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The Disassembly & Re-purposing of Unwanted Consumer Electronics: Low-Cost Materials for STEM Outreach
During community outreach events conducted by collaborating optical societies in Southeast Michigan, interactions with pre-college educators suggest that the cost and perceived fragility of optical science materials makes them unattainable for many classrooms. In response, we began exploring whether discarded consumer electronics could be utilized for low-cost, hands-on STEM education and outreach. We have tested several approaches to disassembly of these items as an exercise in reverse engineering with elementary school students. Unwanted point-and-shoot cameras are in excess and too often discarded as e-waste containing a spectrum of high quality optical and electromechanical parts – lenses, prisms, telescoping viewfinders, motors, solenoids, and gear mechanisms. The first project examined was the disassembly of cameras by students with volunteers available to assist and explain the mechanisms of the internal electrical and optical elements. Processes, safety precautions, and tips for disassembling cameras as well as VCR’s will be discussed. We also describe how the recovered components can be utilized in reassembly projects which can be tailored in complexity to suit any age group. While no formal data was collected, we asked questions of the students throughout the activities and strove to analyze the impact on their interest in science. The disassembly was very popular, regardless of a student’s prior interests and experience. Lenses and other functional scrap parts were obtained using simple tools and allowed for a range of technical topics to be examined. This project appears to invoke curiosity, self-confidence, and process thinking skills which are essential in attraction to STEM education and success in STEM careers.