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Caterpillar, praying mantis relate to engineering principles

Engineering students at Bob Jones High School are shown positioning their praying mantis display for Huntsville Botanical Garden. (CONTRIBUTED)
Engineering students at Bob Jones High School are shown positioning their praying mantis display for Huntsville Botanical Garden. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – Visitors to Huntsville Botanical Garden will see outdoor displays that taught engineering principles to students at Bob Jones High School.

The garden’s staff is preparing for their 25th anniversary event, “Big Garden, Little Me.” In recent years, Jeremy Raper’s engineering students had built tree houses at the garden so the staff asked for assistance.

“Naturally, I was excited they would not ‘leave’ us out,” Raper said with a pun.

Keeping the theme, two advanced engineering classes built four wooden “photo-op” displays. Stationed outside the playground, an eight-foot flower and its accompanying two-foot caterpillar measure a child’s height. A sign states “Must be taller than me to play.”

“Rainbow Fish,” measuring 6 by 10 feet with a movable tail, was inspired by the popular children’s book. Students woodworked and painted a giant praying mantis at four by eight feet with a human rider. Individuals can place their heads in the cutouts for humorous photographs.

Forty-one students in the Engineering for Tomorrow (E4T) Academy at Bob Jones helped with the garden project.

The discipline of mechanical engineering applied to the displays’ design and construction. “We used some architectural, civil and industrial design work. My students thought they were in ‘shop’ class as we cut so much wood (and then) in art as we painted so much,” Raper said.

Raper realizes some people may argue that the project didn’t involve engineering. “I would completely disagree,” Raper said. He applied engineering concepts by allowing small-group brainstorming, proposal presentations and a submitted budget for the ‘customer’ (the garden).

“The real-world application got almost too real. The customer wanted changes, and two projects had to be completely overhauled,” Raper said. Students reworked and resubmitted all plans. “Again, this was completely in line with how the real world works.”

Construction with power and hand tools required two weeks of work at Bob Jones. “I continue to upset my neighbors above and especially below with the noise,” Raper joked. “However, in the end, I think everyone is happy.”

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