Student Versions of SpaceClaim and ANSYS AIM are Cornerstones to New Academic Initiative
Shawn Wasserman posted on May 05, 2016 |
Simulation MOOC and STEM initiatives launched at the USA Science and Engineering Festival.
Paul Lethbridge, global director academic program at ANSYS announces new STEM initiatives at the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

Paul Lethbridge, global director academic program at ANSYS announces new STEM initiatives at the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

In an exclusive, ANSYS announced they will be expanding the scope of their academic program. The program’s new goals are to get young kids into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

To that end, the company will soon be offering educational editions of their SpaceClaim and ANSYS AIM software to Universities as well as K-12 classrooms.

 Paul Lethbridge, the academic program manager at ANSYS, announced at the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF) that the new academic software options for SpaceClaim and AIM will be available later in the quarter.

Additionally, the new STEM initiative will include massive open online courses (MOOC) on simulation. These course, operated by Cornell University, will are open to anyone wishing to learn more about CAE software. Having the MOOC, and other training material, available is intended to reduce the chance of all of this free software ending up as shelf-ware.

ANSYS to Expand Academic Software Options and Reach to Include University and K-12

Youth learns how to use ANSYS technology at USASEF.

Youth learns how to use ANSYS technology at USASEF.

ANSYS will continue to offer the student versions of their full commercial software to Universities and academics. However, the academic version of ANSYS isn’t something that a typical youth would easily be able to figure out.

We have a wide academic program. We mostly target undergraduates, but we are staring to push to the younger K-12. This is why we are at the [USASEF],” said Lethbridge.

The backbone of this new academic initiative is the 3D CAD modeler SpaceClaim, and the up-and-coming simulation platform ANSYS Aim which utilizes the CAD modeler on the front end.

Youth plays with ANSYS technology at the USASEF.

Youth plays with ANSYS technology at the USASEF.

“They are very easy to use, very intuitive and a real hit with the kids,” said Lethbridge. “You look around the booth and you see kids six to seven years old and they are getting on really well with the software.”

He added, “I had one kid that was up and running in about five minutes. He knew more about the software than I did with some of those drop down menus. It was just amazing.”

Lethbridge explains that realistically, these kids would need an hour or so to really get going on the CAE software. However, even after a few minutes most were able to play around with the CAE tools, getting a real feel for what engineers do.

Why Are Simulation Companies Expanding their Academic Programs?

ANSYS launches a new mission objective during the USASEF which aims to get kids into STEM.

ANSYS launches a new mission objective during the USASEF which aims to get kids into STEM.

The obvious goal of any CAE academic initiative is to get kids accustomed to using simulation software earlier. Nurturing their contact with the software at a young age will help these students later in their careers.

“They will understand 3D concepts, how things fit together and the effects of tolerancing,” said Lethbridge. “The SpaceClaim product plugs into 3D printing technology which is popular in middle and high schools. They are learning about maker spaces and additive manufacturing, but the software is the front end of that. It allows them to visualize, be creative and build things with no boundaries.”

If the kids have a good foundation of 3D concepts in high school, it will help them in university where they can dive deeper into the fundamentals of simulation and engineering principles. This will in turn help them to pursue engineering careers.

There is a benefit to the CAE vendors: the more these students learn their software, the more likely they are to become experts in the software by the time an engineering firm hires them. This will increase the likelihood that the engineering firm will purchase their software in the future.

As a result, there is a significant trend in the CAE industry toward offering these engineering tools to younger and younger students and more and more academic institutions.

“We are aware of the trend of offering free academic software to universities,” said Lethbridge. “We provide software at a very low cost to universities. We have campus wide solutions that are deployed between all departments from teaching to resources. We also have strategic partnerships where we work with individual professors, departments and whole campuses where we offer that software for free.”

“For high schools we are starting to move that trend down,” added Lethbridge. “It’s really this new software, AIM and SpaceClaim, that is so much more intuitive to use. The other software used by the researchers and commercial customers is more involved and will take a longer time to learn. It isn’t as hands-on and intuitive.”

ANSYS isn’t stopping at high-schools, either. They are also looking to expand their reach into middle schools and student competitions such as FIRST Robotics.

How MOOCs and Academic Partnerships can reduce Shielf-Ware

One challenge simulation vendors face when they offer free software to academics is the risk of those programs becoming “shelf-ware.”

“You can give away as much software as you want, but if you don’t provide training and support it will sit there and not be used,” said Lethbridge. “We offer a lot of material to our partners to ensure the product doesn’t end up as shelf-ware.”

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) experiment from the SimCafe MOOC.
Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) experiment from the SimCafe MOOC.
As a result, ANSYS is providing training and support to accompany their academic software offerings. These resources include:
  • Online tutorials
  • Customer portal
  • Advanced training material
  • Technical support

ANSYS will also partner with academics and professors to bring simulation into their courses, curriculum and textbooks. “We provide the software and training and let them develop the curriculum,” said Lethbridge.

In fact, ANSYS sponsored the new simulation MOOC offered through Cornell University called "A Hands-on Introduction to Engineering Simulations". They have also participated in a MOOC called SimCafe. These courses are free and anyone can sign on to take it.

“The MOOC is about how to use simulation and think like a professional engineer,” explained Lethbridge. “Users need to know how to use the software effectively and not think of it as a black-box. If you don’t know what you’re doing, its garbage in and garbage out.”

Finite element analysis (FEA) experiment from the SimCafe MOOC.
Finite element analysis (FEA) experiment from the SimCafe MOOC.
Cornell's MOOC and SimCafe offers simplified simulation examples to ensure the students gain an understanding of how the software works. Problems such how will a block deforms under a load and how fluid will flow through a pipe are explored.

“The challenge of teaching engineering to young students has two steps,” said Lethbridge. “One is understanding the user environment of the software. These questions are more about the software than the general principles, but the general principles are intuitive for most of the physics. A kid understands that if you bend a piece of wood, it will break at some point. The challenge is to understand how to pose that problem in the software in an effective manner. How do you fix that end of the support and where do you supply the load?”

To learn more about finite element analysis (FEA) or computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation, check out the SimCafe MOOC and A Hands-on Introduction to Engineering Simulations

To find more stories from the USA Science and Engineering Festival, visit The Learning Series video channel at

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