Engineering Open House to kick off



By Peter Kim

The sonorous hum of lasers, the babbling gurgle of liquid nitrogen and the spattering whir of propeller wings.

It must be Engineering Open House.

Running from March 7 to March 8, the annual student-run Engineering Open House will showcase various student projects, competitions and faculty research of the University’s various engineering departments. The two-day science fair will feature over 200 exhibits and demonstrations including an advanced robotics competition, 3-D Tetris and a rock concert played with lightning bolt generators.

The open house will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday in different parts of the engineering campus.

“(Engineering Open House) is really just to show how awesome science is,” said Meagan Simantz, director of this year’s Engineering Open House. “There are a record number of exhibits this year … all of which embody the theme ‘Sparking Curiosity.'”

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New to this year’s lineup of exhibits is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering’s multi-touch screen exhibit. Built from cheap, readily available materials, the plexiglass touch screen converts light reflections created on the screen into digital data. At the exhibit, the multi-touch screen will be set up to allow visitors to finger paint on a virtual canvas or play computer games with their hands.

“It took six or seven people to work on it all of last semester … it’s great because it allows students to make something that the industry is moving towards,” said Rahul Yargop, junior in Engineering and member of the institute.

Returning again this year is the perennial favorite “Concrete Crusher.” In this smashing exhibit, located in the basement of Talbot Laboratory, a 3-million-pound crushing machine pulverizes a 4-foot tall, 18-inch diameter concrete cylinder.

“The concrete crumbles like a cookie,” said Serena Liou, the Engineering Open House external publicity director.

In addition to exhibits, the open house is also host to three levels of science competition: middle school, high school and college.

This year’s high school competition will be the regional tier of the national Rube Goldberg Design Contest.

Based on the comic drawings of cartoonist Rube Goldberg, a Rube Goldberg device is a machine that takes many steps to complete a simple task. Essentially, it is a life-size version of the board game Mousetrap.

The task for this year’s competition is to use different contraptions to prepare a hamburger in as many steps as possible. The competition will be held in the Illini Union Rooms A, B and C on Friday.

The most anticipated of three competitions is the college level Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition. Sponsored by AMD, a major producer of microprocessors, the annual robotics competition pits teams of engineering students against each other in a test to build the most capable robot. In this year’s competition, the robots must place hoops and rings in color coated bases. But the bases change color, so the robots must keep up with the sudden changes.

While the Jerry Sanders Contest is a local competition, the event has in the past drawn competitors from the University of Illinois-Chicago and Valparaiso University and students from as far away as Mexico.

“Last year, it was the most exciting event … I am going to (the open house) just for the Jerry Sanders Contest,” said Sukhada Palkar, sophomore in Engineering.

But the real fun begins later in the competition. Once the finalists are decided, the other teams have the option to compete in the “Destructive Rounds.” All contact rules are lifted, and the robots fight to the death in a cybernetic battle royale.

“It’s battle bots,” said Yang Zhou, the Engineering Open House exhibits director.

The contest will take place in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

To cap off opening night with a bang, Engineering Open House will host “The Tesla Coil Music and Light Show,” a lightning bolt rock concert, on Friday at 9:15 p.m.

Using a Continuum keyboard, a motion sensor keyboard that detects up, down and sideways finger movement, local musician and engineer Mark Smart will play progressive rock music over the Engineering Quad. In lieu of speakers, Mark Smart will be playing the Continuum keyboard through two Tesla Coils. Each stand over 6-feet tall and are over 3-feet in diameter. The Tesla coils shoot large bolts of electricity that resonate with the frequency of regular music notes.

“If Jimi Hendrix came back from the dead as electricity instead of a human, that’s what the coils sound like,” said Ben Trevor, freshman in LAS, who was present for the trial run of the coils.

Although the exhibits, demonstrations and shows are meant to be entertaining, Simantz said she hopes there will also be other effects.

“Our overall goal is to inspire kids to pursue science … and to show off U of I engineering,” Simantz said.

The Engineering Open House Central Committee, the group of student volunteers that organize the event each year, has been working double time to make it the best open house yet, Zhou said.

“We’ve been working really hard to get in everything … Hopefully nothing blows up,” Zhou said.