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Engineering Open House set for March 3, 4

James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
(217) 244-1073;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Remote-controlled robots rescuing “hostages” while running an obstacle course, wild and wacky Rube Goldberg machines, and more than 150 exhibits ranging from spacecraft design to shape-memory metals are among the attractions awaiting visitors to the 80th annual Engineering Open House at the University of Illinois.

The event, organized by UI engineering students, will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 3 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 4.  The UI Engineering Open House is one of the largest technological showcases of its kind in the nation, attracting more than 30,000 visitors each year.  This year’s theme – “Dawn of a New Age” – attempts to describe the engineering progress of the past millennium and express the promises of the next one.

Visitor guides containing a campus map and descriptions of the activities and exhibits will be available at the EOH Headquarters Booth in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex, 1402 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana.  All events are free and open to the public.

“Engineering Open House gives students an opportunity to showcase their work and to show the public what science and engineering are all about,” said Clifton Chang, a UI engineering student and this year’s open house director.  “We do this through informative and entertaining demonstrations, exhibits and design competitions spread across the engineering campus.”

Highlighting this year’s celebration will be the 13th annual W.J. “Jerry” Sanders Creative Design Competition, sponsored by Advanced Micro Devices Inc., and named for the company’s founder, a UI alumnus.  The theme for this year’s competition is “Mission 2000” and involves a race through a multi-level obstacle course in which student-built, remote-controlled vehicles must find and rescue three small “hostages.”

“Racing two at a time, the vehicles must navigate around 130 randomly activated ‘mines,’ climb a water slide, traverse a pit filled with foam blocks, pass through simulated corn fields and then scale a mountain,” said Steve Hunia, a computer science major and this year’s contest director.  “The students will be competing for over $5,000 in prizes.”

Approximately 25 teams will compete in the contest, which will be held both days in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex.

In the high school design competition, students will pay homage to Rube Goldberg, a satirical cartoonist best known for his designs of ridiculously complicated gadgets that performed the simplest tasks in whimsical roundabout ways.

“The task this year will be to fill and seal a glass jar – a time capsule – with models of significant inventions from the 20th century,” said Ryan Chmiel, chair of the high school design contest.  “We encouraged the students to dig through their attics and junk drawers to find the weirdest things imaginable to use on their machines, but no flammable objects or live animals will be allowed.”

Each machine must use at least 20 steps to accomplish the task, Chmiel said.  Approximately 15 teams from central and southern Illinois high schools will compete in the contest, which will be held on March 3 in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex.

Younger visitors, too, will have an opportunity to test their creativity as they learn about science and engineering.  On March 3, students in seventh and eighth grades will race mousetrap-powered cars constructed from recycled food containers.  Grade school students will build towers of drinking straws capable of supporting golf balls.  Both events will be held in the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana.

A special on-site design challenge will be open to visitors of all ages on March 4 in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex.  Supplies for the building projects will be provided.

“The heart and soul of Engineering Open House are the many exhibits featuring student research and projects sponsored by engineering societies,” said Brian Pokrzywa, this year’s exhibits director.  “The exhibits will be located throughout the engineering campus.  To help visitors find specific exhibits, we will place building maps at entryways.”

More than 150 exhibits, from chemistry to car crushing, will convey the technological wonders of the past millennium.  For example, demonstrations of an automated robot that can walk on two legs, an online optical microscope, and recent innovations in software, computer vision and networking will take place at the Digital Computer Lab, 1304 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana.

The Physics Society will demonstrate the “fun”damentals of electricity and magnetism, fly a hot-air balloon, and use liquid nitrogen to turn a banana into a hammer in the Loomis Lab, 1110 W. Green St., Urbana.

Also in Loomis, the Float’n Illini will describe their experiment in micro-gravity research while members of the Illini Space Development Society show how to create model spacecraft from paper plates, cardboard tubes and soda cans.

The Society of Automotive Engineers will host the Illini Timber Nationals, a race modeled after the popular “Pinewood Derby” sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America.  The competition will be held both days in the first-floor auto lab of the Mechanical Engineering Building, 1206 W. Green St., Urbana.  Several of the Formula SAE team’s miniature Indy-style race cars will be on display, along with Eco-Car, a student-designed, series-type hybrid electric vehicle.

As in years past, food and entertainment – featuring local bands, singing groups and dance teams – will be located in “Area 51” at the south end of the Engineering Quad.

Special laboratory tours of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, including virtual reality demonstrations, also will be offered during the two-day event.