MechTube - applied mechanics outreach for children

Zak Stone's picture

Hello everyone,

Professor Suo suggested that I share this speculative idea that I once posted on Applied Mechanics News here on iMechanica!

In the future, we would like to reach out to children as early as their elementary school years to get them excited about topics drawn from Applied Mechanics. One approach to this goal takes inspiration from the successful "Le main a la pate", or "hands-in-dough", program in France ( ), but extends the idea of hands-on science to take advantage of the internet.

Initially, we would gather ideas from the members of our Applied Mechanics online community for inexpensive and spectacular hands-on explorations of mechanical principles that would be safe and fun for children to carry out in their first science-oriented classes. Then we would encourage elementary school teachers to visit our website, choose projects that seemed interesting, try them in real classrooms, and post accounts of their successes and difficulties for everyone in the Applied Mechanics community to see and discuss.

If the students and teachers enjoyed these projects, we would encourage teachers to help their students produce short videos of the crucial moments of their experiments, and these videos could be shared online and ranked by viewers around the world such that the best ones would rise to the top. (Sites such as and have recently pioneered this democratic video-distribution-and-ranking mechanism. In our application, great care would be taken to protect the privacy of the children.) Here is a very simple but exciting science video already on YouTube - be sure to watch the ending!

Ideally, the video-sharing system would become self-sustaining: teachers could invent new projects themselves, asking college professors for help, and they could follow the best examples set by other teachers in their own classrooms. The children would learn how exciting Applied Mechanics can be at an early age, they could proudly show their parents their best experiments in action on any computer at home, and they would be more likely to be engaged by science classes later in their education.


Zhigang Suo's picture

iMechanica as a platform for outreach to Children of all ages

The National Science Foundation has long been urging researchers to reach out to the public. The cause is noble and important, and most researchers love to share knowledge with others. However, developing successful modules takes time, which few are inclined to spend, especially if the modules are only used once or twice. As a result, many outreach efforts do not reach very far, if not outright perfunctory. This apparent problem seems to suggest an opportunity.

Zak was a Harvard undergraduate with concentration in Physics, and is now a graduate student at Harvard in Computer Science. Like many bright young people in his generation, he is an Internet native and is full of creative ideas about possible uses of the new technology.

In setting up iMechanica, I had many long conversations with him. In one of these conversations, he pointed out to me that iMechanica has the potential to turn the traditional way of public outreach upside down. Instead of making up activities for children, researchers can help children create their own content and post on iMechanica. This way, the content is more authentic to other children, and other mechanicians can chip in to offer suggestions to deepen and broaden the topic.

I told Zak's idea to my sons.  My 13-year, Michael, an enthusiast of the Internet and all things cool, wrote an entry, The Future of Ink. By now the post has received 13 replies and 805 reads. My 18-year old son, Daniel, created a javascript bookmarklet to help researchers to localize the web pages of journals. I and others have been using his bookmarklet to get around the annoying proxy servers.

In your next proposal to the National Science Foundation, why not propose a novel way to use iMechanica, and help children around you to create something that they can be proud of?

For embeding vedio in iMechanica, see an instruction by Teng Li.

Teng Li's picture

iMechTube Channel: Web-based Mechanics Education for Kids

I've been experimenting video blogging for a while, first at (See here and here for two examples), then now at iMechanica (e.g., see the Gecko inspired spiderman).

As for video blogging, the available platforms, such as Youtube, are already powerful and easy to use. You can easily embed Youtube videos in your blogs. This mechanism works perfectly, as far as I've been experimenting. For example, this video I posted has been viewed 9100+ times, and several websites have linked to it.

I believe vlog (video blog) is very promising as an effective way to spread knowledge, educating children as well as facilitating research. One working model for iMechTube is to tag related posts with "iMechtube", as I've been doing. When we accumulate sufficient iMechtube videos, we can then run a iMechtube channel. Children and teachers can then subscribe such a channel, and watch on a regular base, as they watch their favorite TV program.



Zhigang Suo's picture

Videos as a new channel in iMechanica

Prompted by this post and discussions, a new channel, videos, is added in the header of iMechanica.  The channel is intended to collect videos for mechanicians of all ages.  Teng has demonstrated one use of the channel:  Find a really cool mechanics-related video in YouTube, and post a link in iMechanica ti alert fellow mechanicians.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Jon Udell on apprenticeship

Jon Udell is a pioneer in using the Internet to enable collaboration. Here is his recent blog entry on network-enabled apprenticeship. I wonder if we scientists and engineers should also take the task of public outreach more seriously.