College of Engineering hosts 85th open house

By Smita Krishnaswamy

Engineering Open House (EOH) is here again. The largest annual event the College of Engineering undertakes is in its 85th year and will take place today and Saturday.

The theme of this year’s Open House is “Reinventing Reality.” According to the EOH Visitor’s guide, this theme is “an invitation to open your mind to new and different ideas more creatively.”

The highlights of this year’s EOH include the annual high school design contest, the Illini On-Site Engineering Challenge and the Advanced Micro Devices W. J. “Jerry” Sanders Creative Design Competition.

The high school design contest, known as the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, involves creating a machine to achieve a simple objective through many complicated and creative steps. This year’s challenge involves taking out and using a machine to replace the batteries of a flashlight and turning it on in no less than 20 steps.

The Illini On-Site Engineering Challenge requires participants to design a small boat on the spot out of materials provided, which will then be tested for strength. Anybody is welcome to participate in the boat building competition, and all participants will receive a prize.

In the AMD W. J. “Jerry” Sanders competition, students who have worked for six months designing robots get the chance to test their robots’ skills. In this year’s task, robots earn points for removing plastic balls from their bases or shooting them through basketball hoops. The competition includes a preliminary round, as well as an elimination round. Contestants can win up to $5,000 in prizes.

Other highlights include many student exhibits sponsored by Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) in the College of Engineering. More than 160 exhibits are scattered throughout the buildings around the Engineering Quad.

Carolyn Tomchik, senior in engineering and member of the American Nuclear Society, said putting up exhibits for EOH involves a huge time commitment, especially in the few weeks right before the event.

“It’s the biggest event we have all semester and a good opportunity for people to form groups and get to know each other,” she said.

Megan Small, senior in engineering, and Andrea Sapienza, junior in engineering, are members of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The RSO is holding a balsa wood bridge contest, in which local schools send teams of students to build bridges of balsa wood. The bridges are then tested for strength.

“The bridges are roughly two feet long and as high as they want, and the students have had all semester to build them,” Small said.

Tom Carlson, sophomore in engineering, is a member of the Society of Experimental Mechanics. The RSO is putting up “TAM Toys,” an exhibit to explain the mechanics of some simple toys to viewers. An example of a toy showcased is a bicycle wheel gyroscope.

Jason Mitchell, senior in engineering and director of EOH, said the exhibits compete for the Best Exhibit Awards in 13 different categories, 12 of which are judged by graduate students, alumni and professors in the College. The 13th category is the Exhibitor Vote, which viewers vote for in various locations throughout the Engineering Quad.

Because of its size, the EOH requires a massive organizational effort to coordinate headed by a Central Committee. Mitchell was elected by members of the Engineering Council following last year’s EOH and has been involved in EOH in various roles since his freshman year. The Committee met bi-monthly during fall 2004 and weekly during spring 2005 to ensure that EOH 2005 runs smoothly.

This year, for the first time, the EOH Central Committee is working with the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to have the 13 best exhibits displayed in the Museum, along with exhibits from the Chicago Public Schools science fairs, on April 1 and 2.