Finishing the SMARTER Summer


On Friday, August 14th, the twelve high school STEM teachers who participated in the SMARTER Research Experiences for Teachers program this summer in several NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering Mechatronics and Robotics labs, presented their projects to lab members and professors. The teams of teachers, all used to speaking in front of a room full of people, were naturally effective presenters and full of energy and enthusiasm about their work. Two SMARTER projects focused on human arm motion, while others included testing the strength of materials used in building foundations, and augmented reality.


Marc Frank and Ramona Fittipaldi worked in Professor Joo Kim’s Applied Dynamics and Optimization Lab (ADOL) which studies human and robotic locomotion, balance, energetics, and stability. The teachers performed energy efficiency tests on the shoulder and elbow power of a robotic arm.  By changing speeds while the arm was moving they checked the stability and accuracy of the movements. The data set built through their collection and analysis will be used by ADOL for further experiments and tests.

20150707_RET_008Rather than an isolated learning exercise, this is an ongoing project to which the teachers’ work will be applied. “I was proud that it wasn’t something just for me.”, said Mr. Frank. While contributing to the ongoing work in ADOL, the teachers also expanded their own knowledge; Frank, a science teacher learned more about math and Ramona, a math teacher, learned more about science. They’ll use their lab experience to develop lessons for their high school students on Hooke’s law (a principle of physics that states that the force needed to extend or compress a spring by some distance is proportional to that distance), use and analysis of graphs and scatter plots, and use of a spreadsheet-based data management and analysis software such as Excel.

Daniella DiLacqua, a biology teacher, and Hau-Yu Chu, a technology teacher worked on a cost-effective ‪‎mechatronics‬-based system to quantify stroke recovery & ‪‎rehabilitation‬. In Professor Vikram Kapila’s Mechatronics Lab, they joined undergraduates, graduate students, and high school students on the project, “Upper Extremity Biometric System for Stroke Rehabilitation”.


Most methods to track stroke rehabilitation progress are low cost but rely on observations made by physical therapists or physicians (qualitative), not measurements (quantitative). Usually, quantitative methods are more expensive. To address this, they helped to develop a cost-efficient, compact, portable device, that could measure more than one arm or hand function at a time, and that patients could use from home. Their prototype uses an accelerometer (like those in a smart phone), flex sensors, and an arduino controller attached at different points on a patient’s arm and hand. In the future, as costs decrease, these could be swapped for smaller components and more sensors could be added. These teachers plan to develop lessons for their students about concepts such as homeostasis and negative feedback, based on how they were applied to the prototype design.

Read more about the SMARTER participants’ thoughts on their work on the project’s blog. The SMARTER RET is funded by the National Science Foundation.