Engineering Open House attracts thousands nationally

A rocket is launched during a rocket race along Boneyard Creek during the Engineering Open House on Friday. The races were hosted by students in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Campus streets were particularly crowded with visitors as March 14 marked the beginning of the 94th annual Engineering Open House.

The open house attracted participants and onlookers of all kinds including students from universities and high schools across the nation and their families. Doug Podgorny, director of the open house and junior in Mechanical Engineering, said the two-day event featured more than 230 student-run exhibits.

Engineering Open House continues to attract curious individuals annually with an estimated 20,000 visitors in attendance this year alone.

“The combination of interaction and education really brings people to campus for EOH,” Podgorny said. “With such a wealth of information presented in an engaging way, people are naturally drawn to what EOH has to offer.” 

Although the event is showcased during a two-day time frame, extensive preparation occurs before exhibits are ready to be displayed throughout the Engineering Quad and its surrounding buildings. 

“Preparations for EOH begin in mid-April and last throughout the summer, fall and spring terms. It is essentially an 11-month planning process,” Podgorny said.

However, the exhibits that intrigue so many during these two days require just as much attention and effort — for many students, their exhibits took nearly a year to develop.

Rocket Races

Students in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics hosted one of this year’s most anticipated demonstrations — rocket races along Boneyard Creek in which two rockets were launched three times on both Friday and Saturday between the quad’s two bridges.

The races take place every year, but this is Michael Bush’s first year helping to organize and prepare the event. 

While this demonstration draws a large crowd, Bush, sophomore in aerospace engineering, said making the rockets was fairly simple.

He said the organizers hope to get people to see that students can have fun in aerospace engineering.

“You can be creative with rocket science,” Bush said.

Illini Motorsports

Students in Illini Motorsports displayed their Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) car on the Engineering Quad. Illini Motorsports takes part in design competitions every year in which they design, build and race a small Formula-style race car.

“We go on two major competitions where there is about 120 teams from places like Germany, Spain, UK and Big Ten schools, too,” said Jack Miller, senior in mechanical engineering.

He said it takes the students about a year to build the car.

Guests of the open house were able to use a racing simulator that replicated the car on display.

“It’s kind of like a realistic video game,” he said.

Illini Pullers

Illini Pullers, a quarter-scale tractor building club, showcased its exhibit in the Digital Computer Laboratory. Each year, the club constructs a new quarter-scale tractor.

“We get a lot of parts donated from companies or money donated,” said Holly Brown, a junior in technical systems management. “We construct a lot of the parts in shop, and we spend a lot of time designing the entire thing.” 

Each year, the Illini Pullers compete in the ASABE International Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition. 

“Each year we make a new tractor starting in August and we have until competition time to get it up and running to have it tested,” Brown said.

With the competition beginning in early June, the Illini Pullers have nearly a year to construct its tractor.

“For the most part, the tractors are used in competition when we’re tested against maneuverability, when we compare design reports against each other, and when we test distance pulled,” Brown said.

At the exhibit, the Illini Pullers featured an accomplishment they are very proud of — a self-made tractor with five engines for a total of 80 horsepower. The tractor took first place overall in the 2010 ASABE competition.

Although the tractors are built primarily for competition, the Illini Pullers find time to demonstrate the work its tractors can accomplish in the real world.

“Sometimes we take it out to Ag Day and do some pulls to show people what we can do with our major,” Brown said. 


The Engineering Open House honored Ellery Paine and Joseph Tykociner, by showcasing a reinvention of sound-on-film. Sound-on-film is a class of sound film, whose process was refined at the University, in which the sound and picture is physically recorded to photographic film. Paine and Tykociner requested a patent, awarded in 1926, for the invention and released the first film in 1922.

The demonstration at the open house included two projectors from the 1940s and 1950s playing a black-and-white film about the experiences of engineers.

Engineering students involved said the exhibit was originally for the new Electrical and Computer Engineering building, but they thought it should be showcased at the open house before it became a permanent exhibit.

Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition

The Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition took place in the Kenney Gym Annex where teams of up to six members competed using robots to perform certain tasks.

Daniel Takushi, a member of Brobots and junior in electrical engineering at the University, said his team knew what to expect this year from past experience. Every two years, the competition’s specific event changes.

“There’s a certain game you have to play — this year the competition consists of robots picking up cones and moving them to different pegs throughout the arena, scoring points along the way,” Takushi said, adding that team members controlled the robots’ movements from outside the arena with Xbox controllers.

Registration for the competition begins in the fall and attracts students from universities throughout the Midwest.

He noted that the competition’s preparation requires a great deal of dedication, as his team had hardly slept for a couple of days prior to the competition.

“We get the general idea of what the game is in the fall,” Takushi said. “Most of our build happens right when we get back from school in the spring semester.”

For Takushi in particular, it is a chance to apply knowledge from his engineering courses to build things with his own hands. 

“I just like building stuff — stuff that actually works … it’s one thing to work on computer systems in a classroom, but it’s really fun to actually program a BeagleBone, hook it up with a computer and get it working with an Xbox controller.”

Illini Society of Fire Protection Engineers

Members of the newly founded Illini Society of Fire Protection Engineers reenacted firefighting scenarios on the Engineering Quad to educate onlookers about fire safety. This group is the only professional society on campus dedicated to fire protection engineers, said John Regan, junior in civil engineering.

The display has been going on for several years; however, it is the first time students in the society are involved, collaborating with the Society of Women Engineers and the Urbana Fire Department to put the event together. The presentation began as an independent study and later became a display at the Engineering Open House. With about 200 registered fire protection engineers, Regan said the society would like to increase its presence on campus. 

“Our end goal is to get fire protection engineering more involved, whether it be its own program or maybe even a couple of classes,” Regan said.

Jessica and Meghan can be reached at [email protected]