PSU’s Engineering Discovery Showcase

Image of a go-kart

This solar-powered bicycle was in the basement, this year. The roof is covered with photovoltaic cells.

Last Friday was this year’s annual Engineering Discovery Showcase, and there were some very interesting things to see. The whole point of EDS is to give people a look into what engineering in-and-after college might look like. So basically, it includes some interesting and expensive testing equipment, handmade vehicles and videogames:

On the ground floor, there were a number of basic booths for groups like ASME, a nationwide group with a chapter at most colleges, and Engineers Without Borders, who do cool things all over the place to make the world a better place. I talked to the folks at the ASME booth, who showed me a couple of their creations: a recyclables-sorter made out of cardboard, which uses various sensors to detect whether a recyclable bottle/can is made of metal, glass or plastic; and PSU’s 2008 entry into the Mini Baja contest, which looked pretty boss. They also had tools from their machine shop, at which they fabricate all the parts for their projects.

image of a reclined tricycle

ASME makes one of these every year. For fun.

Also on the ground floor was one of the newest additions to PSU’s engineering building, which is a $750,000 wind tunnel. In terms of power, it’s definitely not made to test life-sized models of jets going mach 2, but it’s one of the most advanced wind tunnels in the world according to the gent in charge. It’s got a grid of flaps which can be controlled to create/modify turbulence, a tunnel-ceiling which can be reshaped to simulate pressure systems and further control the wind, and a floor whose temperature can be controlled from 0-50 degrees Celsius to simulate, say, a desert floor compared to tundra. It’s so new that PSU is still deciding what to do with it. But a tool like that is great for one of PSU’s focuses, green engineering.

Right outside the door to the wind-tunnel room is what looks like a tiny elevator–about the size of a big microwave. It is, in a way; it’s a freefall tower, which the engineering department uses to do tests in low gravity. From the 5th floor to the basement, it can give about 2 seconds of low-gravity testing time. They wouldn’t let me test-ride it for some reason.

image of the wind tunnel's turbulence generator

Those flaps spin and move to generate turbulence in the wind tunnel

Up a couple flights of stairs and there was paint all over a window. It read “OPEN SOURCE GAMING.” That’s two good things at once. Open-source software, which is in many ways a godsend, and gaming. Took a peek inside the open-source gaming room. Every. Single. Chair. Was. Filled. About 100 computers and every single one of them was being used by someone playing something. All of the games were made by students of PSU’s college of computer science.

After everyone got a nice tour of these booths plus many others, they got lunch. And then there was a raffle, where several prizes were given out (t-shirts, a guitar (nay, an engineering guitar!), and some other cool stuff)

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