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National Geographic Engineering Exploration Challenge

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The launch of the National Geographic Engineering Exploration Challenge had my sons creative gears spinning. He loves to explore and learn new things. This engineering challenge is perfect for him and he is so excited to participate in it. Engineering has recently become one of his main focuses. He has been learning about electronics in school and he has been learning a lot of stuff on his own with an electronics set he received for Christmas.

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The love of learning started very young for him. He has always been enamored with the way things worked or how things were put together. This exploration challenge is a great way for him and his brother to explore new and exciting challenges together, all while learning in the process. I think this is a win-win situation all around.

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From now until May 1, 2014 (today), Children between the ages of 6-18 have been invited to develop and submit solutions to any of the 3 challenges set forth by National Geographic. Challenge #1 is Animal Proofing – Children must construct a camera that can survive and withstand an attack from an animal. Challenge #2 is Eye in the sky – Make and design a system to raise and lower a camera at least 10 feet into the air and back down to the ground safely. Challenge #3 is wearable power. This is the challenge my children have selected. They will be making and testing a wearable way to generate 1 watt of electricity without the use of batteries or electrical outlets. They need to test this out by lighting up a 1 watt lightbulb.

3d Rendering of casing

Here is a walkthrough on how we started the Challenge.

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Day 1: The boys started brainstorming ideas. First they needed to find what ways electricity could be made. They searched National Geographic’s webpage and other websites to find many different ways to make power. They were quick to rule out water, wind and nuclear power. They felt confident in solar power and magnetic energy. They decided to go with Magnetic energy after finding some videos on how to make simple magnetic generators. I will admit by this point in the process I was feeling like I was in over my head. I am great with projects, but electricity had me a little worried, so I enlisted the help of a very good friend who happens to be an Engineer by trade. I knew he could help the boy’s in ways I could not and I knew he would be able to teach them a lot of stuff in the process. This was going to be a wonderful experience for us all, just as National Geographic intended it to be.

Day 2: The boy’s were very eager to get started on more technical aspects of the challenge, so with the help of our friend, they got to work. They viewed more videos of other peoples magnetic generators. They took notes of the parts they thought were needed and then they were directed to a website with millions of parts that engineers around the world use to complete their projects. Things started to get very interesting for the boys. They were able to type in the parts they thought they needed and all sorts of stuff popped up for them to choose from. The boys had a crash course on how to get the correct wattage needed for the lightbulb. (multiplying Amps x Volts) and they learned how to measure pieces and match them up for the correct size pieces they would need to complete their project. Finally all the pieces were selected and put into the shopping cart ready for order. We ordered the pieces and were left to wait until they were delivered to us. The excitement from my children was intense. They were very proud of all they had accomplished and I was very proud of them for working together and being such great students. They even got to draw out a sketch of what they wanted the housing to look like for their generator and had it made by a 3D printing machine. This was done with the help of our friend and the boys thought it was the best thing ever.

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Day 3: The parts have arrived! The boy’s placed all their parts out to make sure nothing is missing. With some help the generator was put together. Sterling was adding the final touch which is coiling the wire around the outside of the generator. He then stripped off some of the wire and started to connect the wires to the lightbulb socket. The time had come to start cranking to see if it worked. Sterling cranked fast, then tried faster and nothing happened. Us adults tried next and nothing happened. We all checked the connections and they were tight, but this bad boy did not generate enough power to light up the 1 watt lightbulb. The boys were a little discouraged to say the least, but we reminded them that in the National Geographic video it stated to not be worried if your project runs into a few bumps. That is part of the process and you will work through it to solve the problem, so they brainstormed on why they thought it did not work. Sterling thinks it is because there is not enough wire coiled around the plastic housing. He knows it was getting some sort of energy in it because the wires were heating up. I thought that was a very good observation coming from a 9 year old. We decided that we would call it a night and brainstorm some more to try and find a solution and start the following day with a longer piece of wire coiled around the generator.

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Days 4-7: If at first you don’t succeed,Try, Try again! This was our motto for the past few days, but sadly it did not help us one bit. My kids and our friend spent hours on end trying to get the magnetic generator to work. They got longer wire and stronger magnets and still they were not getting enough power to light up the 1 watt lightbulb. At this point even a room full of Engineers could not figure out the problem as to why it was not working. They gave it a go and tried to work on it a bit more. They hooked it up to a drill to spin it at a super RPM speed and still, not the amount of electricity we needed. By now my kids were feeling really defeated, but they knew they gave it their all. We decided just to attach the generator to a belt with pipe cleaners and be done with the project. We learned one giant life lesson. Sometimes even thought you tried your hardest, things do not always work out. It does not mean you were a failure, it just means you are still learning. My kids are not ready to give up just yet, but the time has come for the project deadline, so as National Geographic stated, even if your project does not work, you can still submit it and who knows maybe their project will be picked and someone at National Geographic can help figure out the problem.

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We had a lot of fun and plenty of hours learning and bonding together. Thank you National Geographic for putting on such wonderful challenges and giving my kids a chance to learn new and exciting things. We look forward to competing in another of your challenges.

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My kids decided they still really want to make a working magnetic generator and our friend was very excited to show them the plans for a working model that he found. He is now 3D printing out the parts and they will be able to make it and share it at a later time. It is way more involved with different gears and parts which I know will be really fun to create.

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Dawn Maltin is a Loving wife and devoted stay at home mom to three amazing little boys. Her philosophy is family first and everything else second. She is a self proclaimed craft-a-holic. When she is not knee deep in family adventures you can find her making,baking and crafting just about any and everything. If she does not know how to make something, you can be sure she will learn and master it before too long. She also has a love for fine dining,travel and reading.
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