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Students learn about technology by creating it

By From the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune

By Sarah Lundel

From bedroom security systems to search-and-rescue robots, local middle and high school students went high-tech this summer at the UMass Lowell Designcamp.

Tahera Doctor, 11, of Andover participated in the Electric Jungle part of the program, during which students got to create an animal and program it with realistic action.

"I built a firefly," said Tahera, who will be entering fifth grade. "Its eyes and tail lit up, and the wings would flap."

She said it was fun and educational.

"It was a really hands-on experience and we really got to learn a lot about engineering," she said.

The camp, attended by dozens of Merrimack Valley youths, gives students in grades five to 11 a chance to take on a fun project and interact with scientists and engineers. The camp was started in July 2000 with just one or two classes of kids building rudimentary technological devices. Since then the camp has grown: It now has four sessions of five days each throughout the summer.

"We had 465 kids out of 480 openings," said Deb Finch, assistant director of the camp. Many of the students who attended the camp had been there in past years.

This summer the camp ran a variety of different programs, such as Sea Mobiles, Robo Alley, Digital FX, Tech Creation, Flight School 2 and Electric Jungle, among others.

In Architect's Studio, students designed their dream house, then created a foam-core scale model of it.

In Game Makers, students learned to design and make their own 2D computer games that they could take home with them.

Katherine Knowles, 14, of Andover made a video game.

"We used software that made it easier," Katherine said.

It was Katherine's second summer at Design Camp. Last summer she attended the Architect's Studio program. She plans to return to the camp next summer if she can get into a higher course.

Students also designed and built hot-air balloons and a PVC-pipe submarine, learned photography techniques and made an electric Frisbee, among other projects.

Crime Scene, the camp's newest program, taught students how forensic scientists solve crimes. They learned how to analyze many different pieces of evidence, from hair to blood, fingerprints to handwriting.

They used chemicals and microscopes to identify bone samples and conduct DNA fingerprinting.

"Then at the end they had to catch a criminal," Finch said.

Parents of the students observed their children having a great time at camp. Andover's Richard Binder, whose son, Nicholas, attended the camp, noted that the projects continue.

"He still has his stuff hanging around our house, working on it! He liked it very much."

Area students who took part in the Design Camp include:

* From Andover: Zoe Payne-Taylor, Joshua Jacobs, Daniel Kloss, Jason Mandelbaum, Nicholas Binder, Tahera Doctor, Samuel Khalandovsky, David Field, Katherine Knowles, Stephen O'Kelly, Peter Rouff, John Ruiz, Sameer Sangal, Erin O'Kelly, Sahana Simha, Jordan Brooks, David Stein, Molly VanDoren.

* From Haverhill: Meghan Garrity, Christian Garrity.

* From Lawrence: Jassmelyn DeLeon, Marissa Ard, Stephany Guzman, Krishel Castellanos, Adonis Familia, Jorge Quinones, Allison Turcotte.

* From Methuen: Hailey Brunette, Brendan Dagher, C.J. Swenson, Elizabeth Anne Hajjar.

* From North Andover: Nicholas Rogers, Amy Peterson, Thomas McCrill, Tyler McEachern, Benjamin Corman.

For more information, call 978-934-4690, or visit