Hi, my name is Moultrie. I am a Mechanical Engineer.
So what exactly is an engineer...Well, basically they’re superheros. A superhero, whose power is making stuff
to help solve problems. They take problems, look at them with confidence and say “you know...I can figure this
The Two Types of Engineers
The first type of engineer is one that went to school for a long time, got a degree in something like
Mechanical Engineering and passed a test.
The other type is a little cooler. The other engineer blends right in with their surroundings, but in reality
they are a superhero. They never went to school for engineering, No. They learned their ninja skills from
everyday life. And any time there is a problem, they look at it with confidence and say “I got this.”
Me? I am a little bit of both. Yes, I did go to school for Mechanical Engineering. I made good marks, passed
all the tests, went to work as an engineer, blah blah blah. But I also learned most of the skills that I needed
to be a successful engineer when I was a kid.
Cause, growing up, school wasn’t my thing. But making things was. When I wasn’t making something, I was busy
taking something apart, trying to understand how it worked.
Even though school wasn’t my thing, I chose to go to college because it seemed like my only option. In
college, I learned some things that I think you might find helpful on your quest for becoming a superhero too.
This “How to Engineer Like a Superhero” guide has a lot in it. We talk about the Scientific Method, Inventing,
ReEngineering, Innovating and more. Don’t be intimidated though. There is a saying…”How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.” For becoming a superhero, you are going to have to tackle it “one bite at a time.” For
inventing something, you tackle it “one bite at a time.” And for reading this guide...Work through it “one bite
at a time.
For you, work through as much as you are comfortable with. Then take a break. Jot down what you learned in
your Research Log and come back when you are ready.
Also, if you are joining us on our Mission To Mars, look to this when you need it. For example, if you are
trying to come up with an innovation, look at the Innovating section.
Anyway, the first thing I want to tell you about might be my favorite engineering skill.
The Rough Idea Polishers
I remember having a moment in college where I thought….”Hey, now that’s cool!” That moment was learning about
the scientific method. My whole life, I had been using it without even knowing it. I remember my teachers
talking about it in school, but any time they talked about it I would stop paying attention because they made it
seem too complicated and boring!
Really it’s NOT that complicated... Let me show you!
Imagine...A machine where rough ideas go in, and a better, more polished idea comes out. And that same idea
can be fed back into the machine until it is a nice, pretty, shiny idea. That machine... it’s the SCIENTIFIC
METHOD. Oh and you don’t have to buy it, it’s already in your brain.
This machine works by taking an idea and performing one experiment on it. It spits out the results for you to
look at so you can choose, “yeah that was a good idea!”, or “Nope, that didn’t exactly go as planned. “
Alright, so if we were going to try our rough idea polishing machine..I mean, the scientific method, on our
favorite paper airplane, the Emil, what do we find...
Remember, we feed this machine an idea. So first, we come up with an idea. Our idea can be anything.
For example, our thought process may look like something like this... “I’ve heard that airplanes need to be
lightweight to fly. I’ll bet that if we fold the Emil from lighter weight paper, like toilet paper, it will fly
further.” This guess or idea is what we call a HYPOTHESIS. It is what we feed into our
So now we have our idea/hypothesis...Well in order to figure out if this is a good idea, we perform an
Well, for our hypothesis, we said, “I think a lightweight, toilet paper airplane will fly further than a
computer paper version.” So we need to figure out which one flies further. For our experiment, let’s go outside
and throw the original, computer paper version and our new, lightweight, toilet paper version.
Hmm….Well that brings up an interesting point. If we want good data, we shouldn’t do our experiment in a space
where the wind can come around and throw stuff off. We want to have control of things that could throw the
experiment off. Scientist and engineers call this a CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT. For us, our
controlled environment will be indoors, where the wind can’t throw off our experiment.
Also, since it is hard to control how hard we throw our plane, we should probably throw the exact same plane 3
or so times and write down how far it goes each time.
Well, that didn’t go as expected. Let’s take a look at the data.
We like to draw a little table like this in our Research log. That allows us to organize our data so that we
can look at it easily.
|Computer Paper Emil
||This plane flew great
|Toliet Paper Emil
||Plane fell apart and flew badly
The data makes it pretty clear that our toilet paper Emil airplane does not do better than the one folded from
computer paper. Really, we didn’t even need data to figure that out.
But what happens if we experiment with 100 different paper airplanes to find the best plane and paper combo…
You’re probably going to have a hard time remembering which plane flew the best. Also, you will probably have
some planes that seemed like they tied. This means two things…
- You will need to take better measurements using something like a tape measure.
- You will need to record the data in your Research Log.
Anyway, the scientific method is a really cool framework for solving problems. And what is even cooler is when
you get good at it, you don't even have to think about it. Now, when I try to solve a problem, I try my best
idea and continue to tweak it to make it better. I don’t even realize I am using the scientific method.
