Engineers stick together

GETTING A LIFT: Bolstered by engineering know-how and solid teamwork, the mechanical engineering team works diligently to build a soaring tower of popsicle sticks. ABBY COHNGETTING A LIFT: Bolstered by engineering know-how and solid teamwork, the mechanical engineering team works diligently to build a soaring tower of popsicle sticks. (Photo by Abby Cohn.)Take a big concrete wall, a few rolls of duct tape and what do you get? A networking opportunity that bonded Berkeley engineering students in more ways than one.

To the cheers, applause and overall amusement of scores of onlookers, nine teams of undergraduates affixed one of their peers to a decidedly nonadhesive wall outside the Bechtel Engineering Center with yards of sticky, silvery stuff. The occasion was a first-ever Duct Tape Competition, one of a series of science and socially themed events celebrating UC Berkeley’s Engineers Week, better known as EWeek.

EWeek festivities, which this year ran from March 7–12, pay tribute to the engineering profession and are intended to strengthen ties within the diverse Berkeley Engineering community. Kathryn Cook (B.S.’10 MSE), president of the Engineering Student Council and EWeek’s chair, figured a duct tape contest aligned with that mission. “Engineering is all about teamwork,” said Cook, a master’s student in materials science and engineering (MSE).

EWeek is a time-honored Berkeley tradition. The 2011 edition was hailed as the biggest and most ambitious in recent memory. Open to the entire Berkeley Engineering community and particularly popular with undergraduates, the event was sponsored by the Engineering Student Council and its nearly 40 student honor societies, competitive teams and social organizations. “It’s about getting the entire college together and creating open communications,” said Cook.

An opening day research session drew 250 to 300 students to the lobby of the Hearst Memorial Mining Building, where classmates displayed such projects as a miniature robotic car, a GPS-equipped water monitoring sensor and flammability experiments from the Combustion and Fire Processes Lab. Competitive teams developing a solar car, concrete canoe, Formula SAE race car and super mileage vehicle also participated in the show-and-tell.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Coming out on top after a week of interdepartmental competitions, members of the winning MSE team pose with the Engineering Olympics trophy. Front row, from left: Jessica Burton, Jessie Yang, Alex Bryant and Yusuke Harada; back row, from left: Justin Clune, Andrew Izumi and Brannon Smith. COURTESY LANA NGUYENWE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Coming out on top after a week of interdepartmental competitions, members of the winning MSE team pose with the Engineering Olympics trophy. Front row, from left: Jessica Burton, Jessie Yang, Alex Bryant and Yusuke Harada; back row, from left: Justin Clune, Andrew Izumi and Brannon Smith. (Photo by Lana Nguyen.)Among the three interdepartmental competitions held during the week, the duct taping event emerged as a clear crowd-pleaser. In that event, each five-member student team was handed three rolls of duct tape and challenged to stick a classmate to the wall for as long as possible. What unraveled was an array of innovative, but largely unsuccessful, taping techniques that drew critiques and chuckles from observers. “Look at EECS!” shouted one bystander, admiring the uniform grid the electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS) squad created in hopes of cinching Sara LaVigna to the concrete face. Like most contestants, LaVigna, a third-year EECS student, slithered to the ground immediately after a chair was removed from under her feet. “It looked pretty but it didn’t work,” she explained.

In the end, just one of the nine contestants was left hanging: Erica Sheu, a third-year student in MSE. MSE’s approach featured a long band of duct tape that created a ledge for Sheu’s feet. The team credited the interdisciplinary nature of materials science—plus a YouTube video of a Guinness World Records effort—for sealing the win. “Adhesion is a big problem, so you want to maximize the tape,” said team member Justin Clune.

EWeek also presented a Subject Matter Expert Bowl in which the departmental teams fielded questions on a variety of engineering topics:  What are the four base symmetry types for a crystal lattice? What is the start codon for RNA? What is the fundamental difference between a fission and fusion reaction? Racking their brains and conferring with their teammates, students proffered answers that ranged from absolute certainty to educated guesses. At the end of the evening, the chemical engineering, EECS and mechanical engineering teams came to a three-way tie for first place.

The week culminated with a carnival at Memorial Glade, where the departmental teams competed in an egg drop, popsicle-stick tower-building and other games. When the results from the week’s competitions were tallied, the MSE team emerged victorious. Celebrating the victory, team captain and third-year student Alex Bryant hoisted an Engineering Olympics trophy and said, “Great teammates, that’s what it was.”

Dean Shankar Sastry praised organizers and participants alike in his closing comments at the carnival. EWeek, he said, not only showcased the talents of Berkeley engineers but also was “a true display of our inclusive community and culture.”