Bahl Research Group

Educational Outreach Efforts

The Bahl Research Group actively develops innovative hands-on learning activities on sensors and optics, targeted towards K-12 students. We involve our graduate and undergraduate students in these efforts. Some of our outreach venues include:
  • The University of Illinois Laboratory High School, Urbana, IL
  • Unit-4 Schools, Champaign, IL
  • Girls' Building Awesome Machines (G-BAM) at UIUC
  • Campus Middle School for Girls (CMS), Urbana, IL

Hands-on rapid prototyping with CAD and 3D printers

Jefferson Middle School, Nov 2015, Jan 2016

and Franklin Middle School, Feb 2016

We created a short 3-4 day activity for middle school students to teach them concepts behind engineering design, drafting, and prototyping. Students were asked to conceive their own design for a keychain fitting specific constraints on size and functionality. The design was first sketched on graph paper, after which the students created their design in 3D using Autodesk TinkerCAD. With the use of a 3D printer that the school has recently added to the classroom, their designs were 3D-printed and the students took them home. The activity allows students to experience the engineering design process from the problem they need to solve through to an actual prototype product.

Article on I-STEM blog
Article in MechSE Today

Participants: Christopher Peterson, Joseph Muskin, Tina Lehr (Jefferson Middle School), Heather Cameron (Franklin Middle School).
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE, National Science Foundation ECCS-1408539 and ECCS-1509391

Direct conversion of light to mechanical energy

G-BAM, June 2015

and Campus Middle School for Girls, Mar 2017

We designed an educational activity on "light-mills", simple machines that spontaneously undergo continuous rotational motion when exposed to a bright light source such as the sun (or a workers' lamp). The materials used for the light mills were are commonly found at home - plastic cups, garbage bags, paper clips, tape, and pins. Students were first guided with the construction and testing of a basic light mill design. Later, they were tasked with designing their own experimental light mills based on knowledge developed during the activity, to understand the role of dimension, inertia, friction, and exposed surface area. The activity was piloted at the MechSE summer camp 2015 Girls Building Awesome Machines (G-BAM) as part of the annual UIUC Girls' Adventures in Math Engineering and Science (GAMES) camp.

Download activity presentation

Participants: (GBAM 2015) Joanna Bober, Eric Currier, Indronil Ghosh, Gaurav Bahl, Joseph Muskin, Peter Du.
(CMS 2017) Anudeep Mangu, Inbar Grinberg, Indronil Ghosh, Gaurav Bahl.
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE, National Science Foundation ECCS-1408539

Opto-mechanical sensors in the classroom

G-BAM, July 2014

Using simple hardware store materials (metal strips, mirrors, speakers, laser levels) we designed and built kits for students to study the properties of resonant sensors through optical detection methods. The activity was first piloted with the MechSE group Girls Building Awesome Machines (G-BAM) as part of the annual UIUC Girls' Adventures in Math Engineering and Science (GAMES) camp. Students were engaged in multiple exercises on optomechanical sensing: testing the masses of small objects, understanding the role of material stiffness on resonator frequency, and optical sensitivity enhancements through optical path length engineering.

Brief article

Participants: Shengtai Shi, Gaurav Bahl, Joseph Muskin.
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE, National Science Foundation ECCS-1408539

Uni High, Sept 2014, Oct 2015

We modified the optomechanical sensors in the classroom activity by implementing fully magnetic kits where students could have complete independence on where and how to place their sensing cantilevers, speakers, mirrors, and laser components, to build the best sensor for mass. Students were able to demonstrate mass measurement resolution better than the mass of a single paperclip (0.3 grams)!

Download activity presentation
Article on I-STEM blog

Participants: Shengtai Shi, Donggyu Sohn, Gaurav Bahl, Sharlene Denos (Uni High), Joseph Muskin.
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE, National Science Foundation ECCS-1408539

Paper based mechanical sensors

G-BAM, July 2013

We have worked as part of the MechSE team at the UIUC GAMES Camp (G-BAM: Girls Building Awesome Machines) since its founding in 2013. In its first year we designed and ran an activity on "paper and cardboard accelerometers," giving students the independence to explore their own designs.

Article about G-BAM 2013

Participants: Gaurav Bahl, Joseph Muskin.
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE

Uni High, December 2013

The conductive graphite in pencils can be used to build strain sensitive devices when deposited on a flexible substrate such as paper. We developed activities where students would design and build their own weighing scales, pressure sensors, paper stretchers, while making their own decisions on the substrates and pencil types to employ.

Two activities were piloted at Uni High in Fall 2013. In the first, subfreshmen students built paper based accelerometers using common classroom materials. In the second activity, seniors were guided to develop weighing scales for measuring the masses of individual pennies.

Article on MechSE News Blog

Participants: Gaurav Bahl, Elizabeth Westfall, Joseph Muskin.
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE

Outreach to Champaign Unit-4 schools

Dr. Howard Elementary, Oct-Nov 2014

Graduate student Donggyu Benjamin Sohn engaged third grade students with engineering focused hands-on activities at Dr. Howard Elementary School in Champaign (over multiple weeks in October-November 2014) with teacher Ellen Elrick. The projects included paper rockets, popsicle catapults, and hot chocolate machines! His efforts were featured on the I-STEM website.

Dr. Howard Elementary School report card

Participants: Donggyu Sohn, Joseph Muskin, Ellen Elrick.
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE

Stratton Elementary School, Oct 2013

Undergraduate student Nathan Dostart worked with 4th graders at Stratton Elementary School in Champaign (for several weeks in October 2013), coordinating with teacher Zanne Newman. The engineering-focused activities engaged these students mining chocolate chips from cookies, and in designing launchers for cotton balls. His efforts were featured in the MechSE weekly news and on the I-STEM website.

Stratton Elementary School report card

Participants: Nathan Dostart, Joseph Muskin, Zanne Newman.
Sponsorship: UIUC MechSE