STARBASE 2.0 Students and Mentors Visit Medtronic’s BATLAB!

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Employees in over 130 countries alerted to global events that could put them in harm’s way, lasers welding wires for heart devices in as little as 2.5 milliseconds, 3D printed parts and models used to train the region’s top surgeons, and the unveiling of STARBASE 2.0 student CAD-designed and 3D- printed spine — just the perfect alchemy that results when STARBASE 2.0 students of E-STEM Middle School – a St. Paul public school, STEM-industry professionals from Medtronic, 3M, Seagate, MN National Guard, and STARBASE Minnesota-St. Paul join forces at Medtronic’s Rice Creek Campus in Fridley, Minnesota for an exciting, once in a lifetime culminating event of the STARBASE 2.0 program. Medtronic Foundation funded this unique opportunity, as well as other elements that enriched the STARBASE 2.0 program.

First stop on this interactive tour was Medtronic’s Global Command Center, a stunningly visual room with walls of screens and maps. The students met the dynamic Ruth Soucie, Security Manager, who leads a group of people with backgrounds in criminology and political science who monitor issues and events around the world 24/7/365 to keep Medtronic employees safe. “Three people can manage the whole world?!” The students (and adults) were in awe.

Next, students moved to Medtronic’s BATLAB (Build and Technology Lab) where students explored the lab and technologies like electron microscopes, keyence measuring tools, and laser engraving machines. Students were able to learn from STEM professionals like Wen, who has a PhD in welding, who at the time was welding wires for Medtronic’s LINQ device which gets implanted under patients’ skin. Students were encouraged to try to break the connection— which they found impossible to do — to show the stress the device needs to endure.

Students then entered into Medtronic’s 3D printing lab, seeing, firsthand, the many models and prototypes designed in CAD and printed out on Minnesota-based Stratasys 3D printers with tremendous capabilities. Heather Huna, mentor and Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at Medtronic, along with other Medtronic STEM professionals, surprised the students by revealing their CAD-designed vertebrae that students developed in a prior 2.0 session. Medtronic had 3D-printed the vertebrae, added gelatinous discs in between each piece, and created a pelvis to construct the full model. Students were shocked and proud to see this display – pointing out their individual vertebrae they had designed to contribute to the whole model, realizing perhaps for the very first time, just how much creativity is essential to STEM. They saw themselves working in STEM in the future— a couple specifically at Medtronic because it is a “cool way to make things that help people” and they left wanting more.

To top off the visit, three materials engineers taught students just how cold liquid nitrogen is. They learned how properties of materials can change when they are put in extreme temperatures as they experienced flexible rubber tubing from bike tires being hammered into wood and racquetballs shattering as they went through these temperature changes. Students were able to see oxygen in a balloon turn into a liquid as the temperatures dropped and a liquid nitrogen frozen magnet levitating in place over another magnet before it warmed up. “I could not understand how something could be so extremely cold and still be a liquid!” As a parting gift, students learned their saliva could withstand the energy change enough so they could eat liquid nitrogen-toasted marshmallows without getting burned.

The trip to Medtronic, involving a total of 34 people, was the perfect way to put a ribbon on this year’s STARBASE 2.0 program whose focus was on Biomed, fitting for the Twin Cities where Medtronic was founded and pacemakers were born. The 2.0 program engaged students in very relevant activities, such as modeling cells, DNA, engineering and modeling nanorobotics, and using tools like CAD, microscopes, robotics, and even tasting strips. Throughout the program, students and their mentors discussed exciting careers in STEM, with the visit to Medtronic providing a rare opportunity for students and mentors, alike, to get behind the scenes and see a whole new world of research and development. STARBASE is grateful to the Medtronic team for helping to plan this incredible trip and to all the STEM professionals from Medtronic, 3M, Seagate, and MN Guard who served as mentors throughout the program, enriching the lives and perspectives of the STARBASE 2.0 students and sharing their enthusiasm and passions in STEM.