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Wonders of engineering on display

Organizers hope the annual EXPO interests young students in engineering and USF's program.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001

TAMPA -- If you've ever wondered what engineers do, or if you'd just like to see a can sliced in half by an electromagnetic field, the University of South Florida's Engineering EXPO is the place to be today and Saturday.

For the 28th year, the EXPO showcases companies, government agencies, engineering societies and USF academic departments that hire, use or educate engineers. About 50 of them will set up displays around the USF campus with their most enticing products or equipment.

There will be robots, a wind tunnel, interactive computer displays, a chemistry magic show and, expected to be the biggest crowd pleaser, a helicopter flight simulator realistic enough to give novice pilots motion sickness.

About 4,000 people are expected to attend the EXPO, said Paul McCright, a lecturer in industrial engineering and faculty adviser for the event. USF students organize the event each year and invite students from middle schools and high schools along Florida's west coast to compete in engineering contests.

Among the contests are the mousetrap car competition, in which students must build model cars from scratch powered only by a mousetrap, and the balsa-wood bridge building competition. Contestants use weak balsa wood to build miniature bridges that will be load-tested to see how much weight they can bear.

McCright said a previous winning design held up under a 200-pound weight.

The purpose of the event is to get young students interested in engineering and to introduce them to USF's engineering college.

"Most students feel engineering is some kind of desk job where you're doing higher mathematics, but it's really a lot of fun," said Alisha Donahue, 19, a freshman from St. Petersburg majoring in chemical engineering.

Donahue will work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., this summer as an intern in a laboratory. Companies participating this year include those in agriculture, aerospace, electronics, public utilities, consulting and design.

USF departments that are participating include biomedical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and mechanical engineering, as well as the physics department and the College of Architecture.

The EXPO runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in various buildings on the main campus. Signs around the campus will direct visitors to the events.

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