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Bill Nye the Science Guy among attractions at Engineering Open House March 8, 9

Jim Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
(217) 244-1073;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Wild and wacky Rube Goldberg machines, robots fighting for possession of a bowling ball, lively talks by Bill Nye the Science Guy, and more than 150 fun-filled exhibits are among the attractions awaiting visitors to the 82nd 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 8 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 9. 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 – Free Your Mind – encourages participants to open their minds and think outside of the box.

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.

"The purpose of the two-day event is to educate and fascinate the public about science and technology," said Adam Lubchansky, a UI mechanical engineering student and this year’s open house director. "Students from all engineering disciplines will showcase their talent through innovative projects, design competitions and demonstrations."

One of the highlights of this year’s celebration will be Nye’s talks. Nye, host of an Emmy Award-winning weekly television series, will speak from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. both days on the Engineering Quad south of Grainger Engineering Library and Information Center, 1301 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana.

Another highlight will be the 15th annual W.J. "Jerry" Sanders Creative Design Competition, sponsored by Advanced Micro Devices Inc., and named for the company’s founder, a UI alumnus. In this year’s competition, student-built robots will fight for possession of 10 boccie balls and a bowling ball.

"More than $5,000 in prizes will be up for grabs as remote-controlled vehicles gather balls while fending off attacks from their opponents," said Shang Skoo, an electrical engineering major and this year’s contest director. "In each 10-minute round, teams will receive points for how many balls they collect – including those in captured robots."

Approximately 20 teams will compete in the contest, which will be held both days in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex.

On March 9, Sanders will give a brief speech and present an award for the most ingenious robot design. The event will take place at noon in the Kenny 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 secure, raise and wave a national flag in the weirdest way possible.

"Using parts scavenged from old toys and appliances, students will design their machines in the style of the game Mousetrap," said civil and environmental engineering major Katie Thompson, chair of the high school design contest. "The competition will be a test of both endurance and sportsmanship, and should be loads of fun to watch."

Each machine must use at least 20 steps to accomplish the task, Thompson said. Approximately 18 teams from Central and Southern Illinois, and several teams from outside the state, will compete in the contest, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 8 in the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. The top three Illinois teams will advance to the state championship Rube Goldberg contest, to be held in Chicago in the spring.

Younger visitors, too, will have an opportunity to test their creativity as they learn about science and engineering. On March 8, students in seventh and eighth grades will race homemade sailboats in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex.

A special on-site design challenge will be open to visitors of all ages March 9, also in the gymnasium annex. The task will be to build the tallest freestanding paper pillar. Building supplies – paper and tape – will be provided.

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.

For example, the Physics Society will launch projectiles using a linear accelerator, fire a liquid nitrogen cannon, and demonstrate the principles behind electricity and magnetism in the Loomis Lab, 1110 W. Green St., Urbana.

At the Roger Adams Lab, 600 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers will show how ethanol is produced from corn, how modern fuel cells can make cars more efficient and less polluting, and how breakfast cereal is manufactured.

In Engineering Hall, 1308 W. Green St., Urbana, the UI Astronomical Society will listen to the sounds of Jupiter with a radio telescope, analyze interplanetary dust particles, and demonstrate awesome "Webcam" astrophotography.

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.

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