STEM Career Tours

Inspiring the pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math literacy, skills, and careers.

Author: Leah Kennelly

Army Corps of Engineers – Emsworth Locks and Dams

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Emsworth Locks and Dams 24The last day of the 2016 STEM Careers Tour began with a visit to the Emsworth Locks and Dams which is operated by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. It is one of six major river facilities on the Ohio River in the Pittsburgh Engineering District located near the towns of Emsworth, Avalon and Ben Avon, Pennsylvania, 6.2 miles below Pittsburgh. It was built in 1919 at a cost of $5.8 million and has undergone several renovations. Today it averages about 470 commercial lockages every month and about 375 additional lockages of pleasure crafts during the summer months.

The Pittsburgh District of the US Army Corp of Engineers is responsible for providing the engineering expertise that is needed for the design and upgrades of the Emsworth Locks and Dams. Located in the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh they are responsible for water infrastructure, environmental management and restoration, response to natural and manmade disasters, and engineering services.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Emsworth Locks and Dams 11When we arrived for our tour, we were outfitted with life jackets, and began the walk over to the lock system. We were fortunate to see a commercial barge in the lock chamber waiting for the water to rise, so it could continue its journey upstream. As the vessel waited in the chamber, valves gradually let water into the chamber from the upper pool behind the dam through culverts in the lock wall. It usually takes about an hour for the water level to reach the desired height. A boat usually waits about an hour for the water levels to reach equilibrium. No pumping is necessary since the water moves by gravity. Once the water reached the same level on both sides of the gates, one set of gates was opened to let out the boat. Our guide let the students operate the controls and open the lock gates. So cool!

We next toured the gated dams located at the Emsworth site. The gates dams are used to increase the control of the water levels in the river to help aid in river transportation. They have no effect, neither positive nor negative, on the flood heights. There are large concrete piers that house the equipment that raises and lowers the dams. The amount of water passing under the gates is increased when the river flow is high and it is decreased when river flow is low in order to maintain the river at a constant level. Due to the high piers the dam is easily seen from downriver, however boaters still need to remain caution for they can be caught in the strong currents that exist on either side of the dam. The view from on top of the dam was breathtaking, but the tour is not recommended for those with a fear of heights.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Emsworth Locks and Dams 19Touring the Emsworth Locks and Dams was definitely a highlight of the 2016 STEM Careers Tour. We were so fortunate to have a beautiful to tour and arrive during a lockage!

Pathways for Students

 

 

 

I AM THE CORPS

The Hydrocarbons of Neville Chemical

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 6The second day of the 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour began with a visit to Neville Chemical located on Neville Island, an island on the Ohio River about 10 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Neville Chemical began in 1925 producing coumarone-indene resin from coke co-products that were being generated from the steel manufactures. During World War II, the company produced many specialty chemicals for the government. In the late 1940’s, Neville saw the development of petroleum cracking units as a new and innovative opportunity. Today Neville Chemical Company is one of the largest produces of hydrocarbon resins and solutions. Neville products are used for the manufacturing of printing inks, adhesives, rubber goods, plastics, paints, coatings, and concrete cure.

 

 

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 5After being outfitted with hard hats and safety glasses, we began our tour of Neville Chemical by walking through the outdoor facility. Our guide was Paul Sauers, manager of raw materials and special products at Neville with over 33 years of experience! He guided us first through the warehouse where we saw hundreds of pallets full of sacks of finished product. Each sack of finished product is labeled with a unique code that enables all of the raw materials that were used to make the product can be traced in case any quality issues occur. We were then led through the outdoor operation facility that consisted of tanks for storing the raw materials, reactors for the polymerization, heat exchangers, distillation columns for separating materials and pipes connecting everything. It was amazing! After learning about the equipment and process for making hydrocarbon resins, we toured the Quality Control Lab that ensures that the finished product meets its desired specifications. Lastly, we visited the Research and Development Lab equipped that focuses on developing new products to meet the needs of the customer and enhancing the current products to be more efficient, safer, and more cost-efficient.

The tour of Neville Chemical provided us with a great view of a chemical plant that has a 90 year history in the industry! It was fascinating to see the large-scale equipment and how it all fits together to make hydrocarbon resins.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 11Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 12Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 10

Tour of Nova Chemicals – Monaca

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Nova Chemicals 1On Wednesday, June 15th, the 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour visited Nova Chemicals’ Beaver Valley plant. Nova Chemicals is a leading producers of plastics and chemicals. They develop and manufacture materials for customers worldwide who produce consumer, packaging and industrial products. The Beaver Valley site manufactures expandable polystyrene (EPS) resins and advanced foam resins. It is located in Monaca, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The site was build by the U.S. government in 1942 as part of the United State Synthetic Rubber Program during World War II and was used for producing synthetic rubber raw materials. In 1955 the site began producing expandable polystyrene resins and in 1983 advanced foam resins. It has transferred through various owners through the years and today, the Nova Chemicals plant is part of the International Petroleum Investment Company of Abu Dhabi. There are  about 250 people employed in the manufacturing, technology and commercial departments at Nova Chemicals’ Beaver Valley site.

