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The History of Fernbank L.I.N.K.S (Linking Ideas and Networking Kids with Science)

Linking Ideas and Networking Kids with Science, LINKS… More than just an engineering club for high school students! LINKS originated as the original Fernbank Science Center Team America Rocketry Challenge Team. In the fall of 2002, a group of five Scientific Tools and Techniques magnet students, three girls and two boys, asked to be on a Fernbank TARC team. At that time, the team had to attend the same high school, and these students were all from Lakeside HS. They had been unsuccessful in finding a teacher to sponsor an engineering team for them there. Hence, we became the first Fernbank Science Center TARC Team. We are an outreach of the NASA Science Mathematics and Aerospace Academy that is a Fernbank program. Since we don’t have a SEMAA after school program, this has served as a great model, and SEMAA Headquarters has featured us in their annual report! The rocketry team operated for three seasons, recruiting additional members each year. In 2004, during their sophomore year, we had an opportunity to participate on a Boosting Engineering and Science with Technology, (BEST), Robotics Team. The students unanimously wanted to participate, increased the number of students and the number of schools represented on the TARC Team, and recruited a new STT student to join us. Since then, we have advanced to South’s BEST at Auburn University six years, and we won First Place BEST Award and First Place Robot Performance at Georgia BEST in 2011. Early in the program, the students were concerned that when they graduated, the team would cease to exist. We also needed a way to support our activities financially. We brainstormed ideas and created Science Night Out, a Friday evening outreach program, taught by the LINKS students to third through sixth grade students from throughout DeKalb and the Metro Atlanta area. Each session has a hands-on science theme and is designed by the LINKSters. This program helps fund travel expenses to competitions and other travel, while reaching out to the younger students and encouraging them to love math & science, and one day become LINKS members. LINKS students have participated in BEST Robotics for since 2004. Some spin-offs from the team lead to a BioFuels Expo at Fernbank Science Center. One of the seniors had a personal interest in alternative energy resources, and wanted to assist me with a class at Fernbank. We presented the idea to the SEMAA Juniors & Seniors and they loved it! Our session was spent

learning all about biofuels, making biodiesel from waste vegetable oil, converting a utility truck to run on waste vegetable oil, and hosting the first ever Fernbank BioFuels Expo. This was also the first expo of its kind in the Atlanta area. The Expo was held on a Saturday afternoon. Through local experts, we attracted several individuals who brought their conversions for display. The back area of the center smelled like French fries! The students explained the Appleseed processor they built, and the entire process for making biofuel and waste vegetable oil conversions. We had about two-hundred people, and it was a huge success. The SEMAA sophomores expressed an interest in continuing the theme the following year!

In 2010 we joined with North Atlanta HS Warbotz to compete in the FIRST Robotics Challenge. After being recognized as the Rookie All-Star Team for Georgia, we advanced to the World Championships in St. Louis, MO. We continue to work with NAHS on FRC and other STEM outreach projects.

We currently have a nearly completed Sonerai Glider kit that was donated to the team, that we began completing last springing 2007, with the help of mentors from the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. When the glider is finished, it may be used in classes for instructional purposes, donated to the Middle Georgia College Aviation program at Eastman, GA to be used in their aircraft maintenance classes, or used to inspire young students who visit EAA Chapter 690 in the future. The projects arise from student interest. We have had as many as twenty-eight students working on a project at any given time. Students can choose around their own interests and schedules. We are scheduled to work after school on Wednesdays and all day on most Saturdays throughout the school year. We work with a GA Tech mentor during the BEST season, and spend needed evenings constructing our robot at the cabinet shop of one of our alumni Dads, cutting out parts on his CNC milling machine. The students also work at home on parts of the projects. The flexibility and variety of projects seems to work nicely. We use AutoDesk Inventor software with our projects. This greatly enhances our ability to work on more advanced projects. It is also available for other instructors to use with their classes. We have added C++, Microsoft Project, Mathmatica, Dream Weaver, and other programs to enhance our work in BEST and FIRST. In the summer of 2006, eleven of the LINKS team members went on a cross country tour of the NASA Aeronautics Centers, as represented in the NASA Aerospace Education Laboratory, AEL. We used the funds we had raised, and NASA contributed $10,000 to

make the trip possible. The only requirement for participation was participation in at least one Science Night Out. We visited Scaled Composites, Dryden, Cal Tech, JPL, Ames, Glenn, Langley NASA Centers, and toured Congress in Washington D.C. The trip was a huge success, and we determined that this would be a model for a LINKS tradition.

