23rd October 2020 — Sophie Reid, a gifted musician and future engineer, tasked herself with the challenge of designing and building an electric violin during Lockdown as her entry for a school competition. Sophie is a student in her final year at St George’s for Girls in Edinburgh.
Each year at St George’s senior pupils are invited to enter a piece of independent work to be assessed for a prestigious Sixth Form Research Award.
Sophie explains why she chose an electric violin as her entry: “I am interested in engineering and earlier this year I learned to use the software package Fusion 360 to create computer designs for a 'Water-Powered Flood Barrier' in response to the global issues caused by flooding each year. A friend and I worked on the project and entered the design into the Big Bang Fair competition where we were named runner-up in the final for our entry.
“This experience taught me how to use computer-aided design (CAD) to create 3D concepts on screen. I wanted to experiment further to see if I could take my design ideas to the next level and create a physical object. I thought it would be fun to make something that I was interested in, and as I am a keen musician and play the acoustic violin, I decided to have a go at creating an electric violin so I could find out what it was like to play.”
Sophie spent six weeks working on her project during the summer, and to fulfil the entry requirement for the school award she had to document the whole process. She did this by videoing each stage of the procedure from her initial drawing of the designs at the start to tuning and playing the finished violin. Once Sophie was happy with her drawings and had mastered the software to create them as 3D computer designs, she started the physical production phase. Sophie describes this process:
“To custom cut the plank of wood for the violin body of my design, I used the machining function of Fusion 360, which allowed me to programme a CNC milling machine so it could interpret my computer designs. I learned to do this by watching a lot of tutorials on Youtube and my Dad helped me to set up and work the milling machine so that it cut the exact design that I had programmed.
“The hardest part was getting the design dimensions 100% accurate. I worked through many designs and re-designs to improve angles and to fine-tune the exact shapes and sizes of the components. I needed to work out how elements should fit together with complete accuracy and precision. There were many measurements in different units which needed to be converted. Problem-solving was a key part of this iterative process and I also needed to understand how working with wood was affected by each of the processes.
“The best bit was seeing the progression from my initial sketches to the final product. I had a physical instrument at the end that I could tune and play.”
Sophie is currently applying to university to study Engineering. She is currently studying Mechanics, Pure Maths, Statistics and Physics at Advanced Higher at St George’s. She has played music from a young age and is preparing for her Grade 8 exam for the violin. She also enjoys playing the guitar, and the Baritone horn, and is a regular performer in the school’s Orchestra and Concert bands.
Sophie’s has also started her own Youtube channel during Lockdown called ‘The Science of it’ in which she creates video tutorials to teach GCSE level physics concepts to secondary students who have not been as fortunate as her in having access to the quality of teaching and the resources she has had from being a student at St George’s.