Building robots is an art

By Ben C., ‘16

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Ben C.

Building robots, to me at least, is more of an art form than an engineering challenge. Analyzing the competitive robotics season from the outside looking in would make my opinion look ridiculous; indeed, the majority of the months spent preparing for competitions is devoted to solving each engineering challenge that stands between any given present and ready machine, and conversations about art in the Lab are generally limited to commenting on a class or are drowned out by the sounds of cutting metal. However, my many hours in assembling subsystems and staring at a laptop with an expression that could illustrate the dictionary’s entry on confusion, have provided enough evidence to back up my claim. Building robots is an art, and engineering, programming, testing, and tweaking are all simply points of a fluid process which never produces a truly finished machine.

My robotics team outside of school keeps a sign on the bulletin board which proclaims “DONE is a four-letter word!” It advertises a mentality that we ignored last year, the first one ever in which Moses Brown fielded a high school robotics team. In the first few weeks of the season, we dreamed up a design capable of doing everything there was to do on the field, said it was “Done,” then proceeded to spend months failing to animate our pile of aluminum and steel the way we imagined we could during those early days in September. We scored in the single digits every match, and broke vital gears every time we went out. The design might have been done, but our robot wasn’t.

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US robotics team members Lyle T. ’18 and Isaac B. ’18.

This year we promised to be more fluid, more flexible with our designs even as we cut them into rigid metal. We spent our first weeks carefully probing the game manual for any loopholes, treading the line between simplicity and effectiveness with utmost care. We focused on small steps each dependent on the previous ones, we prioritized, and we came up with a novel strategy. We weren’t tied to any ideas, and we celebrated every small victory. Above all, we worked.

And the robot has worked. At our first competition this year, we put up the highest score of the qualification rounds, then cruised through the elimination rounds without losing a bout. After the last match of the day, when all of the motors came to rest, the robots stopped buzzing, and the score was tallied, Team 1784A had qualified for the Southern New England Championships, set another high score of the day, and was officially the first Moses Brown robotics team to win a tournament. The best part is, the robot isn’t even done yet. Here’s to more tournaments with the Quakers on top, more work to be done, and an unending resistance to that four letter word.

Achieving goals

This past December, MB senior Luis H. ’16, was one of three Rhode Islanders named as an All-New England selection. This was the first time in MB history that a student was named as an NSCAA All-New England player. Luis was also named Division II Player of the Year. Here he reflects upon his time playing soccer at MB.

Project GOAL opened my eyes to private school, and with the help of them and Moses Brown alum David Ortiz ’97, I applied to MB and nothing has been the same. It has been the best five years of my life, and I am so glad to have made that decision. Project GOAL helped me whenever I needed tutors and they were always there to support me and guide me throughout the way.

DSC_1407I also think that Coach Aaronian and Coach Rich really helped me out a lot – they’ve prepared me since freshman year to be the goalie I was this year, and they were very positive before every game which gave me the confidence to play well. One of the unsung heroes this season would have to be Karim Sow, although he didn’t coach this year. He was one of my first teachers at MB and one of the first people I actually bonded with. Throughout the first three years of high school, Karim was always there to talk to me. He would also stay after practice my freshman year and shoot on me (even with that bad knee of his). If it wasn’t for him always being there, and his jokes, I don’t think I would’ve integrated myself as well into the team as I did.

Playing with MB was the best soccer experience I have ever had in my life (and I’ve played soccer for 10 years now). The team really becomes your family and it’s nice knowing that everyone has your back after a mistake, and you have theirs. My favorite memory was after we lost the state final and Rio H. ’18 came up to me and gave me a hug after the ball had gone over my head. I think it really symbolizes how close the team was, and to me that is the most important part of a team, having each other’s back. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to accomplish what I did without the rest of the team. I did post a lot of shutouts, and had few goals against, but it was only because our team played great, and I think that all started because of the great friendships and chemistry that we established.

Luis’ teammates were also recognized with the Sportsmanship Award for the 6th consecutive year, as well as Head Coach Eric Aaronian being named twice as Coach of the Year. Congratulations all around to the Boys’ Varsity Soccer Team!

