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Chip Camp Goes Virtual

Students and frisbees

Every summer, bright young minds gather together on BYU campus to learn the secrets of engineering at Chip Camp. The department staffs full-time ECE students to lead these middle schoolers in exercises designed to open their eyes to the possibilities within the electrical and computer engineering fields. It’s three days of fun with educational undertones.

But this year, Chip Camp looked a little different. Social distancing guidelines ruled out the usual camp activities and threatened to cripple this hands-on, collaboration-based program. Fortunately, engineers run the camp, and if engineers know anything, it is how to overcome setbacks. Chip Camp carried on earlier this month - entirely over Zoom.

One popular attraction of Chip Camps past demonstrated different chemical reactions, but according to staff member Nathan Barrett, “we figured [parents] wouldn’t want us sending dangerous stuff to [their houses].” Instead, they showed a fascinating and harmless YouTube video of a swimming-pool-sized “elephant toothpaste” reaction using screen sharing on Zoom.

The staffers took a similar approach to the classic cleanroom tour. Instead of donning each participant in the latest in astronaut fashion and guiding them through the facility, the staffers filmed a tour of the cleanroom in advance and shared it over Zoom. It was a win. The participants got to learn about what happens in the cleanroom, and not a single camper complained about hot, itchy suits.

Other activities continued on almost the same as normal. The staffers sent each participant their own Chip Camp kits, complete with every material needed for beloved experiments like the LED frisbees, bottle rockets, and handmade batteries. Over Zoom, the staffers divided their campers into breakout rooms, demonstrated how to use the kits, and let the campers loose to bring the projects to life. The batteries came easily to most of them, but only a couple of campers managed to finish their frisbees and rockets on time, leaving them more engineering to enjoy after camp finished. The staffers stayed on all the while to troubleshoot problems and cheer the campers on.

“We do Chip Camp to introduce you to engineering and encourage you to pursue it,” Dr. Aaron Hawkins told the Zoom audience as the camp came to its close. Although this year’s Chip Camp looked different from any year’s before, it carried the same themes of creativity, imagination, math, and science. Best of all, the participants got to see the heart of engineering firsthand: innovative solutions in the face of impossible situations.