EXPO, olympiad, student exchange

Posted on 29. Sep, 2011 by in Annual Report, Engineering Physics, Features, Issues, People, Students

Rube Goldberg device at Engineering Expo

High school students participated in the Rube Goldberg competition at Engineering Expo.


Standing anywhere in the Engineering Centers Building atrium April 14, 15 and 16, it was impossible to ignore the bass thundering out
of a very large stereo speaker located at the north end of the building.

This was no ordinary speaker.

“Just last night,” said electrical engineering PhD student Dan Ludois on April 14, “we submitted it to the Guinness Book of World Records.”

Measuring 8 feet square and 2 feet deep with a 6-foot-diameter cone, the speaker truly was one of a kind. Ludois and friends Justin Reed and Kyle Hanson built it specifically for its attention-grabbing value at Engineering EXPO, a biennial three-day event that draws thousands of students, teachers and parents to the College of Engineering campus.

The group succeeded. The super-sized speaker—and Engineering EXPO itself—attracted nearly 7,000 elementary-, middle- and high-school students, teachers and parents from such Wisconsin locales as La Crosse, Whitewater, Poynette and Sheboygan Falls. “We had 74 buses of students show up on Thursday and 40 on Friday,” says Alicia Jackson, who directs the Student Leadership Center in the College of Engineering.

In a two-year process that begins not long after the last event ends, EXPO is planned and staffed entirely by engineering students. This large-scale open house offers students from all engineering disciplines the opportunity to share their passion for engineering with public audiences.

EXPO visitors young and old had the unique chance to experience hands-on engineering activities and to explore five buildings on the engineering campus. EXPO included six competitions and featured more than 45 hands-on exhibits and demonstrations. First-graders from Sauk Prairie schools toured the fusion experiment Pegasus. Third-graders from Leopold Elementary School in Madison learned how materials behave under extreme conditions as they watched materials science and engineering students use liquid nitrogen to freeze a banana and use it as a hammer. Eighth-graders from Savannah Oaks Middle School, Verona, learned how municipal solid waste facilities work at an exhibit titled, “What happens to your garbage?” For the Rube Goldberg competition, teams of high school students designed and built a complex machine that could raise a flag in 20 or more steps.

Leopold parent Kris Cotharn appreciated EXPO’s emphasis on exploring current scientific achievements to encourage future scientific endeavors. “I think it’s important to expose them to opportunities they have if they go into the field of science,” she said.

National Science Olympiad team

More than 3,000 students from 47 U.S. states participated in the 2011 National Science Olympiad tournament on the UW-Madison campus in May. Photo: David Nevala.


More than 6,000 middle- and high-school students, educators and parents from 47 U.S. states visited UW-Madison May 18-21, 2011, for the 27th annual National Science Olympiad tournament. An after-school team activity, Science Olympiad is one of the nation’s most prestigious and rigorous competitions of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). At both the state and national level, teams compete in more than two-dozen scientific and engineering challenges on topics ranging from human health, ecology, chemistry, cell biology, geology and engineering.

American competitiveness hinges on increasing the number of people educated in STEM—and U.S. Department of Labor statistics indicate demand for workers with expertise in these fields is rising. The Science Olympiad focus on teamwork, cooperation and real-world challenges can be a powerful tool in promoting interest in such disciplines.

UW-Madison landed the 2011 competition thanks in large part to College of Engineering Dean Paul S. Peercy. In 2005, Peercy developed an outreach program through which engineering undergraduates serve as mentors to help area schools form teams. More than two-dozen NSO teams have been established through the effort, bringing the Wisconsin team total to more than 100. “Increasing the number of people educated in science, technology, engineering and math fields is vital to American competitiveness,” says Peercy. “Science Olympiad is one of the best programs I have encountered for inspiring a lasting interest in STEM disciplines.”

View videos about the 2011 national tournament on the Science Olympiad playlist at youtube.com/engineeringuw.


A record number of South Carolina State University (SCSU) students attended nuclear engineering courses on the UW-Madison campus in spring 2011. These nine students will earn degrees from both the SCSU Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology and in nuclear engineering and from the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Physics.

The program began at UW-Madison in 2001 under Engineering Physics Professor Emeritus and then-Chair Gil Emmert. The unique collaborative educational opportunity
is the result of the Department of Energy Nuclear Engineering University Partnership Program. Designed to increase the number of minorities entering nuclear engineering, the program pairs students from minority-serving colleges and universities with institutions that offer a nuclear engineering degree. “Here in Madison, the students have access to our reactor lab, which SCSU does not have,” says current EP Chair Jake Blanchard. “Students take a heavy load while they’re here, including courses in reactor operations, theory and design; economics and the environment; and our senior design class.”

Like UW-Madison students, the SCSU students graduate prepared to work in any part of the nuclear industry, from planning to designing, developing, testing and operating nuclear reactors. Because the SCSU curriculum emphasizes the fundamentals of engineering, students also are prepared for graduate studies in such fields as radiological sciences or materials science.

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