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Engineering Open House showcases student talent

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


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Wild and wacky Rube Goldberg machines, robots fighting for possession of helium balloons, and more than 130 fun-filled exhibits are among the attractions awaiting visitors to the 83rd annual Engineering Open House at the University of Illinois.

The event, organized by students in the Engineering Council at Illinois, will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 14 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 15. The Illinois Engineering Open House is one of the largest technological showcases of its kind in the nation, attracting more than 10,000 visitors each year. This year’s theme – Create, Innovate, Fascinate – emphasizes the process behind engineering.

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 raise the public’s awareness in science and engineering and to catch a glimpse of future technology," said Nicole Pakiz, an Illinois computer science student and this year’s open house director. "Engineering Open House is a great forum for teaching others about how engineering affects their lives. Students from all engineering disciplines will showcase their talent through innovative projects, design competitions and demonstrations."

A major highlight will be the 16th annual W.J. "Jerry" Sanders Creative Design Competition. This college design contest is sponsored by Advanced Micro Devices and is named for the company’s founder, an Illinois alumnus. In this year’s competition, student-built robots will fight for possession of strategically placed helium balloons.

"More than $5,000 in prizes will be up for grabs as remote-controlled vehicles gather balloons while fending off attacks from their opponents," said Jason Mitchell, an electrical engineering major and this year’s contest director. "In each 10-minute round, teams will receive points for how many balloons they collect. After the final competition on Saturday, we also will hold some special demolition rounds."

Approximately 23 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 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 and crush a soft drink can, and then transfer it to a recycling bin – all 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 30 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 14 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 on campus in the spring.

Younger visitors, too, will have an opportunity to test their creativity as they learn about science and engineering. On March 14, students in seventh and eighth grades will design and build bridges out of spaghetti in the Kenney Gymnasium Annex.

A special on-site design challenge will be open to visitors of all ages March 15, also in the gymnasium annex. The task will be to build the strongest bridge from a single sheet of typing paper.

Spread throughout the engineering campus, more than 130 exhibits – featuring student research and projects sponsored by engineering societies – will reflect the theme of Engineering Open House. Prepared primarily by undergraduates, the exhibits will demonstrate both new concepts and the underlying engineering principles.

For example, the Physics Society will demonstrate magnetic propulsion, transmit voices by a laser beam, and fire electromagnetic cannons in the Loomis Lab, 1110 W. Green St., Urbana. Also in Loomis Lab, the Illini Space Development Society will discuss the latest developments in space exploration and show off a moon rock on loan from NASA.

At the Roger Adams Lab, 600 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers will show how to convert discarded cooking oil into diesel fuel, demonstrate various methods for water purification, describe the treatment and storage of nuclear waste, and explain the production of ice cream and cheese spread.

The Association for Computing Machinery will demonstrate a foosball-playing robot, a computer-controlled milling machine, and a variety of computer games and simulations in the Digital Computer Lab, 1304 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics will display some unmanned aerial vehicles, explain how special tiles keep the space shuttle from overheating, and demonstrate the principles behind a working jet engine at the Talbot Lab, 104 S. Wright St., Urbana.

In the Newmark Civil Engineering Building, 205 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana, the American Society of Civil Engineers will demonstrate a concrete racing canoe, groundwater remediation, and the hazards of earthquakes – including soil liquefaction.

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