The Daily Illini

Electrifying Engineering: 95th Open House grows in numbers, exhibits

Illini Motorsports, the Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), will be returning this year to the Engineering Open House to debut the driving component of their design presentation. 


Creating a personalized action figure by using a 3-D printer, seeing liquids act like solids, interacting with a robotic child at Beckman Institute and driving a simulated race car at the 2015 Engineering Open House — these are just a few of the over 250 exhibits that will be set up north of Green Street on Friday and Saturday.

In its 95th year, the Engineering Open House (EOH) has attracted tens of thousands of people annually in the past, with an expected 17,000 to 20,000 visitor count this year, according to Jon Henricks, director of EOH and junior in Engineering.

“We are the largest event of our kind in the entire country,” Henricks said. “I think that this is a great opportunity to have our students show off what they’re capable of and get very positive feedback for the things that they’re doing.”

Henricks said because the event is free and open to the public, it attracts people of all ages and academic backgrounds.

This year’s theme is “The future starts here,” which will be exhibited in a variety of different booths, experiments, demonstrations and shows from each department and some other majors. The events will span the two engineering quads, located to the north of the Illini Union, and 14 buildings on campus.

“It’s a science fair on steroids, to put it quite bluntly,” joked Michael Sarantos, senior in Engineering.

Sarantos is helping with two booths this year, and he has been a participant in the events since he was a freshman.

“We’re doing something called oobleck. … It’s corn starch and water,” he said. “It’s called a non-Newtonian fluid, so if you punch it really hard, it’ll act like a solid, but if you just let your hand sit on it, your hand will sink like a liquid.”

There are a handful of student groups at EOH who will also focus on this sticky substance, and each will exhibit it in a different way, mostly to appeal to small children who like to play around with it and get messy, Sarantos said.

Ann Choi, senior in Engineering, is also helping out with the oobleck booth, in addition to a demo called “invisible glass.”

“We’re going to have five different types of materials like plastic, glass, soda lime glass, magnifying glasses — all with different refractive indexes,” said Choi, who is also the vice president of Keramos, the materials science and engineering professional society. “Then we’ll basically submerge (the materials) in the same oil, just so children can see what happens when you have two materials with the same index together — it will essentially disappear.”

Another interactive exhibit will feature a race car driving simulator for kids to play on, headed by Illini Motorsports, the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team.

“Every year for EOH, we have a booth in front of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory, MEL, where we have a car along with design posters,” said Michael Bastanipour, captain of Illini Motorsports and senior in Engineering. “But this is the first time we’re doing the actual driving (at the EOH).”

The Formula team along with the Baja team and an electric car will be driving around in front of the Engineering Student Project Lab. The student groups will be explaining the mechanics behind the vehicles and what it takes to build them, Bastanipour said.

Additionally, a 25 ton army truck will also be open to the public on Springfield Avenue, which will be closed off for the weekend to accommodate the influx of EOH visitors. 

Returning to EOH this year is the Tesla Coil Concert. The concert involves an electric lightning-like show paired with popular music, but this year it will be a bit different from previous performances. The concert will play students’ original material and their own renditions of well-known tunes submitted through a music competition that ended March 1.

The electrified performance will kick off on the Engineering Quad on Friday at 9 p.m. and will be free of charge to attendees.

“(For the Tesla Coils), we need a unique power supply, a 240 volt plugin,” Henricks said. “We’re lucky we’re a huge university, because we have one of those, most don’t.”

Beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, students will man booths and present to incoming guests throughout the day, including middle school and high school students.

“We’ll have between 40 and 50 buses of (high school and middle school) students alone,” Henricks said.

This year will be the first year that EOH will offer tours of the open house for school-age kids, hoping to make it more accessible to navigate. 

“It’s very intimidating if you don’t go here to try and go to all 14 of the buildings,” Henricks said.

Planning the EOH is no small feat either, Henricks said. The planning process is a year-round operation — initial preparations began in April 2014 and weekly committee meetings have taken place since the fall.

The same effort of preparation applies for students with exhibits as well, who began planning throughout the school year.

“Weeks of planning go into preparing for EOH. We have to make sure everything we are presenting will work reliably throughout the two days of EOH,” wrote Ankur Mehta, senior in Engineering, in an email. “We also have to prepare specific visuals and peripherals to help educate the general public on what we are working on and what we have accomplished.”

At the end of the day, EOH participants just want to offer an opportunity for people to learn about math and science. 

“I have always liked reaching out to kids and showing them that science is cool,” Sarantos said. “I do it because I just like hearing someone learn something new.”

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