NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Perot Museum's TECH Truck Inspires Future Scientists

Bill Zeeble
The Perot Museum's TECH Truck trebuchet in action. Science students launched apples, tangerines and tomatoes. One apple ended up 117 feet downfield.

Dallas’ Perot Museum of Nature and Science just launched its second TECH Truck. Designed to take science to the streets, the truck recently visited southern Dallas on the campus of UNT Dallas.  

Middle school girls in a Girls Inc. summer science program are assembling pre-cut wood using nuts bolts and screws. They’re getting help from the Perot Museum’s TECH Truck educator, Michael Hughes.

He explains what’s happening. “And so today we’re building trebuchets.”

What's that?

“We built a … treb … boo … a trebuchet …” says one of the middle school kids, speaking slowly and carefully.

Most of these 13-year-olds don’t know what a trebuchet is. Most adults don’t know either. So Hughes describes it. It’s kind of like a catapult.  

“Imagine a see-saw on the playground, with a really big guy sitting on one end and a little, tiny kid sitting on the other end," Hughes says. "And the big guy jumping on one end and launching the kid into the air.”

With their contraption assembled, the students carry their trebuchets outside to put them to the test. They launch fruits and vegetables.  

“When I get to one, step back. Three, two, one,” Hughes announces.

After a few failed attempts, an apple flies.

“Oohhh. Yeah, whew!” the kids exclaim.

The winning team’s apple landed 117 feet away.

The TECH truck has been delivering science lessons to North Texas neighborhoods since last fall. A second truck starting hitting the road this summer. By the end of August, the trucks should reach 22,000 students, many in low-income communities where kids and families might not be able to afford or make it to the Perot Museum in downtown Dallas.

Credit Bill Zeeble
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science launched its second TECH Truck in June. It's equipped with many of the same gadgets as the first truck, christened last fall. The new one, though, has added a solar panel to the roof.

Back at the UNT Dallas summer camp, Zamantha Romero and Tenaiya Sanders are having fun with their trebuchets.   

“It was cool, basically because we got to build it, we got to really see how it works. We got to work as a team. We got to know each other more,” Zamantha says.

“It’s a part of life,” Tenaiya says. “You have to learn how to work with other people.”

Collaborating to be creative is a point of the TECH Truck, says Teresa Lenling, the Perot Museum’s director of public programs.

“That’s what this type of programming is going to do, is for youth to really look at projects in a different way and understand who’s going to do what within a team and really work on the project as a whole,” Lenling says.

14-year-old Dasia Edwards, heading into ninth, grade, got hooked discovering bacteria in all sorts of places.

“And it was amazing because there was more bacteria on a cellphone screen than the boys’ bathroom,” Dasia says.   

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Dasia Edwards launched a tomato from the trebuchet she helped build. Standing in a UNT Dallas building, she's in the second year of a five-year summer science program run by the nonprofit Girls Inc.

Ratna Narayan, UNT Dallas’ science instructor, runs the summer program here. She loves the Perot TECH Truck.  

“We’re a small two-building school,” Narayan says. “We don’t have an engineering college. So when I saw the TECH Truck, I was like ‘TECH Truck, we’re getting you here!’”

The trebuchet contest was yes, about fun and team building. But Narayan said it was also about learning the really cool stuff: science.

“OK, for something to go really fast and really far then you have to look at the angle, the velocity, the material you’re using, all that,” Narayan says. “But that’s something you have to point out. It’s not going to dawn on them, unless you put it together in something like this. Then they will learn.”

Thanks in part to a school on wheels. 

Correction: UNT Dallas was incorrectly described in an earlier version of this story.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.