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MIT Wins District TBP Competition to Design Water System

By Venkatesh Satish
Associate News Editor

For the second year in a row, an MIT design team placed first in the Tau Beta Pi District Design Competition, held at Northeastern University in early April. Each team member was awarded $100, and the group was given a plaque.

The all-sophomore team, consisting of Anthony Y. Ku '97, Howard Man '97, and Alexander Morcos '97, was sponsored by the MIT chapter of Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society. Only freshmen and sophomores can compete in this contest, according to TBP Chapter Service Chair Michael Kim '96.

Teams from Yale University, Boston University, the University of Massachusetts­Boston, Northeastern University, and Norwich University were also represented.

Each team had to solve the same problem: to design a water distribution system for a town in a third-world country with a population of about 5,000, given information about the available technologies, water sources, and locations of storage, Man said. They also had to account for peak demand periods in times such as holidays and fires, Kim said.

Participants were given six hours to discuss the situation and prepare a 15-minute presentation for an audience of judges and participating students. This was followed by a five-minute question-and-answer session, Kim said.

One reason for the team's success was its diversity in areas of expertise. Ku, a chemical engineering major, said that the abilities of Man, a management major, and Morcos, a mathematics major, helped to develop a balanced approach to solving the problem.

"We were able to come up with the engineering and the specifications of the pipe [for distributing the water], as well as the economics and common sense," of the problem, Ku said.

"We worked primarily on figuring out what the needs of the city were," Kim said.

The team also had the advantage of competing in last year's MIT competition and placing as runners-up. "We knew what kind of answers [the judges] were looking for, and that a lot more of it depends on the presentation than we thought," Morcos said.

The most gratifying part of the competition was "seeing how things we learn in the classroom help us when we are solving real-world problems," Man said. "We used equations that we learned from classes and as much creativity as we could."

An internal MIT competition was held late March to choose the school's team, said TBP Chapter Service Chair Michael Kim '96. Contestants had to face a scenario in which they had to keep a failing toy car manufacturer from going out of business.

The local competition, sponsored by McKinsey & Company, awarded $100 to each member of the winning team. Twelve teams, with a total of about 40 students competed in this first, internal competition, Kim said. The problem was designed by Kim, along with other TBP officers.