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Students fare well in competitions

MIT students won first place and an award for Outstanding Team Spirit in separate contests this month focused on design problems related to the environment.

In the Eighth Annual District One Engineering Design Competition, four undergraduates devised the best solution to a landfill problem. The win brought the first-place award plaque back to MIT; Institute teams last won in 1989 and 1990.

Meanwhile, another team of MIT students carried home the award for Outstanding Team Spirit in the Fourth Annual WERC International Environmental Design Contest (see MIT Tech Talk, April 6). In that contest, competitors were asked to prepare a proposal for the clean-up of five acres of contaminated soil and to identify an aid for water harvesting (a technique to enhance the growth of vegetation in arid lands).


Participants in the Engineering Design Competition, which was held April 8-9 at Norwich University in Vermont, were given no hint of the problem they'd be asked to solve until the day of the contest. "It was completely on the spot-we just showed up and they gave us a problem," said Aaron Q. Rogers, a sophomore in physics on the MIT team.

The two-part problem involved determining the necessary size of a landfill for the growing population of Northfield, and locating a site for the landfill given a topological map of the city and many detailed constraints.

Teams were then given four hours to design a solution and prepare a 15-minute presentation complete with viewgraphs. MIT competed against the UMass/Amherst, the University of Maine at Lowell, UNH and Norwich.

In the end, each of the MIT students came away with $50 cash, $100 in US savings bonds and a CRC Standard Table of Mathematics Formulae.

In addition to Mr. Rogers, members of the MIT team were freshman Cyrus P. Master, sophomore Mark D. Rentz of electrical engineering and computer science, and sophomore Tan T. Trinh of aeronautics and astronautics. The team was sponsored by the MIT chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society (the contest was held in conjunction with the annual Tau Beta Pi District One New England Conference).

This is actually the second design contest that the four have won-the first was a qualifying round here on campus to determine who would go to the District competition. In the local event, sponsored by the Draper Lab, 10 teams of MIT students competed to design the frame of a micro-rover for use on Mars.


Four other MIT students flew to New Mexico for the WERC International Environmental Design Contest held April 10-14 (WERC is the Waste-Management Education and Research Consortium, which hosted the contest). In New Mexico the students, who represented a nine-member MIT team, competed against 25 other college teams and came away with the award for Outstanding Team Spirit and a check for $750.

For the contest, participants submitted a paper on their solutions, gave an oral presentation and demonstrated their solutions on a small scale with soil samples provided by WERC. "In all, we gave six presentations to the judges, not to mention the numerous times we `presented' our work to other teams and curious passers by," said Karen E. Schmitt, a junior in civil and environmental engineering (CEE) and manager of the MIT team.

Specifically. the students, who began working on the project last fall, devised a "soil extraction and heating process" for the clean-up of contaminated soil. The second part of the contest required teams to find a water-resistant "sealant" that could be applied to large areas of soil; rain draining off the soil could then be "harvested." The MIT team came up with a sealant that was "basically a pine oil emulsion," Ms. Schmitt said.

Other members of the MIT team were freshmen Eric L. Gravengaard and Reginald F. Paulding; sophomore Stephanie A. Sparvero and juniors Melinda A. Moss and Maisha N. Richard, all of CEE; seniors Kerry B. Bowie of CEE and Michael M. Strong of mechanical engineering; and graduate student Greg Diggs of ocean engineering. Schmitt, Bowie, Sparvero, and Gravengaard represented the team in New Mexico. Dr. John T. Germaine, a principal research associate in CEE, was advisor for the project.

The MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering funded the MIT team.

A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 30).

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