ICYMI Engineering Open House 2016
By Meghan McCoy, English, '18
Every year, there is an event that highlights one of the many reasons why the University of Illinois is known around the world and why primary and secondary school teachers around Illinois take on the daunting task of arranging field trips for their students to our campus.
What is that event, you ask? The Illini football team’s first game of the season? The day we graduate hundreds of talented, go-on-to-do-great-things students? Unofficial?
While all of those would be good guesses (well, at least the first two), the event is the Engineering Open House (EOH), where all of the Engineering departments get to demonstrate their various exhibitions and basically show why our Engineering program is one of the best in the world.
EOH, which was held on Friday March 11th and Saturday March 12th this year, was something that I usually just heard people talk about and excitedly show videos of a demonstration they had watched to their friends. As an English major, most of my time is spent on the Main Quad, so I knew little about EOH’S history or what the two-day program was even like. For this year, then, I decided to switch it up and check out the math and science that, for some, goes on to change the world.
Before I jump into describing the various demonstrations, first here’s some quick background on what EOH was like back in the day.
While for us EOH has always been a group showing of the Engineering departments, it actually wasn’t until 1920 that these many departments showcased their projects collectively.
By 1952, EOH had become an annual event, boasting over 100 exhibitions and demonstrations, including the “concrete crusher” which is still a highly-viewed demonstration today. In the 1950s, EOH attracted over 13,000 visitors and students from over 42 high schools.
Now, double the visitors and representatives from 600 high schools attend, a testament to the ability of math and science to bring together people of all ages and from all backgrounds in a shared experience.
Shared is the keyword here. EOH takes what I might think is almost impossible to grasp, and finds a way to make the science or math explainable, interesting, and relevant to my daily life.
Prior to EOH, I sat down and talked with Joseph Sombeck, who is a senior in BioEngineering and President of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) about what goes into preparing for EOH and what they’ll be presenting.
“We actually begin preparing for EOH in the fall semester,” Joseph explained. “We first begin with just coming up with project ideas, forming project groups, and then submitting our project ideas to the BMES executive board and technical director. By December, we’ve submitted our proposals to the Engineering Council, and then we’re doing the primary building by February so we’re ready in time for EOH.”
And ready for EOH they were.
Bones, Brews & Chocolate
Around 9:30am Friday morning, I stopped in the Digital Computer Laboratory, which was where BMES and the BioEngineering Department was located, and I was amazed by the extensive array of projects already being checked out in full force by visiting students from local schools.
Among the array of exhibits was a “Walk Through the Body,” where students converted an entire classroom into a representation of different systems of the body such as the brain, bones, and muscles. They also had a DNA Extraction exhibit where you could swab your own DNA, put it into a solution of salt and vinegar, and watch your DNA work into a glob, which, by the way, is pretty awesome.
One of the final BioEngineering exhibits I saw, while perhaps a bit more technical, was for me one of my favorites because of its real-world practicality.
Called “Innovation in Casts,” it featured a “waterproof, more breathable and comfortable structure, while still being supportive of the arm,” said junior Kevin Brenner.
How did they design this fabulous structure?
“What we did was first we scanned one of our (group member’s) arms, and then we used a 3D printer to print out the pieces and then fitted them together. Our design is better than the current cast because it allows the skin to breathe, creating a more comfortable fit, and it can also be removed and refitted without the need of a bone saw, which is what you need to remove a normal cast."
Innovation and the potential for real-life change, that’s EOH in action.
As I moved onto Loomis Laboratory, I discovered two exhibits that kicked my stomach into overdrive.
The first exhibit, designed by first year students Haenah Kim and Grant Vogel, sophomore Katherine MaGode, and senior Adam Connor, described the tempering process of chocolate and why engineers are necessary to the very important process of making good chocolate.
When the chocolate is put into the melting tank, the temperature of those tanks is extremely important to properly tempering the chocolate, which means creating chocolate that is smooth, glassy looking, and evenly colored. The engineers are in charge, then, of making sure the melting tanks stay at an optimal temperature, and that we’re able to get our favorite types of chocolate candy. Beyond learning about how my favorite food group is made, I also got a sample.
They were giving out their own melted and designed chocolate sticks. That on its own was enough to convince me to come back next year.
As I continued down the row of tables, I came upon a table that could have paid academic homage to our very own top party school in America. The Beer Bottle Exhibit was refreshingly informative.
Designed and presented by seniors Krishna Lyer and John O’Connell, they explained how beer is made from choosing the type of grain to when it’s put into the bottle. Beer, which is made from specifically chosen grains, water, hops, and yeast, takes about 4-6 weeks to make and mainly involves malting the grains, followed by mashing and boiling the grains, and finally the fermenting and bottling process.
There were no samples at this exhibit, but as I headed to check out what the Siebel Center was showing the constant crowd at their table assured me that they would not be wanting for audience members.
While I wasn’t able check out every exhibit or demonstration, as I walked around what I also enjoyed was the sheer energy that permeated the entire Engineering Quad. Everyone was excited to be presenting, and seeing how interested younger students were in learning about the different ways science and engineering can be used was promising for the future.
The Engineering department certainly made my first EOH well worth it, and I look forward to seeing what type of fun, practical, or potentially even life-changing ideas they come up with next year.