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May 2, 2012
By Jaclyn McBride
"Does anyone want to see AIBO dance?" graduate student Richard Kelley asked a room full of middle and high school students. Kelley received an overwhelming reply of "yes" from the students. AIBO, an artificial intelligence robot, was part of a showcase for the University of Nevada, Reno's 10th Annual Engineers Day held last month.
Engineers Day is a program aimed at getting K-12 students excited about engineering. This year, the program hosted 200 students at the various engineering labs and classrooms.
"The robots have no concern for their safety," said graduate student Richard Kelley as he nervously watched AIBO crawl its way to the edge of the table. "It's much easier for a robot to recognize geometric patterns instead of human words," Kelley said as he flashed a card with a geometric pattern in front of AIBO, telling it to dance. "Tragically, it's better at dancing than I am."
In another presentation, graduate students Jason Hastings and Augustus Merwin showed a group of students how to make ice cream using liquid nitrogen through heat transfer principles.
"You don't have to worry about eating nitrogen because all the nitrogen evaporates and transfers to energy," Hastings said. "Our atmosphere is also composed primarily of 21 percent oxygen and 79 percent nitrogen, so don't be afraid to eat it."
Hannah Golik, a sixth-grader from Eagle Valley Middle School enjoyed the tour and the ice cream. "It tasted like something that the professionals would make," she said.
The success of the event was apparent when Hastings asked, "how many of you like math and science?" Every hand in the room immediately shot up.
Hastings and Merwin also demonstrated what happens when flowers and bouncy balls are placed in liquid nitrogen. The two then invited students to come up and flick the flowers, which sent the super-frozen petals flying into little pieces.
"Yes, creating ice cream, flicking flowers, flicking stuff. - it's fun," Hastings said.
Fourteen other showcases included levitating a steel ball, crushing rocks, dissecting the innards of a computer and a tour of the University's 8,400sq.-ft. Rogers and Weiner Large-Scale Structures Laboratory with its four 14- by 14-foot shake tables that simulate motions of an earthquake on structures such as 200-foot-long concrete bridges, support columns and bridge abutments.
"Engineering is a profession that contributes to society like no other profession," said Emmanuel Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering. "Our hope for Engineers Day is that the students become aware of and excited about what engineering is and what it does for society," he said.
Jaclyn McBride is a student writer for University Media Relations