By Stephanie Strom
Juliet Basinger pressed a button on a remote control, and the drone she built did a somersault, first in one direction, then in another, before taking off around the room, cheekily snapping photos of the adults looking on. Juliet won’t finish high school before 2025, but the 11-year-old already has big plans: She wants to be a mechanical engineer.
This year alone, Juliet has used 3D printers, servo motors and microcontrollers to build the parts needed to construct a therapeutic robotic dog that she hopes will help those afraid of canines overcome their fears, a project she did as part of a lesson in her English class. She has learned to use technology-enabled woodcutting tools and is at work creating a virtual tour of her school, Laing Middle School in Charleston County, using another drone she built in the school’s Fab Lab.
A narrow room crammed with high-tech equipment including 3D printers and an electrophoresis chamber to separate molecules and study chromosomes, the Fab Lab gives students at Laing a chance to get hands-on experience with the sorts of tools they might find in the workplace. “I really have fun doing these things,” says the rising seventh grader, “but I also like that it’s preparing me to be an engineer.”