Detroit Mercy students design exhibit for Michigan Science Center

November 05, 2018

Detroit Mercy student Nynke Van Der Goot (left) and Chief Learning Officer at the Michigan Science Center Cassie Byrd pose for a photo next the Earthquake table prototype.What started off as a simple idea will soon be enjoyed by thousands of children and adults at the Michigan Science Center.

Thanks to a collaboration between University of Detroit Mercy, Ford Motor Company Fund (Ford Fund), Detroit Cristo Rey High School and the Michigan Science Center, the science behind one Earth’s most fascinating phenomena is coming to the museum, in the form of an earthquake table exhibit.

Detroit Mercy dual enrollment students from Cristo Rey, Engineering students and faculty worked together with educators at the Michigan Science Center to develop the concept, and later the prototype for this interactive display.

The project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Ford Fund’s Ford Community Corp (FCC), which through a partnership with Detroit Mercy’s Institute for Leadership & Service, aims to support faculty and students interested in developing a service-learning project to meet the needs of a non-profit organization or target population in metro Detroit.

“I’m very thankful Ford Fund gives us the support to do projects like this because it’s a great opportunity,” said Detroit Mercy student Nynke Van Der Goot, who was one of the lead Engineering students on the project. “All the students involved in the project learned a lot. For me, it gave me real-world experience. It’s also great that we can make a difference in the community.”

Van Der Goot and Detroit Mercy student Jonathon Mittelstaedt created the proposal to develop a project for the Michigan Science Center. Once the proposal was approved, Van Der Groot and Mittelstaedt, along with Detroit Mercy Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Nassif Rayess, taught a class with dual enrollment students from Detroit Cristo Rey, who were tasked with creating an idea for the project. Dual enrollment is a special program at Detroit Mercy, which allows high school students to take classes at the University for college credit.

A close up shot of the Earthquake table.The students toured the Michigan Science Center and developed several different ideas before settling on the Earthquake Table. Van Der Goot, Mittelstaedt and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jonathan Weaver built the prototype, which was recently tested at the Michigan Science Center.

“It’s amazing,” said Van Der Goot, who graduated in May and now works as a product engineer at The Woodbridge Group. “When we started, it was just an idea, a very vague idea, but I really wanted to see a new exhibit in the Science Center. Now the prototype is here and it’s really a feeling of accomplishment.”

The Earthquake Table allows Science Center guests to create structures and then test how they would hold up to simulated earthquakes. Guests can learn different techniques used in modern buildings to ensure their structures are sound.

“Users learn is how to build a stable structure so it doesn’t shake as much,” Van Der Goot said. “For example, if you use triangles, you can build a more stable structure than just having squares. It gets people interested in earthquakes and maybe the science behind earthquakes.”

The project is in the final stages after being tested by patrons at the Science Center, with plans for it to become a permanent exhibit.

“I think they came up with a really great design,” said Cassie Byrd, Chief Learning Officer at the Michigan Science Center. “The nice thing about the exhibit is its simplicity. It’s gotten us excited about how we might incorporate more community-built exhibits into our galleries.”

Van Der Goot said the dual enrollment students really enjoyed the class, and she’s hopeful it will encourage them to pursue a career as an engineer.

“Sometimes high school students think engineering is all math,” Van Der Goot said. “I thought maybe it will be cool for the students to do something that’s more real life, then maybe they get more interested in engineering. It can motivate them to think, ‘Oh, engineering is fun. There’s a lot of cool stuff that goes into engineering.’ Because there are not enough engineers in the world right now.”

For more information on the Ford Community Corp visit

For more information on Detroit Mercy’s engineering program visit

To learn more about the Michigan Science Center visit

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.