Vitale said the foundation is also focused this year on getting 3D printers into middle schools and high schools.
São Paolo-based Braskem, the United States' largest polypropylene producer and PlastiVan's lead corporate sponsor, has pledged a $30,000 donation to support the campaign. Vitale said Raj Krishnaswamy, Ph.D., director of innovation and technology at Braskem America, is "very passionate" about helping improve PlastiVan and expand it, "in hopes of being able to meet the demands."
"At Braskem, we believe in the functional value and the environmental benefits that plastics provide to humanity. We are also very active in fostering STEM-based education initiatives in all communities where we operate," Krishnaswamy said in an email.
"The PlastiVan program is an outstanding plastics education initiative that reaches out to a broad community," he continued. "The technical and engineering perspectives offered by PlastiVan encourage more students to pursue STEM-based education and careers. It is this shared belief in STEM education and the value proposition of plastics that prompted us to sponsor this activity."
The SPE Foundation's PlastiVan program, which started about 20 years ago, was created as a hands-on approach to educate and excite students about science and the plastics industry through experiments and topics that range from chemistry and history to manufacturing and sustainability. Available to middle school and high school students across the country, PlastiVan has served more than 40,000 students over the last two years in Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Ohio, Washington, Massachusetts, Illinois and Oklahoma.
The lab for middle school students introduces them to polymers and plastics, while the high school lab is a more advanced experience that includes career opportunities and college programs in plastics engineering.