Before he signed up for Square Root Academy, Ray Newman never thought much about science.
When he did, “I thought it was insects, bugs, the human body, outer space,” said Ray, 11. Now he’s discovering the joys of engineering and physics, of sensors and circuit boards and other “cool stuff” behind the toys, tools and gadgets of everyday life.
Square Root Academy, a new Sacramento nonprofit group, aims to create the next generation of experts in STEM: science, technologye engineering and mathematics, focusing on youngsters in areas of the city that are challenged by poverty, crime and other problems, said one of its organizers, Theodore Mponte.
The immersion program, conducted on weekends, is free to eligible students in fourth through eighth grades.
“The goal is to expose them to this new topic, STEM, and show them all that science and technology has to offer,” said Mponte, an electrical and electronics engineer. The program includes classroom sessions led by professionals in various fields, hands-on project work and trips to colleges and community events centered on science.
On Saturday, more than two dozen Square Root cadets showed off five STEM projects that they conceived, built and tested. The exhibition took place at John Still Middle School in south Sacramento.
Featured projects included a device that employs a bicycle pump and PVC pipe to launch dog toys with the goal of making it easier for folks who are elderly or disabled to play with their pets, a “Galaxy Night Cloud” created of cotton fiber and colored lights designed to calm people who are afraid of the dark, and a motorized filter to clear the air of carbon monoxide and other gases.
Ray, who attends Cesar Chavez school, helped with the pollution project. “It started when I was looking at the air-conditioning unit outside,” he said. “I talked to my team about it, and this just came to us.” He demonstrated how the device sounded an alarm that activated the filter in response to a release of gas from a cigarette lighter.
His group had some stumbles as they developed their air cleaner, he said, but they managed to resolve them, and he emerged inspired. He thinks he might just work in engineering one day.
The same is true for Iyana Davenport, 12, who attends John Still.
“I didn’t know much at all about science when I came,” she said. “It seemed hard and not that fun. But the mentors and the other students made me feel really accepted and comfortable.”
She and her teammates built the night light, which looks like a cumulus cloud illuminated by the changing colors of the sunset.
After its completion, the team surveyed classmates and published the results: 94 percent said they would buy the basketball-size Galaxy Night Cloud.
Perhaps, the young innovators said, they should start thinking about a patent.