Spacecraft building, fighting robots, and launching space shuttles might at first glance sound like an old episode of Star Trek, but last week it was all about the engineer at the University at Buffalo.
Engineers Week (E-week) is an annual event coordinated throughout the major engineering clubs at UB. Every day last week, the union hosted engineering students taking part in competitions and events that ranged from a circuit-building challenge to the event's popular attraction: the annual Botwars battle.
"Everything: smart phones, computer programs, all the things that make modern life great, we owe to engineering," said Gregory Maloney, a senior electrical engineering major and vice president of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). "Engineering is a massively important field."
The week started with Winterfest and ended with the Academic Engineering Ball, a casino-themed bash that drew in hundreds of students. Each partygoer was given faux money to play various casino games such as blackjack. Although the event was billed as an engineering ball, it was open to any and all students who wished to attend. Soft drinks and dinner were provided by the venue, but alcoholic drinks were on a cash-bar basis.
"[It was] a great time" said Jack Weinerth, a junior geology major. "I would definitely go back next year."
The ball gave high-profile exposure to UB's engineering community, which has a stereotype of being the Steve-Urkel-clad-awkward-genius type, and underscored E-week's overarching goal of educating the public not only on the importance of engineering, but of the interesting aspects of engineering as well.
"This event gives us a professional image," said Christopher Owen, a senior chemical engineering major and treasurer of AICHE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers). "If someone was to look at all this, they could think it's a business party."
The other events, however, while not as formal as the ball, gathered just as much exposure for engineers. Botwars has become a campus tradition, drawing huge crowds to the Student Union every year. The rules are simple. Make the opponent's robot stop working, and you win. Robots must weigh in at 45 pounds or under, and projectiles are not allowed.
Three basic types of robots entered the box of battle. Certain bots were equipped with some sort of weapon, like the one fielded by UB Robotics, which had a rotating metal bar on top. Others were shaped like a wedge, designed to flip the opponent's bot over by ramming it, thus incapacitating it. One was named Quidditch Bot, and was just an RC car with a piece of a broom attached to it. Another was an RC car with a cake on top; the cake smashed in spectacular fashion when it was beat with an iron bar.
Students crammed themselves around the massive plexiglass box, craning their necks to see the robots get torn to scrap. In the final bout, UB Robotics' bot named "10 PM" took victory after an impressive run. The event showed engineering at its finest: solving mechanical problems on the fly, even with limited resources. In the final rounds, some bots made their way into the ring with significant amounts of duct tape repairs.
Many of UB's engineering clubs and groups had their hand in Botwars, and in E-week in general.
"It made me happy to see all the engineering groups working together" said Dan Pastuf, engineering coordinator for the Student Association.
While the creativity of engineering was on display at Botwars, the epic scale of engineering shined on Thursday when UB-SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) hosted a viewing of the STS-133 launch, the last launch for the space shuttle Discovery. As many children are drawn to engineering through NASA and the space program, the wide-reaching awareness it brings is important to many engineers.
"The main idea of E-week is to bring into focus the importance of engineering," Maloney said. "We need to reach out not only to college students, but to high school and grade school students as well."