In an effort to see all of the Nova Chemicals plant, we toured the facility on our bus with our host, Dan Depenhart, the Site Operations Leader. After watching a brief safety video, we drove around the plant as Dan explained the sites. Scattered throughout the plan were large storage tanks, cylindrical and spherical, that are used to store the plant’s primary raw materials of styrene and pentane.

The spherical tanks are used to hold the high pressure liquids because they can evenly distribute the stresses on the vessel along the sphere’s surface. We learned that all of the water used for production at the plant is sourced from the Ohio River, which borders the site. We saw the water treatment facility within the plant, and learned that any water returned to the Ohio River is cleaner than when it was removed. To make the resins, we learned that the styrene is converted into polystyrene beads through polymerization. The beads are melted, the pentane blowing agent is added, and the bead are extruded. Lastly they are heated, expanded, and allowed to cure. The facility has the capacity to produce 250 million pounds of plastic resins per year! The polystyrene and advanced foam resin products are packaged in 1 ton supersacks and 1000 pound cartons to be transported to customers by truck, rail and sea bulk containers. Customers of the expandable polystyrene resins use the product for foam packaging and insulation, where higher grades are used in the manufacturing of cups and food service containers. The advanced foam resins are used for manufacturing high-end electronics packaging because it can be molded in complex forms; is resistant to punctures, tears, and breaking; and it is lightweight which reduces freight and shipping costs.

During our tour we also learned that Nova Chemicals is committed to the principles of the Responsible Care program. Responsible Care is a global, voluntary initiative developed by the chemical industry to improve health, safety and environmental performance. As a Responsible Care company, Nova Chemicals works to safely manage their chemical products throughout their life cycle from the planning of new products, through their manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal.

At the end of our tour, Dan provided some advice for the students….study hard, and never stop learning. Focus on teamwork and have integrity.

PennEnergy Resources

“America is built on energy.”

The first stop of our 2016 STEM Careers Tour was PennEnergy Resources located in Robinson Township, a northwest suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. PennEnergy Resources is an independent oil & gas company with a focus on acquiring and developing oil and gas shale resources into operating wells and reserves. They currently have operations in Armstrong, Beaver, and Butler counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. Founded in 2011, they employ 32 professionals with over 425 years of industrial experience!

Due to safety concerns we were not able to visit an actual Penn Energy drilling facility for our tour, but we were provided an overview of their operations and introduced to many of the people who make it possible.

The first step in the process of developing a gas well is finding the gas. We learned that geologists use various tools and tests to analyze and determine where gas is located, how much is present, and the best location for the well.

Once the optimal location is determined, engineers and geologists study the operations and environmental permitting requirements. After the planning process is complete and regulatory approval received, construction begins on the drilling pad and location infrastructure. This step could include new bridges and roads to enable the access of equipment and minimize the impact on the environment. Large triple-lined water pits are also constructed to hold the water used in the drilling process. Once the site is complete, PennEnergy contracts the drilling operation to specialists in the field. The target area for the drilling is ~ 1 mile deep into the earth and then they drill ~1 mile horizontal within only a 10 foot vertical zone to extract the gas.

It was evident that the safety of employees, communities near the drilling sites, and the environment are a key focus at PennEnergy Resources. PennEnergy’s Director of Health, Environmental and Safety shared with us some of the policies that they implement to ensure safe work sites with little impact to the environment from such as the water pits that are triple lined to ensure that they do not leak into the ground water.  Engineers need to be good communicators as they go out into the community to address fears and concerns of communities.

It was very interesting talking to the people behind the process at PennEnergy Resource. They were extremely passionate about their jobs and the energy industry. Many have traveled throughout the country and seen the world working in the industry! They provided a lot of advice for the students:

Communication is key for success, both oral and written.
All education is a stepping stone.
You will ‘morph’ and evolve and your job will change as you gain experience in different areas.
Know your strengths and what you like.
Listen to the ‘old’ guys.

Although we weren’t able to visit an actual drilling site, our visit to PennEnergy Resources provided us with a great view of the company and their role in the oil and gas shale industry. The passion of the PennEnergy employees for their work and the energy was contagious.

TechShop Pittsburgh

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour TechShop 7One of the last stops on our June 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour was TechShop Pittsburgh located in Bakery Square in Pittsburgh’s East End.  TechShop Pittsburgh is a do-it-yourself makerspace, where you can create anything that you can imagine.  There is equipment for woodworking, laser cutters, 3D printers, a metal shop, sewing machines, a waterjet cutter, an injection molding machine, and a plastic extruder.  For a membership fee you have access to training and use of all this equipment, but you can also pay-as-you-go for workshops, classes and camps.  Entrepreneurs, artisans and inventors are all welcome to create their masterpieces.  You bring your idea, and TechShop provides the access, knowledge and speed.  There are currently ~500 members at the Pittsburgh site and membership starts $150 per month.  With someone to teach you how to use the tools you can get from idea to creation in very little time!

