It is rocket science

It is rocket science
Rhonda Dredge

Engineering students aim high at the University of Melbourne but first they have to get experience working in a fabrication lab, which isn’t easy during lockdown.

Some lucky students had a gig at the Telstra Creator Space on Swanston St last month.

Someone was having difficulty cutting through metal with a hand saw.

She was holding it steady with a vice but not making much progress. Other low-tech items such as lumps of wood and electric drills were lying nearby.

These aren’t the kind of tools you’d expect in a space lab but the students were paying close attention to their use.

It’s no surprise that they’re taking their studies so seriously in this climate.

Engineers deal with how things are made and students have been hard hit by the pandemic because they haven’t been able to get hands-on experience.

The Aerospace and Rocket Engineering Society (ARES) has solved this problem with two student-led teams that are competing internationally.

“We’re building an induction engine for a rocket,” one proud student told Inner City News.

He had to get a work permit so he could complete the second year of the project.

Other engineering students haven’t been as lucky. They’ve designed products during their course but not been able to make them.

“I won’t be going in this semester,” said Bill Clayton, a Master of Mechatronics Engineering student who is working from home.

He volunteered for the ARES Rover team to help design a robotic arm for a space vehicle but he is still in the first year of the program.

His aim will be to “make the pieces talk to each other”. In other words, he’ll be programming microchips and micro-controllers to communicate with each other and run meters.

“It’s really important to show that you have the technical skills,” he explained.

Students do a safety course first with low-tech tools before beginning fabrication work in the lab.

Masters students also spend one subject per semester designing a product but many are worried they won’t actually get into uni to make it.

“This year it mightn’t happen because of issues with COVID,” Bill said. “With space restrictions, it has taken longer to get into university to build in the labs.”
He said that the Masters had been a huge step up, particularly the quantity of work expected.

“There’s not much opportunity to physically build stuff. There’s a lot of theory, not a lot of design and building.” •

Caption: Students doing a safety course prior to building a rocket.

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