Aurora Lipper, owner of Supercharged Science, was teaching mechanical engineering at Cal Poly in the late 1990s when she realized that the way to hook students on science was to do it early and make it cool.
“Kids were coming through college bored already,” said Lipper, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly. “The way kids are taught science ... most science textbooks and teachers are dry and boring. And no scientist in their right mind will do an experiment they already know the answer to.”
Although Lipper wasn’t trained as an educator, she started volunteering in elementary classrooms “just for fun,” teaching students using less intimidating scientific language and real science instruments and tools: batteries, wires, motors and even an 8-foot rocket.
“It was a hobby for a long time,” said Lipper, also a private pilot who conducted research for Edward Air Force Base on a new engine for F-15 fighter planes. “I hired 12 staff to keep up with the demand of 50 to 60 classes a week. We were zooming all over the place.”
After a hiatus following the birth of her first child in 2002, Lipper and her husband, Al, also a Cal Poly graduate with a background in business, education and psychology, transformed Aurora’s hobby into a business that develops hands-on science curriculum and classes that can be accessed online at www.superchargedscience.com.
“My idea was that if we put these classes online and made them available to people everywhere, we could reach way more kids, and we could also turn it into a decently profitable business,” Al Lipper said.
The Lippers, whose company is self-funded and started with an initial $500 investment, packaged material they already had and developed an online membership program, which is $37 monthly for grades K-8 or $57 a month for grades 9-12.
Their primary market is parents who homeschool and teachers who need to teach science but may not have the expertise or comfort level with the material.
Supercharged Science’s interactive videos — nearly 1,000 online — guide teachers and students through science experiments and activities, and the company also offers science guidebooks that teach students and teachers how to do a range of experiments from measuring the speed of light using a chocolate bar to making robots and laser light shows.
The company regularly contracts with science experts from around the world to develop curriculum, work on projects or answer student questions on a variety of subjects.
Supercharged Science hosts a summer science camp as well, where children learn about astronomy, robotics and aeronautics. Aurora Lipper does not volunteer at schools anymore, but she sometimes offers private teacher workshops.
“We provide a turnkey solution for parents who feel like they want to get a more complete science education than they are getting in school,” Al Lipper said.
The Lippers said that “a few thousand people” are using the program.
“We serve people all over the world, at least in 26 countries,” he said, noting that right now the instruction is only in English. “We’re working with someone in Egypt who wants to use it, and in Africa different tribes come in and watch videos. There are over 3,000 kids in small village schools in Africa using materials. We just contribute the access to them.”
The San Luis Obispo couple has invested less than $5,000 in the company, which is profitable. Business is expected to double this year, he said.
“We’re about educating kids for a lifetime, not to pass a test or meet some artificial standard that’s been set up,” he said. “We’re teaching kids practical aspects of science, how the mechanics of a robot work or how to extract DNA from veggies in their kitchen. We’re working on real hands-on science.”