By Erin Drenning and Allison Stack
from 14 colleges across the country will converge on the National Mall
in Washington, D.C., this fall with houses in tow. University teams
from Pittsburgh to Puerto Rico and everywhere in between will haul their
sun-powered homes to the capital to compete in the U.S. Department of
Energy's first Solar Decathlon in September.
will be judged on 10 factorshence the title, decathlonincluding
basic elements such as ventilation, refrigeration, and lighting, along
with more advanced details like adequate power supply for a small home
business complete with computers, fax machines, and other electronics.
of Missouri-Rolla team leader Chris Stevens, a freshman in aerospace
engineering, is excited about the impact of solar living on the environment.
We can build houses that don't contribute to greenhouse gases
and depletion of natural resources, he says. I've got to
be involved with something like that. And people don't have to
wait until 2020 or 2010 or even 2005 for the technology. It is available
now, he says.
Decathlon teams were chosen last March by the DOE, which celebrated
April's Earth Day with a kickoff workshop for participants. The weeklong
decathlon is open to the public to tour the students' designs.
A Fish Tale Cyber
your antiquated computer keeps crashing, you may not have it dump it.
Three Rowan University engineering grad students have put a unique spin
on recycling monitors that is both creative and lucrative.
Fitzpatrick, Mike Ciocco, and Jeremy Neyhart found that constant upgrades
can eventually turn a computer into more trash than treasure. But instead
of letting them pile up in landfills, the trio rescues monitors that
are headed for the dumpster and transforms them into functional art.
whole thing started because we always wanted a fish tank that looked
like a screensaver, and over the summer we decided to build one,says
Fitzpatrick, a mechanical engineering student. The three made several
unsuccessful attempts to construct their own but found that the best
method was to buy a pre-made tank and fit it into an old computer monitor
shell. And then they added the fish.
fooled a couple of our professorsthey thought it was a real monitor
with an awesome screensaver, Fitzpatrick continues. They
also thought it would be a great thing to potentially market and sell.
made their first sale in January and are doing fairly well for a new
company. They're doing good tooif the trio doesn't salvage a monitor,
it will almost surely be trashed, since it cannot be reused very easily.
quite a screen saver.
Water Gets a Good
Scrubbing in Nepal
die every hour in Nepal because their drinking water is contaminated.
And that sobering statistic doesn't count anyone over the age of five.
disease is of epidemic proportions in much of the developing worldUNICEF
estimated that 1.7 billion people were without clean drinking water
in 2000. But civil and environmental engineering graduate students at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working to change that.
Susan Murcott learned of the importance of clean drinking water in 1998
when she met women in Nepal who had walked two and three days to attend
the Second International Women and Water Conference. Since then, she
and her students have labored to produce a system that efficiently and
effectively removes disease-causing microorganisms and particles from
water. So far, the most promising processes are household solar disinfectiona
simple, inexpensive technique by which microbes are killed by ultraviolet
radiation from the sun through clear, plastic bottlesand a filtration
system designed by a Canadian professor that sieves the water through
several layers of sand.
in 1999, many of Murcott's students have taken turns each semester at
solving the problem through the university's Nepal Water Project. This
January, eight MIT students spent a month in Nepal while four went to
Haiti and four others traveled to Brazil in the hopes of improving water
Mighty Little Mouse
engineering students at the University of California, Santa Barbara
are experimenting with a mouse; however, there is no point and click
involved. Dubbed the micromouse, this is a small self-contained
robot no larger than a sheet of loose-leaf paper that is designed and
programmed to navigate through a maze.
computer and electrical technology and mechanics, students are constructing
a freestanding mouse with the ability to explore different
maze designs and select the shortest and quickest way to the center.
This incorporation of classroom theory into practice has propelled micromouse
into the curriculum of UCSB's new computer engineering program. Students
in the program must complete a research project, and micromouse is being
offered as one of the major project options for the first time this
to build the best mouse sprang up across the United States after IEEE
introduced the concept in 1977.
of these competitions is that students gain a sense of the real world:
working in teams, dealing with companies, and meeting deadlines, says
Lynda Thompson, assistant director of the program. Micromouse
designing spans a continuum of performance, she says. Some
students can just implement the basic features; others can do extraordinary
things with it.
mouse can be pretty big.
Stars and Stripes
in American patriotism this year has erupted in all forms, from bumper
stickers and T-shirts to banners plastered on highway overpasses. Now,
engineering students will put as much thought into raising the flag
as many do in the symbolism behind it.
Rube Goldberg Machine Contest challenges university teams to build a
contraption that lifts and waves a flag. The catch? The process has
to take at least 20 steps. The annual Rube Goldberg competitionnamed
for the Pullitzer Prize-winning artist who lampooned the technology
of his day in his series of Invention cartoonsstarted
in 1946 as a rivalry between two engineering fraternities at Purdue
University, but interest waned and the contest was abandoned a few years
later. The local competition was resurrected by Purdue's campus chapter
of Theta Tau, a professional engineering fraternity, in 1983, and the
contest went national for the first time in 1988. Since then, university
teams have created complex machines to complete such simple tasks as
sharpening a pencil, making coffee, and screwing in a lightbulb.
Society of Professional Engineers were victorious in Theta Tau's 20th
annual local Rube Goldberg contest in February. The group's Mission
to Mars sends a Martian Land Rover down a track and
has an astronaut exit the vehicle, climb a mountain, and hoist the American
flag in 50 steps. The SPE will take on the challenge of defending Purdue's
title in the national competition, slated for April 6 in West Lafayette,
Drenning is an associate editor at Prism magazine.
She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com