You are here

Learning While Teaching

August 6, 2014

North­eastern stu­dents in Nutrons 125, the university’s student-​​led robotics engi­neering team, may be the archi­tects of the robots they build each year, but it’s not pos­sible without col­lab­o­rating with a score of tech savvy high school students.

Founded in 1998, Nutrons is part of FIRST, a world­wide robot com­pe­ti­tion in which teams not only design, build, and test robots, but also pro­mote sci­ence and tech­nology to younger stu­dents who might not have access to robot engi­neering and design opportunities.

For North­eastern stu­dents, the ben­e­fits to being a Nutron are many. They receive valu­able hands-​​on expe­ri­ence building these robots, skills they in turn can apply in the class­room, on co-​​op, or in the engi­neering lab. But they also serve as men­tors for their high school team­mates and nur­ture their interest in sci­ence, tech­nology, engi­neering, and math—known as the STEM fields.

“We try to have the high school stu­dents do as much they can,” explained team co-​​captain Christo­pher Hines, E’15.

The high school stu­dents, pri­marily from Revere High School, Brook­line High School, and Boston Latin High School, come up with the design plan for the robot, based on spec­i­fi­ca­tions laid out by FIRST. They also assist North­eastern stu­dents in building and oper­ating the robot.

“You spend the majority of the build season teaching others how to design and man­u­fac­ture the robot,” said co-​​captain Christo­pher Hep­burn, E’15. “Con­ve­niently, the rep­e­ti­tion of teaching others is a per­fect way to improve your own skills. I’ve seen a major improve­ment in my ability to develop designs, gen­erate computer-​​aided design draw­ings, and machine parts as a result of having to explain those con­cepts to younger students.”

Ear­lier this year, Nutrons received the Pine Tree Dis­trict Chairman’s Award, which rec­og­nizes a team for its com­mu­nity out­reach. “We try to do a lot with other teams and schools in the area that don’t have pro­grams like this,” Hines said. “That’s what it’s really all about.”

Nutrons’ season offi­cially starts in Jan­uary, when FIRST releases the instruc­tional video out­lining the spec­i­fi­ca­tions the robots must meet and the var­ious tasks they are expected to complete.

This year, the com­peti­tors were tasked with designed a robot that could throw a ball at a net, with teams scoring points based on where the ball landed. Teams had just six weeks to design and build the robot and, once the dead­line has been reached, could only work with the robot during competition.

“From the begin­ning of Jan­uary until Feb­ruary we are in the work­shop in Richards Hall basi­cally every day,” Hines said.

Nutron’s 2014 bot, named “Dark Matter”—which runs on 12-​​volt bat­teries, includes thou­sands of parts, and weighs about 120 pounds—fared well at a number of com­pe­ti­tions this year, win­ning the Rhode Island Dis­trict, North­eastern Dis­trict, and the Pine Tree Dis­trict events.

Nutrons also hosts an off­season com­pe­ti­tion at Matthews Arena called the Bean­town Blitz, a friendly com­pe­ti­tion offering high schools stu­dents from more than 20 teams another oppor­tu­nity to work with the robots.

Hines was part of FIRST in high school and chose to stay involved as a mentor when he enrolled at North­eastern. Now in his fifth year with the team, Hines said Nutrons allows him to explore robot engi­neering and design out­side of the classroom.

“I’ve always had that engi­neering men­tality to me,” Hines said.


View more here.