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CEE Helps Elementary and Middle School Students Test Innovative Material for FIRST LEGO League

FIRSLegoT LEGO League (FLL) is an international program designed to engage elementary and middle school youth in hands-on robotics design and scientific research, and this year the CEE department had a hand in helping out a team from West Knoxville. Each year’s challenge is different, and the FLL 2015 was themed Trash Trek, where teams focused on exploring, collecting, sorting, recycling, repurposing and reusing trash.

CEE Professor Dayakar Penumadu guided the West Knoxville team, which had three months research the topic, identify a problem, craft a solution, present research that solves the problem. They decided to explore options to repurpose unused paint. Currently, unused paint is mixed with bentonite clay and disposed of in landfills, which is not environmentally friendly. To address this issue, the students came up with an innovative solution focused on repurposing paint by mixing it with Quikcrete to make colorful materials that may have the properties similar to concrete.

If these materials exhibit such properties, it would have tangible real-world applications. To find out for sure, they would need to test the material in the CEE Structural Material Testing Laboratory. In the lab, Professor Penumadu helped the team facilitate the characterization of mechanical properties related to its strength in compression of the new repurposed paint-based composite material.

Nancy Roberts, laboratory supervisor, and CEE doctoral student Aashish Sharma, both helped mentor the students with proper specimen preparation, lab safety, and data analysis. Using the data collected from these tests, the team was able to prove their hypothesis, that this concrete made with repurposed paint does have potential to be used in sidewalk and pavements.

Based on their creative solution, the team placed 2nd in the award category for projects with innovative solution during the state championship tournament held at Tennessee Technology University on February 13, 2016. This team was coached by Anu Babu and Melissa Graves-Brook.