And when you’re ready to get more advanced...for the experiments where I need to be more accurate, I will do
something like this…
Okay, back to our slightly more advanced experiment.
First, we'll form our hypothesis. Maybe our hypothesis looks something like this:
Hypothesis: I think a plane with a larger wing will fly further.
Now, we will design an experiment. This could be what yours looks like:
Experiment: I will experiment with the same plane with 3 different wing
sizes and measure how far they fly.
As we run our experiment, we will log our data in a table like this:
|Emil with Large Wings
||Trajectory looked like this, we might need to adjust this plane and retry.
|Emil with Medium Wings
||This plane followed a nice trajectory
|Emil with Small Wings
||This plane seemed to go straight to the ground
Then, after looking at the data we have collected, we can make some conclusions/results.
Results: It seems that the medium sized wings did better. This may just
be for this design. I will need to try this experiment again with different planes.
- Hypothesis 2: I think larger wings does not always make for a better plane.
- Experiment 2: I will try Experiement 1 again with a different paper airplane design.
- Results 2: Bingo...In this experiment, the larger wings performed better. Since experiment
one says medium wings are better, and experiment 2 says large wings are better, we proved that it depends. The
best wing size, depends on the plane.
We can do the scientific method on anything we want to figure out. Try it out!
Now, if you are reading this, I assume it is because you are joining us on our Mission to Mars. If you aren’t
and want to develop your Superhero Engineering skills. Pick yours up HERE.
For those of you that are joining us on our Mars Mission, we are going to be picking up other Superhero
skills. I think you might find the next sections helpful as you work through the mission.
Come back and look at the section when you need it.
Completing the Challenge
Hey, this is called a challenge crate for a reason. We want to challenge you to see if you have what it takes
to cut it as an engineer in space.
How to Build
Remember, you have the brains to figure out any of these challenges but it will require some trial and error
and some patience. You got this!
You also have all the parts and tools you will need to complete each of the challenges. You just have to
figure out how to use the parts and tools. Now, if some of the steps require a little more strength than you
can handle, that is okay. Ask an adult for help.
Your crate should have come with three booklets. The first is your Mission To Mars Comic. The second is your
Mission To Mars Survival Guide and the third is your Research Log. Your comic has all the challenges in it. You
will notice some of the steps are left blank. This is because you should be able to figure the blank steps out
by using what you learned by completing the activities in the Survival Guide. The last booklet is your Research
Log. We like to think of it as our secret weapon. A secret weapon that you can use to….
- Jot down ideas that you have
- Make notes about your experiments and record data
- Sketch invention ideas
- Complete the bonus Log Entries scattered throughout the other two booklets. Doing this allows us to see how
your engineering training is going and it will also unlock a badge. Let us know when you complete them all.
Oh, and before we forget, if you prefer it, we have YouTube videos that will help you with the challenges.
Check them out HERE.
How to Investigate
This is one of our favorite parts. Play with your project and see if the science doesn’t make itself obvious.
Most of the time it does.
The first thing we like to ask ourselves is: What did we notice? The “sciency” term we use for things we
notice, is an OBSERVATION. Try and come up with 3 observations for each activity.
To come up with observations, we also like to ask ourselves:
- What is going on?
- What could be causing it to do this?
- What happens if we change this?
We also like to use the scientific method to experiment with these observations. You can too!
For example, maybe you think the wings of a plane are what hold it up. So that must mean, if your wing is
bigger, your plane should stay in the air longer. Well, to figure it out, use your Research Log and the
How to Research
So you have done some investigation. But what do the books say? Now that you have put your hands on the
science, do a little research on the topic yourself. Maybe look for a book on airplanes at the library.
Personally, we would probably search “How does a Paper Airplane Work” on YouTube. You also could just search
for RumbleLab on YouTube too. We have some playlists and videos that we think do a good job of explaining the
science behind some of your projects.
When you have those moments where you’re like “AHA! , that’s how that works!” be sure to write them down in
your Research Log.
reconcile bring it all together
Don’t worry about the word, it just means: to make sure two things agree with each other. In your Research
Log, take what you learned from your investigation and research and smash them together. No really, does what
you noticed agree with what you learned? After researching the topics, ask yourself:
- What makes more sense?
- What was I wrong about?
- What was surprising>
For example, we were surprised to learn that the science behind an airplane is actually VERY complicated.
With research we learned, yes, if your wings have a larger surface area, they CAN generate more lift BUT bigger
wings also create more drag. And more drag slows your plane down, which decreases your lift… Which means that
the best paper airplanes have wings that are a very specific size to balance lift and drag. This agreed with
the things we learned during our investigation.
So you have completed the challenge, but now can you re-invent things and make them better? A true
engineering superhero is always thinking about how they can make things better.
