Stephen Coyne was a 2012 Broadcom MASTERS nominee, and one of 12 finalists selected to participate in Marvel’s Iron Man 3 Inventor and Innovator Fair. Students had the opportunity to attend the Iron Man 3 premiere, meet Robert Downey, Jr., and have their projects displayed at the El Capitan Theater. Broadcom MASTERS is a national STEM competition for 6th-8th grade students. Nominees to the 2013 Broadcom MASTERS must complete their application by June 17, 2013.
I have always loved thinking of and inventing new things, and have always been fascinated by robotics. That said, it was only natural that I would end up saving for and buying a MindStorms NXT Robotics kit when I was nine. Not to sound overdramatic, but that was when I found that robotics really was what I loved: building a machine, programming it to ‘give it life,’ and then seeing if it worked (and, if it didn’t work, which was often the case at first, figuring out what was wrong and fixing it). In the past few years, I have become more interested in the idea of integrating robotics into the human body, either as attachments or as replacements for missing or poorly functioning body parts. My project that took me to the Iron Man 3 Inventor and Innovator Fair was a working prototype for a prosthetic hand that I designed and built largely from MindStorms NXT components.
My advice for young students interested in science is that science can take you down numerous, almost uncountable different paths, from aerospace engineering to zoology, so if you look, you are likely to find something that you really like. After finding what you really like, become an expert in that field, and find ways to explore it in your community. And for the students interested in applying to the Broadcom MASTERS program, I say use your knowledge to invent or innovate something that will help people, because our world really, at this point, runs on new ideas. The Iron Man 3 Inventor and Innovator Fair introduced me to the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges. From making solar energy economical to engineering the tools of scientific discovery, these fourteen challenges are a great place to look for inspiration.
The Iron Man 3 Inventor and Innovator Fair was an incredible science and engineering fair put together by Disney, the Discovery Science Center, the Broadcom Foundation, and Marvel Studios with additional sponsorship from Visa Signature. From the approximately 3,000 Broadcom MASTERS [finalists, semifinalists, and nominees] invited to participate, almost 300 applied and 30 were chosen as semi-finalists. The 30 semi-finalists were interviewed over Skype; I was honored to be interviewed by a NASA engineer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Education Manager at the Discovery Science Center. After the interviews, twelve lucky people became finalists, and we were invited to California for five days! In California, we met our Disney hosts and fellow finalists, and bonded almost immediately. We had the final judging for the fair, and then did quite a lot fun things, including trips to Broadcom Corporation, the Discovery Science Center, Disney Imagineering Studios, and Disneyland. Day 4 was when we all participated in the Iron Man 3 Inventor and Innovator Award Ceremony at the historic El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, where we met Robert Downey, Jr. and Arjun Dhawan, Cassie Drury, Anin Sayana, and Megan Swintosky were announced as the Grand Prize Winners.
Participating in this experience reminded me how many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities are out there if you seek them out. I most certainly hope I continue working in the field of robotics, including DIY circuitry and different programming languages. I really would like to continue my current research, as the fields of robotics and prosthetics are rapidly expanding and work is no longer restricted to university and corporate labs with things like relatively affordable 3-D printing and open-source sharing of ideas available. One of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges is to enhance virtual reality. Advanced robotic prosthetics can be a great way to recreate reality for people suffering from illness or injury. We have made so many advancements in the last two years–just imagine what we could accomplish in another two!
And yes, I really do hope to eventually have a career in a STEM field; perhaps changing tracks and becoming a NASA Engineer working on robotic solutions to challenges of space exploration, or becoming a Disney Imagineer. I’d be perfectly happy as either; NASA engineers get to build robots to explore the outermost reaches of our cosmos, and Imagineers get to build spectacular shows and attractions for the public to enjoy. Either way, I would be of use to society, and have the opportunity to keep designing and building robotic solutions to interesting and important challenges.