First attempts, lasting impressions for engineering freshmen

When more than 1,350 first-year engineering students put their projects on display at the 12th annual Freshman Engineering Design Day, they were quick to let visitors know that trial-and-error played a big role as they watched their Rube Goldberg machines, concrete canoes and precision launchers come together.

After all, Thomas Edison didn’t perfect the incandescent light bulb on his first try.

“Just because you mess up the first time, that doesn’t mean you necessarily failed,” said Daniel Warren, a mechanical engineering major.

The annual event, held in the McKimmon Center the last day of classes before Thanksgiving break, is an opportunity for students to team up and test their design skills against their peers. More than 360 design teams participated this year, and they vied for the top spot by earning the greatest number of points.

Parents also attended the event to see what NC State engineering students learn during their first semester. The event is sponsored by the College of Engineering and its First Year Engineering program.

“Solving. Evolving. Engineering: The Progress Energy Distinguished Speakers Series” is also held during the event. Gary Rackliffe, vice president of Smart Grids North America for ABB Inc., one of the world’s largest power grid suppliers, delivered this year’s address.

Teams working with Rube Goldberg machines — devices designed to perform simple tasks in complex ways — were challenged to create a machine that deposited a quarter into a cup.

Other teams, including Warren’s, created a light-sensitive monitor that would be used to measure Cerenkov radiation — the blue light produced by NC State’s PULSTAR nuclear reactor.

The event is the finale to a semester filled with hard work. As part of the freshman engineering class, “Introduction to Engineering and Problem Solving,” the end-of-semester project reinforces the value of persistence, teamwork and creativity.

“Engineering is all about problem solving and working together with a team,” said Jessica Torres, a nuclear engineering major. “I think this is a beginning step for what we’re going to experience during the next four years.”

Torres’s team, “Modern Art,” designed and built a water fountain comprised mostly of recyclable material. The team’s fountain also had colorful water beads, which helped distribute the splash, keeping onlookers dry. The project incorporated mechanical engineering and electrical engineering concepts.

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