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Engineering Open House at Illinois highlights creativity

James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Wild and wacky Rube Goldberg machines, robots launching mini basketballs, and more than 130 entertaining and educational exhibits are among the attractions awaiting visitors to the 85th annual Engineering Open House at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The event, organized by students in the Engineering Council at Illinois, will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 11 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 12. 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 – Reinventing Reality – emphasizes the creative side of engineering.

Visitor guides containing a campus map and descriptions of the activities and exhibits will be available at the EOH headquarters booth in the Digital Computer Lab, 1304 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana. All events are free and open to the public.

“Engineering Open House is an excellent opportunity for the general community to experience some of the really cool things engineers do in their offices and laboratories,” said Jason Mitchell, an Illinois electrical engineering student and this year’s open house director. “During the two-day event, some of our best and brightest engineering students will showcase their talent through projects, design competitions and demonstrations.”

The idea behind this year’s theme is one that is central to engineering, Mitchell said. “Engineers don’t make anything really ‘new,’ they just see ways of taking existing reality and bending it into a more useful form. This form is indeed something ingenious, but is made of pieces from our current reality.” An example, he said, is “reinventing” the oil lamp into an electric light. The creative side of engineering will be demonstrated at this year’s event.

A major highlight will be the 18th 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. This year’s competition features an expanded course and bigger objectives. Student-built, remote-controlled vehicles will fight for possession of mini basketballs, which must be moved from a team’s base and placed in another team’s base. 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 change batteries in a flashlight and turn it on – all in the weirdest way possible.

Each machine must use at least 20 steps to accomplish the task. Approximately 25 teams from Central and Southern Illinois will compete in the contest, which will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 11 in the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. Visitors can vote for their favorite machine.

Younger visitors, too, will have an opportunity to test their creativity as they learn about science and engineering. On March 11, 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 March 12, also in the gymnasium annex.

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 some of the concepts and creativity behind successful engineering endeavors.

Some examples:

Alumination: Discusses the fate of recycled aluminum cans.

Common Scents: Describes the magical world of distillation and perfume making.

Cosmic Wonders: Captures the passage of cosmic rays in a cloud chamber.

Cubesat: Displays a student-built satellite.

Heavy Weights: Crushes concrete cylinders with a 3-million pound crushing machine.

Light Weights: Shows design and construction of concrete canoes.

Nanomedicine: Explores the possible benefits and risks of injecting nanomachines into the bloodstream to fight disease.

Organic Chips: Discusses how organic thin-film transistors might reduce cost and create flexible displays.

Thermocoustics: Demonstrates how sound waves can be used to refrigerate.

Food and entertainment – featuring local talent – will be located in “Area 51” at the south end of the Engineering Quad. Student-led tours, highlighting some of the most exciting exhibits and lasting approximately 30 minutes, also will leave from Area 51.

Laboratory tours of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology also will be offered, along with exhibits featuring faculty research.

More information can be found at