Students demonstrate engineering, scientific prowess at 'NERD Olympics'

<p><strong>Shivangi Ganatra, a School of Engineering senior, builds a bridge out of uncooked spaghetti for the fourth annual NERD Olympics Feb. 25 at the Busch Campus Center. </strong>TIAN LI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER</p>

Shivangi Ganatra, a School of Engineering senior, builds a bridge out of uncooked spaghetti for the fourth annual NERD Olympics Feb. 25 at the Busch Campus Center. TIAN LI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

From making slime to forming clouds, students were able to experience different engineering principles at the fourth annual NERD Olympics Wednesday in the Busch Student Center.

The Novel Engineering Regional Design Olympics was designed to be a casual interactive event for School of Engineering students and faculty to attend, said Mansi Sanghvi, the event planning assistant in dean's administrative officer for the School of Engineering.

“It’s kind of an event where you can take a moment to recuperate,” Sanghvi said. “Right now we have midterms, we have to study, but here we can all come together, not in a professional setting, just where you relax and talk to each other.”

Different organizations created booths to showcase various aspects of engineering, she said. Theta Tau, the professional co-ed engineering fraternity, taught attendees how to build circuits to perform certain tasks.

Other organizations held spaghetti bridge building competitions, cup stacking contests, backpack races and provided wings for students to enjoy, she said. The School of Engineering hosted a booth where students could build paper airplanes.

“It’s kind of to show that very little things in life — you don’t even realize it — but it’s engineering,” she said. “It requires an engineering mindset. You might think you’re just making a paper airplane, but technically there’s a lot of engineering processes behind that.”

A senior design team from the Department of Industrial Engineering also presented their project, a device capable of launching soccer balls at more than 30 miles per hour.

“They’re here to demonstrate their design (and) show us what they’re doing,” Sanghvi said. “It’s really cool.”

The machine, designed to help train goalkeepers, has a camera on the front to track a goalkeeper before the machine fires the ball into the net, said Robert Schultz, a School of Engineering senior who worked on the project.

The device can change the direction it fires in both horizontally and vertically, as well as change the speed it fires at, he said.

An element of machine learning allows it to determine where a person’s weaknesses might be so it could focus on those in its automatic mode, he said. A manual mode also allows a person to direct where the ball should go.

Another group, Rutgers University Math Science Engineering Outreach (RUSMEO), showed off two scientific principles at the event.

The first involved milk, vinegar and hot water, said Donald Chawla, a School of Engineering junior.

A protein in milk known as caseinate, when reacting with two chloride ions, takes a globular form, he said. This new protein is known as casein.

Changing the temperature and pH of casein would denature, or change the shape and properties of the protein, he said.

Vinegar and hot water would change those properties in the milk, resulting in a solution that would leave a putty-like substance after being strained, he said.

“This is what happens during digestion to milk and to many other proteins,” he said. “This is somewhat disgusting for a lot of people, but science is not always pleasant.”

RUSMEO also demonstrated how to create clouds in bottles, he said. 

Atmospheric pressure and temperature vary at the higher altitudes where clouds form, Chawla said. Water molecules condense onto dust particles there.

These environmental conditions could be replicated by saturating the air inside a bottle with alcohol, said Prithvi Gandhi, a School of Engineering senior. Once the air is saturated, a lit match is used to fill the rest of the bottle with smoke and eventually creates a vacuum, she said.

Squeezing and letting go of the bottle changes the pressure inside, and this leads to a cloud forming, she said. 

More students attended the event than in any of the previous years, said Peter Spatocco, president of the Engineering Governing Council. One of Spatocco's hopes was to see new students attend this year’s event.

It was an excellent opportunity for students to attend a carnival-type event after class, Spatocco, a School of Engineering senior, said. He hoped it could also potentially convince undeclared first-year students to choose an engineering field as their major.

Hosting the event during midterms probably negatively impacted attendance, Sanghvi said. This year the number of people present fluctuated with classes starting and ending.

In the future, the event might be hosted the week before National Engineers Week so as to avoid midterms, she said.

At least 80 students attended the event, and not all of these were engineering students, Sanghvi said. 

“I met people who were pharmacy, computer science ( and School of Arts and Sciences),” she said. “People are bringing their friends, and (those people) are bringing their friends.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article said a protein in milk known as casein, when reacting with two fluoride ions known as caseinate.

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