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Toolbox for polymer composite materials in high schools: 1-2-3 launch!

Miss Delphine Depuydt | KU Leuven Department of Materials Engineering

Toolbox for polymer composite materials in high schools: 1-2-3 launch!

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Students in high schools have limited knowledge on materials. Few material categories are discussed in the class, resulting in little knowledge about deepening topics like the difference between thermoset and thermoplastic. With the increasing attention to STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics), KU Leuven accepted the challenge to increase the scientific awareness of pre-college students. The initiative called InnovationLab, provides toolboxes enabling high schools to efficiently run different STEM projects in the school. Beyond the toolboxes itself, InnovationLab also trains the teachers to transfer the knowledge to their pupils in their classroom. These training days take place at the university, and are taught by researchers in the field.

The Composite Materials Group from the Department of Materials Engineering of KU Leuven created one of InnovationLab's projects, which learns students the basics of polymer composites in one afternoon. The main questions are: "which material do you need to produce a catapult lever in order to launch a ping-pong ball as far as possible?" Do you choose a stiff or flexible material? What about the stored energy? Can you predict how far the ball will fly? The students discover different fibres and polymers, while performing tensile and bending tests on simplified setups. After that they produce a composite themselves which is compared to several other composite materials in order to learn about their unique properties. They need to apply their knowledge on chemistry, physics and mathematics in order to solve the questions throughout the workshop. They learn why nothing sticks to Teflon, how they can predict the traveled distance of their ball, and more about precision and accuracy. The project was launched in 2015 and has reached 100 teachers so far, bringing knowledge and fun to thousands of students.