March Madness Hits Pratt School of Engineering

Two North Carolinian sports traditions will meet engineering know-how in the second annual design contest of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Wednesday, March 5, in Love Auditorium. Students will combine motorsports and basketball in an effort to win cash prizes of up to $2,000.

This year's design contest requires students to create remote-controlled machines that can take a Ping-Pong ball from the corner of an 8-foot-square court and place it in a "basketball hoop" -- a Plexiglas tube 18 inches above the playing surface. Teams of one or two students will compete in two-minute heats and, as in basketball, the competition will allow guarding, but goaltending as well as aggressive or intentional fouling will result in penalties.

"We encourage strategic maneuvering like blocking, but if you intentionally knock over or ram your opponent there will be point penalties," said Robert Kielb, the competition's organizer and a senior research scientist at the Pratt School. "We will have two referees and two judges to determine penalties and the intent of the person fouling."

About 50 students are signed up to participate in this year's competition and are allowed to work in pairs. Unlike last year, where students used toy motors to power their devices, this year they will be using more advanced motors to give them greater torque and more power. Each team is also given a kit consisting of wheels, tires, axles, aluminum, wood, belts and springs. Students will also have access to the school's workshop as well as various stock parts including fasteners, glue, monofilament lines and cable ties.

"The vast majority of our students told us that they really enjoyed last year's competition," Kielb said. "They told us it was not only a great experience, but also provided an excellent creative outlet."

This year's contest is sponsored by the Lord Foundation, the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Sciences and Kaye Products Inc. The Love Auditorium is located in the Levine Science Research Center (LSRC), on Duke's West Campus.