USNA Midshipmen Dazzle STEM Students

By Cynthia Greenwood
DoD Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office

At the United States Naval Academy (USNA) Summer STEM Program, seasoned midshipmen gained vital leadership experience as they prepare to become Surface Warfare Officers. During two weeklong STEM sessions last month, USNA faculty mentored three midshipmen as they taught more than 400 American high school students how to construct a battery, power a light-emitting diode (LED), electroplate a nickel coin, and even solder a circuit board, among other educational modules.

Midshipmen 2nd Class Kathryn Viado and Amy Krick, and Midshipman 1st Class Jacob Glesmann, managed a variety of academic modules for the program, each consisting of short presentations, 15-minute demonstrations, and hand-on lab stations for small groups.

During the corrosion modules on June 4 and 11, Midshipman Viado, an electrical engineering major from Gambrills, Maryland, showed small student groups how to make their own battery using a copper penny, a paper towel, vinegar, and a zinc washer, in order to teach principles of electricity, electrochemistry, and corrosion science.

“The battery consisted of three layers starting with the penny, a small circle cut from paper towels saturated with four to five drops of vinegar, and a zinc washer,” explained Viado. “Through this process, the students learned that the penny acted as the positive side of the battery and served as a cathode, and the zinc washer served as the negative side, equivalent to an anode.”

Kathryn Viado, Midshipman 2nd Class, (second from left) prepares to show U.S. Naval Academy Summer STEM students how to use a voltmeter by touching the probes to a 1.5-volt battery. Viado’s demonstration taught students how they could measure the voltage of their copper-zinc-vinegar batteries, so they could determine whether or not they had enough voltage to power a buzzer or a red LED. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

Kathryn Viado, Midshipman 2nd Class, (second from left) prepares to show U.S. Naval Academy Summer STEM students how to use a voltmeter by touching the probes to a 1.5-volt battery. Viado’s demonstration taught students how they could measure the voltage of their copper-zinc-vinegar batteries, so they could determine whether or not they had enough voltage to power a buzzer or a red LED. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

Viado then instructed students in how to conduct a voltmeter test to show how many volts it would take to light up a buzzer or small LED. “During the experiment we observed the reaction that occurred when one battery could yield about 0.5-0.9 volts–enough to power a buzzer–or enough volts to power an LED, which occurred when more batteries were stacked together,” Viado said.

As the students continued to stack more of the makeshift batteries on top of one another to measure the voltage that was produced, they began to observe a corrosion reaction that occurred as the black film formed on the zinc, Viado explained. “As they made their stacks of batteries to see how many volts they could get, many students didn’t recognize the corrosion mechanism at work until later,” she said. “Some kids, though, were more observant of the corrosion – they noticed the black that appeared on the zinc, which was part of the corrosion reaction we were looking for.”

Amy Krick, Midshipman 2nd Class (second from right) demonstrates how to set up the part of an experiment that includes attaching copper, which serves as the anode, to a battery to enable copper plating. Here Krick prepares to attach the wire while explaining what the copper does during the electroplating reaction. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

Amy Krick, Midshipman 2nd Class (second from right) demonstrates how to set up the part of an experiment that includes attaching copper, which serves as the anode, to a battery to enable copper plating. Here Krick prepares to attach the wire while explaining what the copper does during the electroplating reaction. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

At another station, Midshipman Krick, a chemistry major from Medford, Oregon, taught students how to plate nickel coins with copper to demonstrate another principle of electrochemistry and corrosion protection.

Krick took a beaker of copper-sulfate solution and placed a strip of copper inside the liquid. “Then we dipped a steel nail into the solution and pulled it out,” Krick said. “I showed the students how the copper would plate onto the steel. Then I hooked up the copper piece onto the positive end of a battery, and attached a wire from the nickel coin to the battery’s negative end, securing it with an alligator clip. I then dipped the nickel into the solution and showed students how it would plate onto the copper.” Afterwards, the students conducted their own plating experiments.

“During the process we discussed which component would be the anode and which would serve as the cathode,” Krick said, thereby illustrating how electrochemical degradation can occur in specific environments, and how a metallic coating can be applied for corrosion protection.

During one of many laboratory lessons in electrochemistry and corrosion, two USNA STEM camp participants build a magnesium air battery and use it to power a miniature car. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

During one of many laboratory lessons in electrochemistry and corrosion, two USNA STEM camp participants build a magnesium air battery and use it to power a miniature car. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

Eleanor Guentert, a rising ninth grader destined to attend Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose, California, recalled what she gained from the modules led by Viado and Krick: “I liked learning how you can make electricity so many ways, and some things I can do at home whenever I want.” I also learned that two different metals in a wet environment could create an electrical current. So when copper and zinc are put together in a liquid, it creates electricity and corrosion.”

To carry out the daylong corrosion modules, the USNA STEM Center receives support from the Technical Corrosion Collaboration (TCC), a program sponsored by the DoD Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office, which helps universities broaden their corrosion science and engineering research. The TCC also seeks to attract high school students into corrosion science fields in ways that will benefit the Navy and DoD.

At Midshipman 2nd Class Amy Krick’s lab station, students attach copper to a battery using wires with alligator clips in order to electroplate copper and understand how protective metallic coatings can be applied to metal surfaces. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

At Midshipman 2nd Class Amy Krick’s lab station, students attach copper to a battery using wires with alligator clips in order to electroplate copper and understand how protective metallic coatings can be applied to metal surfaces. (Photo: U.S. Naval Academy/Released)

Mechanical Engineering Professor Patrick Moran and Dr. Beth Mutch from the USNA Academic Center organized the corrosion and electrochemistry modules during the STEM Summer Camps. Rising ninth and tenth graders who attended the program resided inside Bancroft Hall, the stately Beaux- Arts dormitory occupied by midshipmen during the academic year. When STEM participants left the lab, they continued to interact with squad midshipmen who served as camp counselors throughout the weeklong sessions.

“By exposing youngsters to creative experiments in copper electroplating, battery construction, and corrosion mechanisms, we hope to instill an appreciation of science and engineering in these youngsters–the first step in building the next generation’s DoD workforce,” Moran said.

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