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Micro Museum Brings “Star Wars” Projects to Utah Schools

Dr. Smalley Projection.png

Utah is home to many universities whose engineers have pulled project ideas straight out of sci-fi movies. BYU has worked on technology for a “Princess Leia” hologram, a Star Trek-style holodeck, and origami-based robotics that fold out similarly to Iron Man’s suit. Utah State University also has researchers who worked on Spiderman-like gloves that could climb walls.

A team of students at BYU has been working on a way to display these sci-fi mechanizations to a younger audience to excite them about the work done in STEM careers. They decided to build a sci-fi themed “micro museum” to showcase the unique projects being built from movies.

Electrical Engineering student Keaton Shurilla said, “The goal of the project is to make a 6-foot-tall museum exhibit that’s portable so we can take it to schools in southern Utah. The idea is that it will inspire kids to go into STEM and go into engineering by showcasing applications.”

The miniature museums are small enough to allow people to walk around them and interact with what’s inside. Since they are portable, they can be rotated through different libraries and schools.

“There’s such a breadth of interesting research here at BYU and at other Utah schools where we are making things that are totally amazing, straight from sci-fi,” Shurilla said. “We can hook the kids by saying, ‘Look! Here is something you could potentially be involved in that you could see in a movie, that’s coming true.’”

Fellow student, Elias Guanuna said the mission of the project is based upon community outreach and the team’s desire to inspire others through the education system. His role with the project was finding funding to make the display possible.

“We reached out to the Weidman Center to help get funding for it and they were really generous with us; they gave us just under $5,000,” Guanuna said. The Weidman Center’s goal in supporting the project was to help provide technical experiences that will enable community outreach.

Guanuna said the motivation for the micro museum construction is the desire to help people learn about the cool things going on in universities in Utah and to share with them the things they wish they had known about from a young age.

Associate Professor Daniel Smalley is the team’s faculty mentor who feeds them inspiration based on his and others’ research. “The holography stuff that Dr. Smalley does—straight out of Star Wars, and we just want to be able to have kids see that,” Guanuna said.

Smalley also keeps the team organized with weekly meetings and divides up roles to keep the project moving along. “He adds a lot of input that we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves but is very essential to the actual execution of the project,” Guanuna said.

Other members of the team have had specific roles to keep the project moving. Electrical Engineering student, Kyle Schvaneveldt, has been involved with the ideation of the project and its execution of getting it into schools.

“I’ve done multiple things with the design of the layout. I’ve helped create what it’s going to look like,” he said. “The design of it is that you can replace different things inside of it. Dr. Smalley has some kids in school, so the test is seeing how they might react.”

For Shurilla, working on a sci-fi themed project has been a perfect fit. “Don’t get me wrong, all research is really important and can be cool but ours has such a direct application to these stunning things that you can show people that’s straight from sci-fi. It’s great.”