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Kids Explore, Invent and Experiment at DesignCamp

Summer Program Attracts Nearly 550

Fifteen-year-old Maggie Prentice, left, and Lauren Tice of Concord work on their projects at DesignCamp’s “Electronic Fashion and Bling” workshop.

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Robots, animatronic creatures, helium airships, remote-controlled submarines and interactive, virtual-reality worlds. These are just some of the hands-on projects that nearly 550 middle and high school students from more than 50 towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and other states were engaged in at this year’s DesignCamp, UMass Lowell’s innovative summer science and engineering enrichment program.

Offered each July since 2000 by the Francis College of Engineering’s Future Engineers Center, DesignCamp offers a wide range of project-based workshops for students in grades 5 to 11. This summer it conducted 16 workshops in four, weeklong sessions. The topics include electrical design and electronics; mechanical design; robotics and computer programming; aerodynamics and flight; energy, forces and motion; chemistry and biology; architecture and marine engineering. 

“It’s our biggest year ever,” says Douglas Prime, the Center’s executive director. “Last year we created a really exciting new workshop designed to attract more girls. It’s called ‘Electronic Fashion and Bling,’ and it’s intended to engage students in designing and creating wearable electronic clothing and other accessories that have embedded microcontrollers to control sensors, lights and voice recorders. Their projects include, for example, a backpack that talks when you open it, a hat that displays your mood with colored lights and a fortune-telling T-shirt that answers yes or no questions ߝ just like the old Magic 8 ball!”

For the past several summers, girls have comprised more than 33 percent of the camp’s enrollment, which represents a five-fold increase since its first year of operation. “This year we offered four girls-only sessions, which proved very popular,” she said. Another new feature at DesignCamp was “Interactive Worlds,” which encouraged boys and girls to use Game Maker software to learn basic video game design and create interactive, animated computer worlds and games.

Three years ago, the camp also launched DC High Tech, a series of advanced, two-week pre-engineering programs for its most talented campers, who demonstrate a serious interest in science and technology and would like to have a real-world engineering experience.

DC High Tech Product Design teaches students to use SolidWorks 3-D modeling software to design LED flashlights and composite baseball bats that they manufacture and test in the camp’s labs. For their final project, the students design and manufacture special switches in the machine shop, which are then assembled and delivered by the students to severely disabled youngsters at the Franciscan Hospital for Children’s Kennedy Day School in Brighton.

In the DC High Tech Electronics program, students learn how electronic components and integrated circuits work and use them to build mini projects like timer circuits, iPod audio amplifiers and motor-control circuits. They also design and manufacture assistive-technology products for physically disabled clients. In the process, students learn how to use CAD software to design their own printed circuit boards for their final projects and fabricate them using an acid-etching process.

DesignCamp is supported by Raytheon, the Noyce Foundation, Mark Gelfand and Barbara Goldman, Tyco Electronics, 3M Touch Systems, Millipore, and EMC Corp., as well as the Cabot Corp., Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, ISPE, and the UMass Lowell WISE program. And in June, Goodrich Corp.’s ISR Systems in Chelmsford signed a four-year, $100,000 commitment for the Future Engineers Center and DesignCamp.

“DesignCamp was once again a tremendous success,” says Prime. “Our hands-on, open-ended design process is very different from what students normally encounter in school.  The number one comment we hear over and over again from kids is, ‘I get to create and build my own ideas!’ Sparking interest in math and science at an early age is the key to encouraging students to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

For more information about DesignCamp, visit For more photos, visit UML's photo gallery.

- Edwin_Aguirre

Andrew Primeau, 11, of Lowell poses with his mechanical gizmo at the “Electric Jungle” workshop.
Eleven-year-old Jake Vieira, a sixth-grader at Wilmington Middle School, proudly shows off his mechanical creation.