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MIT Design Team Wins Contest

By A. Arif Husain
Staff Reporter

A four-member MIT design team placed first in the Eighth Annual District One Engineering Design Competition held last weekend at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.

The team, sponsored by the MIT chapter of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, included Cyrus P. Master '97, Mark D. Rentz '96, Aaron Q. Rogers '96, and Tan T. Trinh '96.

The other teams were from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Maine at Lowell, the University of New Hampshire, and Norwich.

Participants were given a design problem where they had to determine the necessary size of a landfill for a growing population given a list of constraints, said TBP Treasurer Jean-Pei J. Cherng '95. They also had to propose a location for the landfill on a topological map of Northfield, he said. The problem was created by a civil engineering professor at Norwich University.

Teams were given four hours to discuss the situation and prepare a 15 minute presentation.

"We had to calculate how much garbage we had to work with, the amount of space it would take up, and then we placed it where it would fit," Trinh said.

Designing the landfill itself wasn't difficult, Rogers said, and required only 30 minutes. The key was to pick a site that satisfied the requirements of the problem, including minimizing the view from the residents while keeping the site near the city, he said.

Using data and maps from an actual city made the experience more realistic, Rogers said. In fact, the city of Northfield has been considering the problem for over 10 years, Rogers said. The city has not located an ideal site yet, but the competitors "picked some reasonable locations for a landfill site," he said.

The contest provided hands-on experience in engineering problem solving, Rentz said. The most fulfilling aspect of the competition was the team work rather than the academic challenge, he added.

"I was really surprised at the chemistry our team had," Trinh said. "There was enough tension to bring out different viewpoints, but not so much that it broke down the fabric of our team. That worked really well for us."

Each member of the winning MIT team received $50 cash, $100 in U.S. savings bonds, and a CRC Standard Table of Mathematics Formulae.

"I really like doing challenges," Rogers said. The problem was "something completely creative, not something you could prepare for," he added.

The MIT participants were selected after placing first in an on-campus competition March 29. The local event was sponsored by Draper Lab. Each of the 10 participating teams had two hours to solve an engineering problem and prepare a presentation.

In the local event, participants were asked to propose mobility and system structure designs for a space micro-rover. Teams were judged by a panel composed of Course II undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers from Draper. The event was open to freshmen and sophomores from any major, and the winning team was awarded $200.

"I think the contest is really worthwhile," Master said. "It's a great experience in engineering."