Engineering labs welcome more than 300 area students

Middle and high school students tour campus labs as part of 11th annual Engineers Day.

4/25/2013 - By: Kirstin Swagman
Students watch a demonstration with liquid nitrogen Graduate student Augustus Merwin demonstrates how liquid nitrogen can shatter a banana.

From dancing robots to simulated earthquakes, engineering science and technology was on display for area middle and high school students last week across the University's campus.

Approximately 350 students from 12 schools around Northern Nevada and California visited a variety of engineering labs and classrooms for the 11th annual Engineers Day, held on April 18th.

The program, which is sponsored by the College of Engineering, aims to bring engineering to life for local students.

"Too many people are unaware of what engineers do," said Meg Fitzgerald, coordinator of recruitment, retention and advising for the College of Engineering. "People see the results of engineering in every aspect of their life, but until we make that connection for them, they don't come to the realization of how engineering affects their daily life."

For students, it's a chance to see practical -- and some not so practical -- applications of engineering.

In the Unit Operations Lab, materials science and engineering graduate student Augustus Merwin was demonstrating the rapid freezing power of liquid nitrogen to a group of students.

"Does anyone have any food?" he asked.

A student volunteered a banana and, after letting it bathe in liquid nitrogen for a few minutes, Merwin shattered it against the lab floor.

As students inspected pieces of sheared banana, Merwin went on to explain how researchers may use similar techniques to see inside different materials.

Meanwhile, students visiting the robotics research lab got to see live demonstrations of the lab's work, which include developing new vision-based techniques for interactions between humans and robots. One of the lab's more memorable demonstrations involved a robotic dog who responds to cue cards, including one prompting it to dance.

Around campus, a broad spectrum of engineering was on display, ranging from the 50-ton capacity shake tables in the Large Scale Structures Lab to a demonstration of how microorganisms swim through watery environments.

While other engineering outreach programs, such as the Mobile Engineering Education Lab, or ME2L, aim to bring engineering to the community, bringing students to campus allows them to see a much wider range of engineering.

"On campus we can do it on a much bigger scale," said Fitzgerald. "When we bring students into the labs they can see much bigger demonstrations, and we have a huge variety of opportunities to present."

Other tour stops included the mechanical engineering manufacturing lab, the GE Whiz room in the electrical engineering department and the W.M. Keck Museum. In addition to touring engineering labs, five of the schools attending also toured the University's campus.


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