February 21, 2005

Big draw for bright teens Whimsical games may be gateways to engineering

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Some 450 students from the region's high schools will come to campus Thursday, Feb. 24, to play with mini-robots, paper airplanes and decks of cards as part of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's annual celebration of Engineering Day. The event gets under way at 9 a.m. in the SIUC Engineering Building and lasts until 1 p.m.

Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers may cover any of the day's events, which run concurrently from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Organizers say the hottest action usually occurs between 10 and 11:30 a.m.

The robots, airplanes and cards are part of a suite of nine such "Mind Games," designed to introduce students to engineering concepts as painlessly as possible. In "Robotic Challenge," for example, players maneuver an aluminum donut hole into an aluminum donut using a keypad-controlled Microbot TCM. Paper airplanes, the bane of teachers everywhere, must be aerodynamically sound; judges award points based on flight time and distance. And instead of Texas Hold'em, players will use three decks of cards to construct tall towers, trying to trump each other on height.

The games also include the construction of drinking straw bridges, balloon-powered hovercraft and two kinds of egg drops (and that's no soup). Select groups of high schoolers will learn how to design circuits to ring bells or power synchronized lights.

"High school students want to play — anything that's fun, they love it," said Associate Dean Hasan Sevim.

"Although they're playing, these games require engineering skills."

In addition, SIUC student design teams will be on hand to show off and answer questions about such student-built projects as the Formula SAE racecar, hovercraft, moon buggy and steel bridge.

For more information, contact Sevim at 618/453-4321.