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Chartiers Valley students on cutting edge in applied engineering

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:39 p.m.

Safety glasses in place, Chartiers Valley sophomore Jarrod Cunningham flips a switch and sparks start to fly.

A stream of electricity and compressed air liquefy the metal on contact. The thin stream cuts a computer-aided design into the sheet metal from above.

The students in Andrew Poppelreiter's applied engineering class use the plasma cutter – the compressed air becomes plasma when the electricity comes through it — to bring to life designs that would otherwise remain just that — a design.

“They get to see not just how it could be done, but to actually make it happen,” said Poppelreiter. “They get to make something professional, not just cut something and hope it's straight in the end.”

The district purchased the plasma cutter in November through a $15,000 grant from the state.

Cunningham, a student in the applied engineering class, said the difference between designing a project and actually having a finished project is wide.

“It's obviously fun to watch (the plasma cutter),” he said. “But when the finished piece comes out and you get to hold it — there are so many possibilities.”

Projects created by students so far include a fishing pole rack, a music-theme guitar rack and an outdoor fire pit.

Poppelreiter said he hopes to turn the class into a business — create and cut designs for local residents, using the money earned to pay for supplies.

In the meantime, Poppelreiter said, the hands-on nature of the class allows students to gain not just knowledge, but experience.

“It's important because the kids to get do something from start to finish, and that makes it mean a lot more,” he said. “They're not just guessing that they could be good at this, they're seeing it.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or

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