During the summer of 2008, we visited the NASA Space Centers, including Johnson, Marshall and Kennedy Space Flight Centers, as well as behind the scenes at Disney World where we met the engineer who designs and builds all of the free-standing robots for all of the Disney properties. While at JSC, a former student and shuttle pilot, Eric Boe, treated the students to time in the actual training simulator. Eric was preparing for his upcoming STS 126 mission. His next mission was to pilot STS 133. Eric is very involved with my students, and participates in outreach activities whenever he comes home to visit in Atlanta. Our 2010 summer trip included a VIP visit to Kitty Hawk, NC to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial. We then drove to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for a personalized tour of their Environmental Studies labs where we met several scientists and engineers who shared their work experience and encouragement with the students. Our trip continued to Harvard in Boston where we met with one of my former students who was pursuing a PhD in Planetary Geology. We also met a former student at MIT who was finishing his Master’s in Aeronautical Engineering, before going to work at Boeing on unmanned rotary vehicles. While in the Boston area, we visited Terrafugia, where we met the engineer who designed this roadable aircraft. He talked to the students about starting a business, and the importance of a sound business plan to back up a good idea. For 2012, it is my hope to visit the Oak Ridge National Laboratories through Oak Ridge Associated Universities. I would like to charter a private plane to enhance the experience and to expose the students to the private side of aviation. Through connections with some of our mentors and GTRI, we hope to visit labs and meet with scientists and engineers to get a perspective on some of the details of their work. We would like to also tour some of the historical facilities so that the students can have a better understanding of the genius and national effort that enabled us to develop our nuclear resources. During the summer of 2011, we became a partner with Georgia Tech in a DARPA MENTOR grant. This is a four-year development that involves engineering challenges and incorporated tools that are used by professional engineers. Among those are working in a cloud environment with other students from other countries or states, and utilizing Dessault Systemes software, including CATIA, DELMIA, SIMULIA and ENOVIA. We will be the pilot group for testing the project before expanding to as many as one thousand schools worldwide.

Through LINKS students are given opportunities to expand their applications of science, engineering and math. Through Science Nights Out, these students in turn, reach out to younger students to share their passion for STEM classes. Many of the students have studied science and engineering as a result of their participation in LINKS activities, and especially the trips where they interfaced with working scientists and engineers at NASA. Over the years, our team has consisted of students from many DeKalb County high schools including Lakeside, Chamblee, DeKalb School of the Arts, Columbia, Druid Hills, University of Miami Online High School, Parkview, Martin Luther King, Jr, Miller Grove, Arabia Mountain, Decatur, Lovejoy, North Atlanta, Paideia School, St. Pius X, Marist, and Woodward Academy, as well as several home schooled students. The students are ninth through twelfth graders and include boys and girls, as well as ethnic diversity. All eight of the first graduates attended Georgia Tech Engineering programs. Others attend Georgia Southern, Yale, MIT, Cal Tech, FAMU, Tennessee Tech and the University of Georgia Honors Program. Several of the students have been selected for impressive internship positions. One is currently working for Ariva in Paris, France on a paid, six month internship. Another worked at Georgia Tech Research Institute as an undergraduate, and was placed in charge of all the interns working on the project. The students often credit their experiences in LINKS for contributing to their successes in college. The parents of these students are great supporters of Fernbank Science Center and those whose children have graduated continue to support the program. For more information contact Dr. Deborah Huffman, 678-874-7102, or You might also visit our current website, developed for the 2011 BEST Robotics competition:

History of LINKS  

This document is the History of the LINKS Robotics Team.

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