When we started Stem Club last year one of the things we really wanted to incorporate into the program was some industry visits, so that everyone could see how what we were learning was being utilised in the ‘real’ world.
I made some enquiries during Term One and through some amazing generosity managed to organise a fantastic trip for the first week of the school holidays. The destination was the Robinson Research Institue, a branch of Victoria University (http://www.victoria.ac.nz/robinson) as well as a small section of Callaghan Innovation (www.callaghaninnovation.govt.nz). Both these organisations are based in Seaview, near Petone.
Because it was during the school holidays there were a few kids that couldn’t make it, but we still had a healthy 32 people (both kids and big kids). Rod Badcock, a stem club parent (from Robinson Institute) and Frederic Lecarpentier (Callaghan Innovation) had arranged an awesome program that had us visiting labs for over 2 hours!
We started in the cafe with a safety briefing before being split up into 4 groups to move around the Robinson Institute facilities. Our group started with Joseph Bailey who discussed his work designing a machine to scan large pipes and determine their condition without having to remove any protective wrapping.
Then we moved through to another area where PhD student Max Fisser showed us his work with fibre-optics, cool programmable analysis equipment, super-conductors and liquid nitrogen!
Rod was at Stem Club with his son Matiu when we did our session on Electromagnetism earlier in the term, so he also took a moment to extend on that session and demonstrate what happens when you drop a magnet through a tube of copper or aluminium. What does happen? Well, not what you would expect - try it!
Anyway, back to the super-conductors and liquid nitrogen. Here we have a picture of a magnet levitating on top of a super-conductive material cooled to approximately minus 180 degrees. Minds officially blown!
In our group many of the questions after this point revolved around what would happen if you put whatever we were talking about into liquid nitrogen. There was also talk of what would then happen if you put it into a volcano. Great joy was had when the reply indicated that either one (or both) would result in an explosion.
But the awesome just kept on coming. Our next stop was learning about the smaller of the companies two ESM’s - Electron Scanning Microscopes. The operator Sarah Spencer showed us how they worked, what scale they could zoom into, how to prepare a sample and of course what sort of images you get as a result. She loaded up a small flower and before we knew it there was a grain of pollen filling the screen in beautiful ultra-magnified detail.
Next stop was two labs that used giant electromagnets for very different duties. The first with Stuart Wimbush was to test the performance and calibrate lengths of super-conducting wire…
… and the second was a mini MRI machine which Ben Parkinson was using to research how advances in super-conductor technology could be utilised to make these incredibly useful machines smaller and more accessible.
With that leg of the tour over we headed back to the cafe (for a hot chocolate) before Fred from Callaghan Innovation took us to his area of work.
The first stop there were huge exotic material 3D printers. Giant machines that could work with not just plastic but metals as well, including Titanium! We got to see and touch samples of the different things that can be made with these incredible tools.
Fred also took us through to the Metals & Ceramics lab in the Advanced Materials Group - his area of speciality. In there we saw huge ovens that were used to bake materials to improve their performance.
Finally it was back to the cafe and a huge round of thank you’s (and more hot chocolate). By that stage it was almost the end of the day so we said our goodbyes and headed home. It had been a truely inspirational experience for me as I’m sure it was for everyone that attended. All the people I’ve spoken to since have commented on how fortunate we were to be able to get access to these great facilities and how generous everyone was with their time and knowledge.
Thank you everyone! See you all next term.