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Time capsule to be opened at Engineering Open House

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


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Wild and wacky Rube Goldberg machines, robots racing through a maze, the unearthing of a 26-year-old time capsule, and more than 150 fun-filled exhibits are among the attractions awaiting visitors to the 81st annual Engineering Open House at the University of Illinois.

The event, organized by students in the Engineering Council at the UI, will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 2 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 3. 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 -- 2001: The Odyssey is Now -- plays upon the theme of the 1975 Engineering Open House -- 2001: An Engineering Odyssey.

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.

"During the two-day event, the engineering campus will be transformed into a stage for students from all engineering disciplines to showcase their talent," said Brian Pokrzywa, a UI engineering student and this year's open house director. "Through innovative projects, design competitions and demonstrations, visitors can learn about science and engineering."

One of the highlights this year harks back to the 1975 Engineering Open House, when a time capsule containing items from each of the engineering departments was buried just to the west of Engineering Hall.

"The time has come to unearth this piece of history," said Anjali Rangaswamy, a mechanical engineering major. "When we open the capsule, we will find many symbols of the newest technology available at that time. It will be our chance to turn back the hands of time and see where the world of engineering was headed, and compare that to today."

The capsule will be exhumed and its contents displayed on March 3 at 1 p.m. A new time capsule -- to be opened in 2051 -- also will be buried. The event will take place adjacent to "Area 51" -- the Engineering Open House food and entertainment tent -- at the south end of the Engineering Quad.

Another highlight of this yearÕs celebration will be the 14th annual W.J. "Jerry" Sanders Creative Design Competition, sponsored by Advanced Micro Devices Inc., and named for the company's founder, a UI alumnus.

This year's competition will include two separate events, in which student-built robots will compete for more than $5,000 in prizes. On March 2, in a race against time, the robots must navigate a maze, locate and unscrew four strategically placed light bulbs, and deposit them in nearby boxes.

"There will be no interaction between the robots, and no direct line of sight with their human operators," said Adam Lubchansky, a mechanical engineering major and this year's contest director. "So the robots must operate autonomously or have a video link."

On March 3, the maze will be taken down and the robots will square off in multiple rounds of the ever popular "robot wars" demolition derby.

"Nothing brings out the creative juices like the opportunity to destroy something," Lubchansky said.

More than two dozen teams from the UI, Ohio State University and Washington University in St. Louis will compete in the contest, which will be held both days in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex.

In the high school design competition, students will again pay homage to Goldberg, a satirical cartoonist best known for his designs of ridiculously complicated gadgets that performed the simplest tasks in whimsical roundabout ways. This year's task is to build a machine that can select, clean and peel an apple in the weirdest way possible.

"The competition challenges students to apply basic engineering principles -- along with odd pieces of equipment -- in imaginative ways to accomplish a simple task through an elaborate process," said computer engineering major Ryan Chmiel, chair of the high school design contest. "This is one of the few times in life when wackier is better."

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 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 2 in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex. The top three teams will compete against teams from the Chicago area in the Illinois Rube Goldberg Championship, to be held in the spring.

In the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana, the Grade School Village will feature hands-on exhibits designed to spark an interest in science and engineering in younger students. On March 2, students in seventh and eighth grades will race cars constructed from recycled food containers, and a special on-site design challenge will test the creativity of students of all ages. Both events will be held in the Illini Union.

Spread throughout the engineering campus, more than 150 exhibits -- featuring student research and projects sponsored by engineering societies -- will reflect the heart and soul of Engineering Open House.

"The campus will resemble Disneyland, with exhibits of every imaginable kind," said civil engineering major Tim Stall, this yearÕs exhibits director. "We have the brunt of the brain power at one of the top engineering universities in the nation being put to work on this, so the exhibits and displays really should be spectacular."

Many of the exhibits will be interactive, Stall said, and some will even hand out souvenirs and prizes. All are designed to inform and entertain the public. For example, the Physics Society will launch projectiles using a linear accelerator, fire a liquid nitrogen cannon, fly a hot-air balloon, and demonstrate the principles behind electricity and magnetism in the Loomis Lab, 1110 W. Green St., Urbana.

The Society for Experimental Mechanics will crush cars with a 3-million-pound press at the Talbot Lab, 104 S. Wright St., Urbana; and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers will demonstrate how ordinary household flour can detonate like rocket fuel in a grain-bin explosion in the Mechanical Engineering Building, 1206 W. Green St., Urbana.

The Association for Computing Machinery will demonstrate the latest in computer technology -- including action games, graphics techniques and component architectures -- in the Digital Computer Lab, 1304 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana. A robot that takes orders and retrieves beverages from a restored, 30-year-old soda machine also will be on display, along with the Virtual Anatomy Textbook -- an interactive environment for students to learn about physiology.

At the Roger Adams Lab, 600 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers will show how polymers are produced from basic chemicals, how modern fuel cells can make cars more efficient and less polluting, and how vanilla is extracted from vanilla beans.

In the Metallurgy and Mining Building, 1304 W. Green St., Urbana, the Undergraduate Materials Organization will demonstrate how bone replacements can be made with ceramics, how contaminants can be trapped by activated carbon fibers, and how heat can cause memory metal to return to its original shape after being bent and twisted.

The Society of Automotive Engineers will exhibit several of the teamÕs small Formula One style race cars in the Newmark Civil Engineering Building, 205 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana; and several of the teamÕs Mini-Baja, off-road vehicles in the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building, 1304 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Urbana.

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

More information can be found at