Taylor-Made: An afternoon at EOH

03/18/2014

As I’m sure everyone knows, Engineering Open House took place this past weekend.  There’s a good reason for all the hype about it. Let me walk you through what I saw in the span of a few hours. 

Rocket launch across the Boneyard Creek.
Rocket launch across the Boneyard Creek.
The first thing I did was wander around the Quad. Caterpillar had a bulldozer parked in front of Grainger, and I saw people taking pictures of each other sitting in the scoop. Formula SAE, IFE (Illini Formula Electric), Baja, and Eco-Marathon all had their cars out in front of MEL and were drawing a large crowd.

Nearby, there was a very different project that also got a lot of attention: oobleck. Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means its viscosity depends on how much force is applied to it. For example, ketchup (another non-Newtonian fluid, as I learned) is hard to gently squeeze out of the bottle, but in theory comes easily when you shake it. Oobleck works the opposite way: when you touch it gently, it feels like water. When you smack it hard, it feels solid. There was a pan of oobleck out for people to stamp on—as long as you keep moving, you don’t sink. I got to watch at least five people dance a jig on it, and some of them shouted Macarena… good times, good times. To make your own oobleck, mix water with cornstarch until you have a mixture that’s the consistency of honey.

Ready for the Jerry Sanders Design Competition.
Ready for the Jerry Sanders Design Competition.
There was another non-Newtonian fluids project on the second floor of MEL. This one featured a fluid that contained polymers. When the liquid was poured, it wouldn’t stop flowing; it basically pulled on itself. So to stop the flow, one guy took a pair of scissors and literally cut the stream. While I was up there, I also saw a sand-casting demonstration (a shape is carved into a block of sand to form the mold, and then molten metal is poured into it). Fun fact: a lot of Caterpillar tractor parts are cast rather than tooled. Cat had a large display downstairs, with a tractor simulator and a bulldozer robot in a mini arena. The other project I saw in MEL was a digger powered by water hydraulics. You could dig Styrofoam peanuts out of a crate with it and see water flow through the tubing. 

I went back out to the Quad in time to see two rockets get shot over Boneyard Creek. There was a zip line running from one bridge to the other for each rocket to run along. Then I wandered into Kenney Gym, where I watched a round of the Jerry Sanders Design Competition. For those who don’t know, “Every March, robotics teams from universities across the Midwest converge upon the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a two-day competition that tests their skills and creativity” (as explained on the JSDC website). I also passed a blacksmith station.  Pretty cool.

The "Crusher" did its damage.
Next I went into Talbot Lab to see the "Crusher" in action. It’s really called the Southwark-Emery Universal Testing Machine. There are only three of them at universities in the United States. The Crusher has a max load of three million pounds, or 3,000 kips (which is what it measures in), and can measure the applied force within one-tenth of one percent. I watched it apply a load of 2.9 million pounds to a 3-foot tall, 18-inch diameter concrete pillar. The pillar sat like nothing was going on, and then all of a sudden a single crack snaked through the side. No more than a second later, the whole thing broke into smithereens with a big KERPOW. That had to be one of the highlights of the day.

Then I made it up to Newmark Lab. There was an exhibit there that talked about concrete—you could also make your own “concrete” by mixing pudding with cereal and chocolate chips. I also saw the AREMA exhibit (American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association; U of I has a student chapter). Among other things, they had a train simulator.

The "Crusher" preparing to crush a pillar of concrete.
The last thing I saw was a sprinkler demonstration on the Quad. Contained fires were lit in large crates that resembled dorm rooms, complete with furniture. As you could guess, the first crate, with no sprinklers, was quickly burned out, while the second crate, with a sprinkler system, sustained much less damage. Fun fact: sprinklers are not meant to completely put out the fire, but rather contain it so people inside can get out safely. EOH has succeeded in making me feel smarter.

EOH had about 1,100 students involved in its 200+ exhibits. I missed the marshmallows dipped in liquid nitrogen and the chocolate injection molding—another reason to look forward to next year.

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