The first step when ReEngineering something is to brainstorm. Here we are just throwing out ideas about how
we think the invention could be better. We will jot them down in our Research Log so that we remember them all.
Ask yourself questions like…
- Now that I have explored the science, what are some things that I think I could tweak to make it better?
- Why do I think that would make it better?
Jot it all down in your research log so you can come back to it later.
For example: I think each paper airplane has its own unique wing size and shape that works best. I think I
can try different wing sizes and determine the one that works best.
Design an experiment that will help you prove “yes, that was right” or “no, that was wrong”.
For an experiment we want one VARIABLE. A variable is something that you change. For
example, it could be the size of the wing. It could be the paper you fold the plane from. What is bad is when
we try to change more than one variable. If we change two variables, like paper thickness AND wing size it is
hard to say which variable caused the change.
So, for our experiment we will fold 1 style of paper airplane with 3 different wing sizes. Our one variable
is the wing size. The wing size can change or vary, but nothing else. We will have one plane with very small
wings, one with middle sized wings, and one with wings as large as possible.
Now, in your controlled environment, throw the planes and record your data. Maybe repeat the experiment 3
times to make sure the results stay the same. Refer back to the scientific method if you need help with this.
Analyze and Repeat
What does your data tell you?
For example, “When we threw the 3 planes, the medium sized wing went the furthest.
After learning that the medium sized wing went the furthest, I can try tweaking something else. I might try
seeing if this is true for a different airplane design like “The Price” paper airplane.
Hey don’t worry, your report isn’t anything crazy. We just want you to be able to let us know what you
discovered. So, looking at all your experiments and data, what can you prove. Oh, and don’t forget to show us
your proof. Jot your report down in your Research Log.
We might write something like this...One thing we discovered is that bigger isn’t always better for airplane
wings. Each plane does best with it’s own wing size and shape. We proved this by...
Use what you have learned and think about how this topic could be useful to solve some problem.
For example, Did you know, electricity was first used to light houses. That’s it. Nope, no TV, no video
games. And no, not even a toaster.
At the time, everyone was putting up with the same problem. Burnt toast. Toast was made over a fire. Which
was really really time consuming. Pshhhh, and I thought toasting Marshmallows was a pain.
Well, while everyone was dealing with this problem, some houses had been wired for electrical lighting. It
wasn’t until years later that someone had the idea to use electricity for something other than light. The first
electrical appliance was the toaster and for it to work, you would unscrew a light bulb and screw in your
toaster. Seems crazy but it was extremely innovative at the time.
Opportunities to innovate and do things better are all around us, this is how we think about innovating.
First think, what is something that you find annoying? As an engineer, anytime we come across a problem that
we find annoying, we jot it down in our Research Log. Most of the time, after thinking of a problem we
automatically start thinking about how we could solve that problem.
For example, we came across a problem the other day when we were camping. When we are camping, we like to
build a fire. We also worry our fire will get out of control and start a forest fire when we aren’t paying
attention. We were wondering how we could come up with a simple fire alarm.
For bonus points, we also like to think about how BIG that problem might be. With the fire alarm problem,
there is a much bigger problem. There are many places where people have to rely on a fire all night to stay
warm. They might find it helpful to have a simple fire alarm.
We also like to toss around and discuss what we learned. We think “How could this be useful?” We will throw
out all our ideas. There is no such thing as a bad idea. Ooh yeah, and again, don’t forget to jot these ideas
down in your Research Log.
For example, after completing the Robot Mechanic Simulator we thought we could somehow use a simple circuit
as some sort of fire alarm…
Implementation Making it happen
Now for the fun part. This is where we start to bring our idea to life. Draw a sketch. Start jotting down all
the parts it will need to include?
Then if you are feeling really gung-ho try inventing it. If you want help, let us know.
You could also explore CAD. We build all our projects using THIS
website. It is like lego’s except it is on the computer, you can fully customize the pieces, and you have
endless amounts of pieces. If you’re interested in learning more let us know. Oh and they have some wonderful
Again, this sounds scary, but its not. All we do is outline the problem, describe how we will solve that
problem, include a sketch of what the design will look like, make note of any parts it will use and also
mention any challenges you may face. If you need help, tell your parent to let us know. They have our contact
- Outline the Problem
- Describe how you will solve it
- Include a sketch
- Make a note of parts you will need
- Mention challenges you will face
Boom! That's it!
No really, engineering is not all that complicated. But it takes practice. Practice accepting a challenge and
figuring it out. Practice solving problems. Practice thinking outside the box.
Once you have these skills, you’re set. Set to solve problems. Problems ranging from changing a flat tire to
sending a rocket to Mars or inventing your own robotic suit like Rumble.
Anyway, Good Luck on your Mission. When you complete it let us know.
Oh and if you have any ideas for things you would like to make jot them down in your log and ask your parents
to let us know.
Over and out,
Moultrie and the Lab