ASCE Civil Engineering Club Inspires San Jose Students’ Imaginations

September 1, 2016
Students in the ASCE Civil Engineering Club at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley School build a structure out of popsicle sticks.
Students in the ASCE Civil Engineering Club at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley School build a structure out of popsicle sticks.

Amin Ghafooripour has taught undergrads. He’s taught post-grads.

No students inspire him, though, quite like these pre-grads.

Ghafooripour, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, leads the ASCE Civil Engineering Club at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley School in San Jose, CA, where the middle- and high-school-aged students continually surprise him.

“These kids don’t have any limits on their minds; there are no boundaries for their imaginations,” Ghafooripour said. “They can do everything. Sometimes they come up with ideas, and I say, ‘Oh, I never even thought of this.’”

0901 CE Club SidebarGhafooripour developed what he called a master plan for the CE Club and designed a curriculum for the engineering courses at BISV. It’s an interdisciplinary program that combines civil engineering concepts with active-control technology using computer programming and robotic systems that the students work through over the course of several years.

ASCE CE Clubs are places for high school students to meet engineer mentors and explore civil engineering through activities, lessons, and field trips. The number of CE Clubs in the United States this school year has nearly doubled since just last year.

The BISV club built a shake table last school year using the VEX and Lego Mindstorms robotic systems. Some students made structures of Popsicle sticks to test, while others used 3-D printers to build a multistory model of the structure.

The club then programmed the table’s active-control system – Ghafooripour calls it the Brain; the students call it the Brick – to reflect real-life, historic earthquakes. They use various robotic sensors to measure the vibrations and control the drift dynamic behavior of the structure, using a tuned mass damping system and a semi-viscous damper.

The ASCE CE Club at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley School in San Jose, CA, learned civil engineering concepts through robotics.

The ASCE CE Club at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley School in San Jose, CA, learned civil engineering concepts through robotics.

“I asked them to program the Brain with the El Centro earthquake data,” Ghafooripour said. “And they did it. We just scaled it 100 times smaller. It’s unbelievable, actually.”

The group debuted its project at the Bay Area Maker Faire last spring. This school year, the students will continue their work, with an emphasis on the resilient civil engineering of the future – specifically, robo-healing structures.

“They really love it,” Ghafooripour said. “It’s really a launch pad for ideas.”

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