When Gov. William Donald Schaefer and 80 other top officials opened their valentines from Arbutus Middle School students earlier this month, they got a glimpse of the future.
The heart-shaped greetings came from the school's technology education class and the youngsters used pink paper they made themselves.
Now the students want Mr. Schaefer to see how they made the paper when he opens the two-day National Engineers Week fair at the Baltimore Museum of Industry at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The governor will even be able to take a piece of their handmade paper to the nearby hand-set printing display and order a personal souvenir of his visit made up.
The fair will pit teams from schools throughout Maryland in engineering challenges -- among them building robots to retrieve simulated toxic waste containers and testing the endurance of model bridges. Other projects, including paper-making, will be displayed through demonstrations.
The Arbutus seventh- and eighth-graders, and engineering students from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, worked together on the project. Making rudimentary paper was not only great fun for the students but also taught them how to learn from their mistakes and produce the desired result.
"We used too much water at first, but when we changed it, it came out perfect," said eighth-grader Kristy Gable.
"They reworked the pulp and developed their own process without realizing it," said Roger Beechener, the teacher who supervised the project.
The demonstration at the Industry Museum is sponsored jointly by UMBC and Maryland Environmental Services Inc., an agency of the state Department of Natural Resources.
The students said their first attempt involved using a single hand-turned roller to compress the pulp on a fine-mesh screen, and a small hand vacuum cleaner to extract the water from the pulp.
"We used old computer paper. We tore it up and put in the pulp machine," said Brenna Keifer, a seventh-grader. "We tried to make two different color papers, pink and white, using two different screens at the same time. But it didn't work," said her classmate, John Sidlowski.
Their first day's labor produced just seven sheets of paper. And the youngsters realized quickly that they needed a more effi
cient method, Mr. Beechener said.
"I learned it was real hard rolling it by hand," John Sidlowski said.
Casting about for ideas, Mr. Beechener borrowed a slip-form roller, used by machine shops to shape metal sheets, and the students adapted it to paper-making. The hand-cranked machine did the job, and "that day they made 28 sheets of paper," the teacher said.
"The decision-making was their own instead of having adults do it for them. I just guided them; they did it," Mr. Beechener said. "They have learned elements of industry by bringing industry to a miniaturized scale. . . . They learned, by doing several different processes, to get from scrap paper to new paper."
Carmen Benet, 24, of Catonsville, a senior chemical engineering student who worked with the middle-school students, said the project was also an exercise in recycling.
Using discarded materials, including a plastic 55-gallon drum lTC and an old workshop motor, the UMBC students built the machine that churns torn paper and water into the gooey pulp that eventually becomes new paper, she said.
They recycled plastic and metal components -- including a used stainless steel, fine-mesh screen and a continuous felt pad that was once used in paper manufacturing -- into a larger machine that will be on display at the museum. Once that machine is
completely refined, "you'll be able to walk across the room with a continuous sheet of paper," Mr. Simons said.
As a reward for their work, the middle-school students went to UMBC Wednesday for a brown-bag lunch and a recycling seminar.
Head for the fair
WHEN: Maryland's High Tech, Math, Science and Engineering Fair will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway, across the harbor from Harborplace.
ADMISSION: Free with student identification; $1 for others. Further information is available by calling (410) 727-4808.