Students Square Off in Engineering Contest
The 10 pairs of student contestants won't actually be cooking energy, of course--or even cooking with energy. Over the past 10 weeks, their challenge has been to design and manufacture a small Stirling engine--an engine that uses an externally applied fuel or heat source to drive pistons that generate power (as opposed to the internal combustion engine that propels your car). In this case, the one-foot-tall engines will suck up the heat thrown off a 300-degree Fahrenheit propane-powered portable pancake griddle wheeled out of the dining hall for the competition.
If the engines work, they'll pump out about one watt of power that will then juice up gadgets ranging from a fan to a low-wattage laser to a small light-up Christmas tree.
The students will be judged on the efficiency and speed of their engine, the creativity of its design, and its overall cost. They will also be evaluated on how well they predicted the performance of their engines.
Preparing for the contest, says ME 72 instructor Melany Hunt, a professor of mechanical engineering at Caltech, has given the students a firsthand taste of engineering in the real world. "The students have had to take their ideas from conception to completion, while taking into account all aspects of the process, including the cost and materials," Hunt says. "Plus," she adds, "they have had to adhere to a fixed timetable, which is not something Caltech students are usually very good at."
Members of the media are welcome to attend the competition. For more information, including contest rules, visit the ME 72 website at http://www.me.caltech.edu/me72/