The NXT brick is a great tool for more than just robotics. It can handle data logging for a variety of sensors over long periods of time and can run programs that will simulate large-scale experiments. The following are some cool ideas for science/engineering fair projects using the NXT Education kit (9797) and LabVIEW Education Edition. They cover a number of topics from collecting data to prove a hypothesis, analyzing previous data to improve a design element, and coming up with a controlled mechanical solution to a simple, yet challenging problem. These aren’t full blown projects for you to replicate, but ideas to get you started on your own science/engineering fair project.
Coffee cup experiment
This experiment investigated the insulation properties of three different coffee containers. This kind of problem would be of special interest to coffee shop owners, who would like to figure out which cup insulates the best with the lowest cost. In the experiment, hot water was placed in each of the cups in equal amounts and left on a counter to cool. Temperature data was taken over the course of half an hour while they were cooling, with data points of the temperature of the three cups taken every ten seconds. Data gathered from these experiments suggests that a Styrofoam cup insulates slightly better than a plastic mug, and that both styrofoam and plastic mugs insulate better than a paper cup.
Need: LEGO MINDSTORMS Education Kit, LabVIEW Education Edition, NXT Temperature Sensor, Coffee Containers with Lids, Hot Plate (or similar device)
Solar heating experiment
This investigation studies the relationship between the color of a cup and the rate at which the cup heats when placed in the sun, which is important in understanding how light (and heat from the sun) behaves. In the experiment, three cups of different colors were filled with equal amounts of water. They were then placed in the sun and temperature data was taken with NXT temperature sensors running a LabVIEW program on the NXT brick for half an hour. Data collected in this experiment suggests that, as expected, a darker cup will absorb more heat from sunlight than will a lighter cup.
Need: LEGO MINDSTORMS Education Kit, LabVIEW Education Edition, NXT Temperature Sensor, Clear Plastic Cups, Arts and Crafts Supplies
This experiment explores the possibilities of wind energy by building an NXT wind turbine and testing various blade designs. By using the NXT and a light sensor to count and log rotations, students can analyze the efficiency of their designs and see how making certain changes will affect performance. This experiment has various levels of depth, such as looking at the effects of different shapes and wind speeds on the performance of the turbine. Since wind is an inconsistent resource, students can also explore how long it takes the turbine to start producing a significant amount of energy, simulating real world constraints. This experiment explores renewable energy, simple data analysis, and the engineering design process.
This experiment is about designing and building a practical mechanical solution to a common problem. Many people keep fish as pets, but what happens when you forget to feed your fish, or your family goes on vacation? Do you get a fish sitter? No! You build your own fish feeder. Using the NXT kit, it is possible to build and program a fish feeder to automatically dispense the right amount of food at certain time increments. Its up to the student to build an elegant solution, and the program can include warning beeps for low battery or at feeding time. It can also log the amount of times it administers food to make sure the fish get fed properly. This experiment is great for exploring unique mechanical solutions as well as explaining the engineering design process.
-Matt & Lloyd