Prof. Hutchens and a team of students introduced basketball players to polymers, mechanical testing, and design through an outreach activity designed to mimic shoe sole structures. Campers, ranging from 3rd to 8th grade, were attending a week-long basketball camp run by the Illini Women’s Basketball coaching staff and players. However, for a short time, they transformed into scientists, learning about polymer microstructure by acting as polymer chains, and engineers, pouring, mixing, and troubleshooting their midsole manufacturing process. Midsoles were made using shoe-shaped molds, which campers would fill with a self-foaming, fast-setting elastomer material.
By changing the ratio of the two components, campers found they could control the energy recovery and toughness of the material. After an initial trial, many groups improved their midsoles by inventing new smoothing techniques, improving mixing, or decreasing their processing time. Overall, both campers and student volunteers agreed that the activity was a success.
Student volunteers included graduate students from Prof. Hutchens’ group (Matt Milner, Amrita Kataruka, and Bingyang Zhang), graduate student volunteers from the college of engineering (Ganesh Patil, MechSE; Jungwoo Shin, MatSE), and undergraduate volunteers from Bioengineering (Favour Obuseh).