Von Hippel Room (13-2137). During this time the each design team will present their vehicle, and will be required to provide clear justification for each engineering decision, along with the data they collected with their newly constructed underwater robots. This event is free of charge and open to members of the press and the public.

What is a Sea Perch?
The Sea Perch is a simple, underwater, remotely operated vehicle made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe and other inexpensive, readily available materials. The Sea Perch Program, created by the MIT Sea Grant College in 2003, trains educators across the United States and around the world to build the Sea Perch. Teachers then work with students to build their own customized Sea Perches and deploy them on research missions such as water-quality testing. The hands-on Sea Perch experience is a gateway to further study and careers in robotics, engineering, marine sciences and more. Over 300 teachers in 16 U.S. states and countries around the world have implemented Sea Perch, which receives major support from the Office of Naval Research.

About Sea Grant
The mission of the MIT Sea Grant College Program is to employ innovative research, education and outreach strategies to responsibly use and sustain the vital marine resources of Massachusetts. The issues manifested and addressed locally are global in nature, and are thus widely applicable. Compelling challenges demand our attention as a solo entity, and in partnership with other groups living and working on the coasts and at sea. MIT Sea Grant brings the substantial intellectual abilities of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and our sister universities to bear on ocean-related challenges requiring an extraordinary technical contribution. In meeting these challenges, we expand human understanding of the ocean and establish the infrastructure to sustain the initiatives and talent pool needed to address complex issues of critical and fragile marine resources.

Contact: Lillie Paquette
MIT Sea Grant College Program
Tel: 617-253-3461
E-mail: lillie_p@mit.edu


OEX 2013 participants designing their ROV's in a lab at MIT. (Photo by Andrei Ivanov)