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Carderock Division hosts SeaGlide workshop for educators

By Megan Garcia, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | July 26, 2016

WEST BETHESDA, Md. —

Sixteen people from around the U.S. attended Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s (NSWCCD) SeaGlide summer workshop geared toward educators, scientists and engineers, which took place in West Bethesda, Maryland, July 18-22.

A SeaGlide, or small-scale underwater glider, is a non-tethered, autonomous robot that has no propeller and uses very little energy. It helps collect data through sensors, which helps scientists better understand and model the ocean. Although composed of many elements, the SeaGlide’s most important components consist of a microcontroller, or microcomputer, that runs off of programmed coding sequences that runs the buoyancy engine; the buoyancy engine, which controls the depth and angle of the glider; and the body, which encases the engine, the microcontroller, additional electrical components, and has plastic, custom wings and a fin attached to it.

During the workshop, participants learned how to use coding to program their microcontrollers; build buoyancy engines while also learning how to balance the forces of buoyancy and gravity; put their glider bodies together using plastic water bottles, custom components made in NSWCCD’s Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education (MAKE) Lab; and basic electronic skills.

Erica Moulten, who founded the Center for Open Exploration in St. Petersburg, Florida, said she followed the SeaGlide program at NSWCCD for three years and had tried her luck at building her own SeaGlide before coming to the workshop to perfect her skills.

“It’s been great,” Moulten said. “I really enjoyed all the building components. I haven’t had as much experience with programming and coding, so it was a learning curb.

Len Fischer, a middle school teacher from Coconut Creek, Florida, said he was motivated to attend the workshop because he hopes to start an engineering program at his school that will allow students to receive high school credits while also helping them to understand the application of science in how things work.

 “I think this is awesome,” Fischer said. “I do a lot of hands on but not the actual building of circuits, so to be able to do this is a one up for me.”

Participants of the workshop also visited various labs and facilities on the base, but none were as important as the MAKE Lab, which Carderock Division engineer (Code 863) Michael Britt-Crane said is mostly directed to the SeaGlide mission.

Britt-Crane, one of the facilitators of the workshop, uses 3-D printing machines in the lab to conduct small-scale manufacturing of the custom parts for the SeaGlide. He said it helps cut cost and brings the production time down.

“We actually get a lot of good feedback from our participants about the lab,” Britt-Crane said. “It’s stuff they can use because they can actually go back to where they came from and get a 3-D printer and use it.” 

Toward the end of the workshop, the participants were able to test the structure and build of their gliders, putting into practice the things they learned and making adjustments as needed.

“I wanted to improve my fin design,” said Fischer, who realized his design wasn’t allowing his glider to stay straight. “It’s definitely going to the right a little.”

Nonetheless, Fischer said it was his first time doing something like that, and he was excited and proud of the opportunity to see his work put into action.

Moulten, who won a race among four gliders, said she used the concept of biomimicry to perfect the wings on her glider.

“It’s basically using what you see in nature; using how sea animals move in the ocean,” Moulten said. “I basically made wings to match that of how a manatee’s fin helps it glide.”

Tyson Tuchscherer, a contractor in hydromechanics (Code 83), also serves as an education specialist with the SeaGlide program and was the originator of the SeaGlide model used at NSWCCD. He came up with the idea after attending the 2010 National Science Teachers Association Conference in Philadelphia and hearing the story of and seeing the glider that successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Tuchscherer said overall, what he would like is for everyone who attended the workshop to take what they learned and incorporate it into STEM programs in their schools or communities.

“What we are hoping is that we can train the trainers, and they can help get others interested in STEM programs to maybe even work for the Navy or the Department of Defense,” Tuchscherer said. “If we have more technically educated people, the world may be a better place.”

Elizabeth McGlothen, a rising junior at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is one person who is definitely going to take what she learned back to her school. McGlothen, who works in the computer science department of her university, is hoping to teach her co-workers about the glider and go into middle schools with them to teach the students.

“The workshop helps us to learn how to do interactive training that students can learn from,” McGlothen said. “We’re learning how to make a connection.”