The bottom of the periodic table of elements isn’t ragged any more

By Jeff Cruzan, US math instructor

We still don’t know all there is to know about chemistry, and we were reminded of that in early January as the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) confirmed that the last four new elements of the seventh row of the periodic table had been discovered (well, created, really).

On this momentous occasion, I’m reminded of a story I often share with my students: When I was finishing graduate school at U.C. Berkeley, I had the good luck to be in the right place at the right time and serve as the science and technical advisor for Disney’s remake of the movie Flubber, starring Robin Williams. I worked with the film crew, producers and actors for about four months on Treasure Island in San Francisco. In the long intervals between scenes in which Williams mimed working with the metastable plasticky goo (added later through the magic of computer graphics), I wrote parts of my Ph.D. thesis.

My job was to build laboratory sets, make things bubble and spew, and advise Mr. Williams and the director, Les Mayfield, on how the script might sound more like authentic science, complete fantasy though it was. When my students watch the film, they recognize my handwriting on the many blackboards filled with science-y scrawl.

One gag in the film was that the professor (Williams) decides that the way to control the

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From Disney’s “Flubber” remake.

highly unstable Flubber, to turn it into useful energy (to make a flying car!), is by exposing it to gamma rays from a radioactive isotope. I was asked which radioactive element to use (well, fake use), and that gave me an idea.

I told the art director about Professor Glenn Seaborg, discoverer of ten elements heavier than uranium, including plutonium. Professor Seaborg was then 85, and had won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work. The scientific community – this was 1996 – was having a row with the IUPAC because there was strong sentiment to name element 106, the last of Seaborg’s discoveries “Seaborgium (Sg),” but the governing body said they couldn’t do it because an element had never been named after a living person.

It seemed pretty clear at the time that the community of chemists and physicists, an independent-minded lot who wanted to honor Seaborg while he was alive, would eventually win, and by the time we were filming Flubber, there seemed to be a lot of momentum toward that. So I proposed to the film crew that we call our isotope Seaborgium and give it the symbol Sg. What’s wrong with a little harmless science fiction? The art department made stickers and to this day you can watch the movie and see the professor uncover a glowing green isotope labeled “Sg [106]” for Seaborgium, element number 106.

But that’s not the cool part. Before we went ahead with the project, we felt that Professor Seaborg should have a say in the matter, so I went up the hill to the Lawrence Berkeley Lab to chat with him. He thought it was a great idea and he loved that it was Disney’s project. He’d actually worked personally with Walt Disney as a science advisor on the animated educational cartoon, “Our Friend the Atom” in 1956. We decided to invite him to the set for a visit, and we set a date.

Leading up to his visit, actors (Williams would win an Oscar for Good Will Hunting the following year, and costar Marcia Gay Harden would later win one for Pollack), producers, directors and crew members flooded me with questions about ‘the scientist.’ “What’s he like?” “Is he intimidating?” “He really won the Nobel Prize?” The Hollywood crowd was starstruck with the Professor, and none more than Robin Williams, a big fan of science who once told me he wanted to play Einstein in a film some day.

We sent a car and brought Professor Seaborg and his assistant to the set on Treasure Island. He recognized the giant buildings as part of the 1939 World’s fair, and for about an hour, with a crowd amassed around him on a giant soundstage and on catwalks above him, he regaled us with stories about having been science advisor to three presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon), having worked with Disney, and how he won the Nobel. It was one of those magical times that just won’t ever be reproduced, and I’m grateful to have witnessed it and to have met Seaborg.

Seaborg passed away in 1999, but I think he’d be applauding the completion of the last row of the periodic table as a great accomplishment in science.

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Periodic table signed by Professor Seaborg.

What’s next for the periodic table? These big elements have to be made in something called a cyclotron, and after they’re made, they don’t last too long before the competition between the attractive forces that hold the nuclei together and the repulsive forces that try to push them apart become imbalanced and the atoms fall apart into smaller ones. Sometimes that happens in just a few thousandths of a second. But some theories (Seaborg was one proponent) suggest that as we go bigger, there might just be “islands of stability” where we create new elements that are much more stable and last longer. Very Star Trekky. Dilithium crystals, anyone?

