Category Archives: Outreach

Science Outreach at Illini Women’s Basketball Camp!

Prof. Hutchens discusses the fabrication process with two of the campers.

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.

Two campers rapidly mix the two-component solution within the shoe-sole-shaped, 3D printed mold.

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).

Graduate student Amrita Kataruka helps two campers optimize their manufacturing process. Amrita produced all of the outsoles and 3-D printed midsole molds used by the campers.

GAMES Camp 2017

Shelby and Matt repeated the ‘Sole Solution’ elastomer foam making and testing activity at this year’s UIUC GAMES Camp (June 19-23, 2017). Campers learned about polymers, effects of composition changes on mechanical response, and drop tests. Materials were evaluated through the lens of shoe sole design.

(left to right) Shelby and Matt look on while a group of campers discusses the behavior of the sample they just made.


GAMES Camp 2016

Prof. Hutchens and Matt Milner revived the ‘Sole Solution’ design activity at this year’s week-long GBAM (Girls Building Awesome Machines) camp. The activity, which gives campers the opportunity to mix their own elastomer foam ‘insoles’ and test them for cushioning and bounciness characteristics, was enabled by outreach coordinator, Joe Muskin, and graduate student organizer, Aaron Anderson. Students learned about concepts like energy dissipation and composition-dependent material response.

Campers display their molded elastomer foam.


Prof. Hutchens and group member Matt Milner led a group of 24 rising 9th and 10th grader women in an activity where they made elastomers and elastomeric foams in order to explore sports shoe design concepts. This activity was a part of a week long program to support Girls Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (GAMES). The women learned about the interdisciplinary connection between sports and science, but particularly enjoyed “making the foam” where they “got to mix chemicals” and “watch the foam come together.”