STEM in Schools
On 10 June 2021 the Darwin High School Year 11 Centre for Excellence Mathematics class was fortunate enough to be visited by guest speakers from Charles Darwin University, Dr David Ompong, Dr. Luis Diaz, Mr. Kiran, Mr. Daniel, and Ms. Eva. The aim of the session was to allow students to explore how mathematics concepts taught in the classroom can be applied in the real world, with a focus on robotic arms. The session was part of CSIRO’s STEM in Schools Program.
By Year 11 C4E Mathematics Student, Alishba Saeed
Dr. Ompong started the session by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and thanked the NT government for funding the project through inspired NT Target Science Communication Grants. He highlighted the importance of matrix transformation in understanding robotic arms programming. Dr. Ompong is a lecturer at Charles Darwin University’s College of Engineering, Information Technology and Environment.
Following this, Dr. Luis Diaz, course coordinator of engineering activities at Charles Darwin University, explained the role of STEM in driving innovation into the future. Mr. Daniel and Ms. Eva, both PhD engineering students at Charles Darwin University, further outlined the practical applications of mathematics and robotics. Some examples are the robotics arms designed by Monash University to increase the efficiency of fruit-picking and NASA’s Canadarm, designed to carry out various operations on the Space Shuttle orbiters.
Mr. Kiran, who is also a Phd student in engineering, presented the robotic arm to students. Mr. Kiran showed the various motors and explained how each replicated the joints in the body to execute specific movements. The base motor rotated in the horizontal plane, while the shoulder, elbow, and wrist motors moved in the vertical plane, backward and forwards. The gripper motor only opened and closed. Mr. Kiran then demonstrated how the robotic arms could be maneuvered by entering and running programs on the computer software connected to the robotic arm programming board.
However, before students could try the robotic arms out for themselves, there was one small challenge! In groups, students were to first complete the two final steps in building their robotic arms. Once the robotic arms were complete, it was time to begin programming.
To familiarise themselves with the technology, students were instructed to execute simple movements such as opening or closing the gripper of the arm. The programming software was straightforward and easy to navigate. Students were then challenged to more complex movements like picking up a sponge and placing it down again.
While some were more successful than others, all the students thoroughly enjoyed the session and listening to insightful talks by the guest speakers. Overall, the session provided a great opportunity for students to think creatively and work collaboratively to solve problems- skills that are essential for pursuing STEM careers in the future.