Science with a twist of fun

The excited cheers and rousing applause of young engineers echoed throughout the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom during the awards ceremony for Portland State University’s 2008 Engineering Design Competition Friday afternoon.

The excited cheers and rousing applause of young engineers echoed throughout the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom during the awards ceremony for Portland State University’s 2008 Engineering Design Competition Friday afternoon.

The ceremony capped off a day of competition, learning and fun at the university, sending more than 500 middle school and high school students from Oregon and Southwest Washington into the weekend with beaming smiles plastered across their faces.

During this four-hour design competition sponsored by Portland State’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, students were given the opportunity to chow down on edible cars, test the strength of their popsicle bridges, construct straw towers, launch objects from trebuchets and find ways to drop eggs without them cracking.

“It just showed them an expanded view of what the sciences can do and how science can actually be a lot of fun,” said Marilyn Ceasar, a Portland State chemistry student who was assisting as a judge at the competition. “The kids are so excited now about more science and engineering careers because of it.”

Having fun while learning

Despite the fact that students were dealing with complex scientific concepts at the competition, Ceasar said they were always supportive of one another and enjoying themselves. Students could be seen grinning and skipping through the Peter W. Stott Center, where a majority of the day’s events were held.

“There are two things that come from an event like this,” said Jeff Bovee, a science teacher at Waldo Middle School in Salem. “One is the potential for college, and the second is to have fun while doing science.”

Bovee helped chaperone about 30 students from the TRIO Program at his middle school. The TRIO Program is a U.S. Department of Education sponsored program that is designed to support and motivate students from disadvantaged upbringings. One of the goals of the program is to encourage kids who otherwise might not attend college, to enroll, Bovee said.

His students were only at the competition this year to observe, but Bovee said it is likely they will apply some of the design ideas they witnessed and return next year.

“It is very interesting,” said Crystal Thao, an eighth grader from Waldo Middle School. “The egg drop is amazing and we get to see a lot of different designs.”

Bovee said he hopes his students learn from the competition and feels it is an added bonus that it is on a college campus because it provides them with an opportunity to experience the hustle and bustle that only a university can offer.

One Waldo Middle School student said she thinks college would be a blast, “besides all the studying and stuff.”

Falling eggs

Many competitors and spectators agreed that one bona fide blast at the event was the egg drop. Throughout the festivities–even during scheduled breaks–sizeable crowds congregated around Science Building 2, where eggs housed in an array of contraptions were dropped from the second floor balcony.

Students attempted many designs and relied on household supplies like cotton balls and sponges in an effort to ensure their eggs remained intact when they hit the ground. While many eggs splattered yoke on impact, there were a select few that survived the often-devastating crash.

One unscathed egg was housed in a Starbucks cup with a plastic parachute attached, and another was packed inside a toddlers shoe alongside tissue paper to soften the landing. The design that received the loudest ovation from the crowd of onlookers was a purple prism-like figure that used Styrofoam as landing pads. The egg was positioned in a hanging holster and barely moved an inch upon hitting the ground.

At the awards ceremony, students from nearly every school at the competition were recognized for their performance. The top performing schools were Cathedral Middle School and Marshall BizTech High School for their overall excellence in all events.

A group of four students from Binnsmead Middle School–comprised of Diego Andres Ramirez, Lisa Chien, Julia Nguyen and Teresa Lai–took home first place in the trebuchet competition, which consisted of launching an object across far distances from a homemade catapult. They said the victory was a tribute to fellow classmate George, who injured his hand while helping them with the project.

“I thought we did bad because the second time (the clay object) hit the ceiling. So I thought we lost,” Nguyen said. “We had fun, and I was going to start crying when I found out we won.”

Events at the Engineering Design Competition

Edible CarsStudents push cars made out of bread, cookies and even Rice Krispies down a ramp for maximum distance and then have five minutes to eat their creations.

Egg DropStudents create carriers to support their eggs from the impact of a two-story fall.

Bridge ForceAn upside-down car jack is used to measure the amount of force a popsicle bridge can withstand.

Straw TowersStudents have 30-minutes to construct the tallest tower out of only straws and masking tape.

Trebuchet Students fire clay objects as far as possible with the swinging arm of their self-made launching device.

Unsinkable Barges Weights are added to student-constructed barges in tubs of water to check maximum buoyancy.