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'Relaxation Station' Wins TBP Contest

By Stuart Jackson
Staff Reporter

Stress has long been a problem at MIT, with the well worn phrase "education at MIT is like drinking from a fire hose" summing it up pretty eloquently. The local chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Honor Society decided to tackle this problem head on in its annual design contest.

On March 18, 10 teams of three to four freshmen or sophomores were challenged to design a stress-relief station "to serve the MIT student body as an aid in reducing their daily stress level."

Mechanical engineering majors William H. Stadtlander '99, Matthew S. Duplessie '99, and Chad C. Souke '99 received the $300 grand prize. They, along with the two teams tied for second place, will go on to compete in the TBP district competition on April 5 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. They will compete against other District I schools including Yale University, the University of Massachusetts, and WPI.

Many approaches to relaxation

Stadtlander, Duplessie, and Souke invented a "relaxation station," consisting of a circular cluster of individual, curtained chambers, each with a massage pad, sound system, and a comfortable seat. The station was "a little private chamber where you can listen to music and get massaged and forget life's troubles for a minute or two," Stadtlander said. The cost of a set of such relaxation station units was estimated at $5,000.

Two teams tied for second place, with $100 going to each team. Ryan K. Pierce '99, Stallion E. Yang '99, Beau S. Tateyama'99, and Huajiang C. Mak '99 took a more visual approach, proposing fish tanks and modular "kinetic sculptures," with components like flashing lights, chimes, or drums at locations across campus.

"Students aren't going to respond to things that say in big letters across the front relaxation station,'" Pierce said. "MIT students find solace in things that are not specifically designed to provide solace."

Everyone finds music and nature soothing, and MIT students seem to enjoy mechanical devices, Mak said. The team included these ideas in its design.

The team of Narendra Maheshri '99, Praveen Ghanta '99, and Aalok B. Shah '99 tried to relax students with soothing interactive stimuli. Their "relaxstation" isolated the student in a capsule filled with easy-to-win computer games and music.

Stadtlander, Duplessie, and Souke said that they were successful because they brainstormed for a full hour. The brainstorming led to a design that was simpler than the ideas presented by some of the other groups. The team members worked to provide "hard numbers" when it came to estimating the cost of their station.

Contest promotes originality

Contest participants were given two hours to develop a solution to the design question, said TBP Chapter Service Chair Wanwipa Siriwatwechalcul '98. Team members then had 15 minutes to present their ideas to a panel of judges. Along with helping reduce the stress level of the MIT student body, the stress-relief stations were also required to accommodate anyone, have high turnover, be easily accessible, and fit into a cube seven feet on a side.

The contest was geared toward freshmen and sophomores with no technical knowledge, Siriwat-wechalcul said. The contest was designed to promote and reward originality, new ways of thinking, and good presentation skills.

The design question for the MIT contest was more general than the question the winners will face at the TBP District Convention. This is to make the MIT contest fairer to participants with various backgrounds. MIT has an impressive history at the district convention, winning each of the past three years.

The judges for this year's local TBP contest included Senior Lecturer of Chemical Engineering C. Michael Mohr '55 and Professor of Chemical Engineering Paul E. Laibinis '85, Professors of Mechanical Engineering David E. Hardt PhD '79 and Alexander H. Slocum '82, and Poompat Saengudomlert G.