So to our students I say, and I think the Professor would agree, we don’t know nearly all there is to know about science, and that’s the exciting part. Get out there and discover!

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Jeff Cruzan

Student diversity conference an eye-opener for students (and parents too)

By Heidi Gilkenson, MB parent

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MB students and faculty attending the SDLC 2015 in Tampa.

Imagine giving your child a stress free weekend, a time full of rich meaningful conversations, connecting with other kids who look like them and have similar lifelong experiences. Giving them a few days to have fun. Sending them someplace where they can play games, learn new skills, laugh a lot and cry sometimes, and realize that they have just stepped through a door to a world that they have never opened before and it feels like home. For those of you who can’t relate to that, but do wear glasses, remember when you put on a pair of glasses for the first time. I don’t know about you, but for me my first reaction to being able to see life clearly was, “WOW! I had no idea.” This is what the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) has been for my children.

SDLC is an annual conference for junior and high school students which takes place throughout the country. This years took place in Tampa, Florida. For our family, we all attend in some way or another. Whether it’s driving Moses Brown’s contingent of 6 students and 2 faculty chaperons to the airport, or receiving a string of text messages describing how the flight was and where they are staying, to receiving several photos of the meals that they are eating. Getting a quick phone call relaying a heart-tugging story shared in an affinity group is not unheard of, as well as more excited texts about great performances presented by students, and descriptions of new friends they’ve made. Picking up an excited yet exhausted teen at 9:30 p.m. from the airport is always enlightening. The summary of the weekend begins in the car and winds down a little after 11:00 p.m., only to begin again the next day and continue in drips and drabs throughout the next two weeks. One year our family was treated to reliving part of SDLC when we hosted three young gentlemen from Boston who had befriended our daughter at the Maryland conference. These young men were part of a Facebook group that a bunch of the SDLC kids had formed. It was a great couple of days where we were treated to so many stories recapping their SDLC experiences. Witnessing the ease in which the kids interacted with each other, and seeing the trust that they shared, was so eye-opening for my husband and I.

SDLC is rich, it’s full, it’s encouraging, it’s fun, it digs down deep to the heart of who you are by helping you define you. It instills confidence and certainty and anchors the kids that attend. It offers them a lifeline that they’ve never experienced and never knew was there. It’s freeing and affirming and it bonds the kids to other kids that have attended, as well as to those that they have traveled there with. As corny as this may sound, it’s life changing. Even though it happens just once a year, the experience lasts forever for the kids who are lucky enough to go.

Understanding the business of food through summer camp

By Temitayo M. ’17

Chez innovation was a wonderful experience. As I arrived at the camp, I TT_webcropdidn’t know many people, but as time went on I bonded with each and every one of the people at this camp. I still keep in touch with some of the people that I met. The camp started with some ice breaking activities. We went down to the park and played games where we really get to know each other. Each day after that we would take a trip to a site where we would learn about the food industry. We visited a meat production plant, a farm, Federal Hill, and also the house of someone who sells clams.

I really enjoyed the trip to Federal Hill because I had recently been to Italy and thought that they did a very good job of making it feel like it was a piece of Italy. The colorful buildings and the general flow of that area reminded me of that country. I also enjoyed tasting the different olive oils with bread. While we had fun in these areas we also learned quite a bit. Using Federal Hill again as an example, we went into the butcher shop to witness and learn about how they raise, and cook the chickens they sell. We also received a tour from who took us into each shop to show us the details of how their store receives income and also about what they sell.

We also went to the meat production plant. Coming into this place I did TT_webcrop2not like the smell, and unlike others I didn’t get use to it, but I learned a lot about the meat. I learned that mold on the meat is a really good sign. It shows the rich age of the meat and also adds flavor. I also learned that it takes a long time for this meat to be cut and sold. Meat stays on the shelves in that factory for months.

Most of all I enjoyed the business element of this camp. After a few days went by, we began to take classes about how to start up our own company and the challenges that come with that. We learned that to run a company there needs to be key partners, resources, and activities, as well as a cost structure, customer relationships, customer segments, value propositions, and channels.

I am so thankful to have been a part of this experience it is one I will never forget. Every time I go over to that corner near India Point Park and Wickenden street, I think of the fun times I spent in that camp.