Our guide, Justin Harvilla, began as a member at TechShop Pittsburgh, joining to have a place to do sculpting.  After being a member, he joined the staff.  He provided us with a great tour of the facility, giving us an overview of all the equipment available at the facility.  After touring, we were treated to a demonstration of the laser cutter.  The laser cutter enables carving and whittling of cardboard, glass, wood and other materials with amazing accuracy.  Laser cutting directs a high-power laser through optics. The focused laser beam is directed at the material, which then melts or burns the material, leaving an edge with a high-quality surface finish.  As opposed to being controlled manually by hand wheels or levers, the laser is guided by precise programmed commands.   Etched Grow a Generation LogoAdvantages of laser cutting over mechanical cutting include an easier ability to secure the material as it is being machined and a reduction in contamination of the material.  Additionally precision may be better, since the laser does not wear during the process.  As a souvenir of our visit, our guide presented us with laser cutting the the ‘Grow a Generation’ tree.  So cool!

The visit to TechShop Pittsburgh was amazing. We were all inspired by not only the endless possibilities to create at TechShop Pittsburgh, but also by the community-based environment.  

Check out the upcoming workshops.  http://www.techshop.ws/take_classes.html?storeId=14   

CWNC Biology students visit Knopp Biosciences, Duquesne’s Department of Biology and the Hillman Cancer Center

Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Careers Tour 2016Biology students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School embarked on a STEM Careers Tour!

The first stop on the tour was Knopp Biosciences located in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. Knopp Biosciences is a drug development company, equipped with state-of-the-art electrophysiology, cell biology, and medicinal chemistry labs. Their current focus is to develop drugs to treat epilepsy and asthma. Prior to touring their labs, students sat down with their biologists and chemists (over bagels and coffee!) and learned about their educational and professional backgrounds. Knopp professionals provided advice for the students planning to pursue STEM degrees (HINT: get research experience in college!).

Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Careers Tour 2 Students then toured the organic chemistry lab at Knopp Biosciences, where their chemists are working to develop organic molecules designed to hit specific biological targets. Once the compounds are developed, they are tested by the biologists to determine if they are causing the desired response in the cell line. The biologist communicates her findings back to the chemist, so she can alter the molecule in an effort to get the desired response in the cells. Once a compound shows the desired result in the lab, it is shipped out for further testing on lab animals to see not only if the desired result is still achieved but also, what other responses the drug may cause in the animal. Biologists at Knopp Biosciences are also studying how a small molecule they developed reduces a variety of white blood cells and assists in the treatment of asthma.
Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Careers Tours 3 The next stop on the tour was the Department of Biological Sciences at Duquesne University. The department has 16 faculty members focused on teaching and research. We ate our brown bag lunches while listening to a student panel of graduate and undergraduate biology students talk about their experience transitioning to college, why they chose to major in biology, and why they decided to continue with a graduate degree. They advised students to master time management, join extra-curricular activities on campus, and develop a rapport with your professors. After the student panel, several professors spoke to us about their research. Unique to the Department of Biological Sciences at Duquesne University, we learned about the SuperLab course, where students get hands-on laboratory experience by identifying a mystery micro-organism one semester and confirming their result via DNA testing a second semester.

Grow a Generation CWNC Biology STEM Career Tours 4For our last stop of the STEM Careers Tour, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic students visited The Hillman Cancer Center where they toured the labs of Dr. Lisa Butterfield. The labs study the interaction between the immune system and cancer. Dr. Butterfield recommended that students who have an interest in research to get experience in different labs and with different areas of research to understand what they like to do. She said that she is constantly reviewed and critiqued, but that it makes her better at what she does. The next tour at the Hillman Cancer Center was the labs of Dr. Timothy Burns that study the development of targeted therapies for treating lung cancer. Dr. Burns has both his PhD. And MD., which he says enables him to treat the patients that are in his clinical studies. Students were encouraged to apply to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Academy that enables students as young as 15 years of age to spend their summer conducting research.

Students who attended the tour gained a better understanding of not only the careers available to them within the biological sciences, but also a sense of the people and working environments in these dynamic and growing fields.

 

Grow a Generation CWNC Biology 2016 STEM Careers Tour 5

“It was an amazing experience!”

“It was interesting to see all the different labs and how equipment and technique vary.”

“I enjoyed seeing how all the scientists work together.”

Is your school or classroom looking for a daylong STEM Careers Tour?

Visit http://growageneration.com/services/stem-career-tours/ for information and to request a quote.

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