Robot Competition to Highlight Student Engineer Conference at Duke

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DURHAM, N.C. -- Engineering students from universities throughout the Southeast will compete April 1-3 in a robot stair-climbing contest and other competitions at an American Society of Mechanical Engineers regional conference held at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. The conference website is

More than 150 students, as well as middle school teachers and others, are expected to participate in the conference activities at the new Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences on Duke's West Campus.

Students in the robot competition, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 2, in the Fitzpatrick Building atrium, will be challenged to design and build a robot that can transport loads of rice and dump the rice into a box. The robot must climb three stairs with slightly different heights and then move down a step to get in position to dump the rice. Then it must move back down the stairs to get more rice. The goal is to dump as much rice as possible in 10 minutes.

Other contests include oral presentations, technical website design and posters. The oral presentations will be divided into preliminary rounds in the morning, with the top six presenters advancing to a final round that starts at 1 p.m. The posters will be on display all day Saturday.

Middle school teachers at a workshop will get hands-on experience in engineering by building a catapult and will experiment with design by using pipe cleaners. The teachers will learn about the practice of engineering, engineering careers and resources to help them bring engineering and science into middle school classrooms.

Engineering students, industry professionals, faculty and members of the Research Triangle Park business community will take part in an Entrepreneurial Engineers Conference held as part of the overall meeting. The agenda for this "mini-conference" includes advice on starting a new business, legal issues, financing, marketing, the unusual challenges of managing a nonprofit organization and a "lessons-learned" session.

Marshall Brain will deliver a keynote talk at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 2, in the university's Searle Center. Brain is the developer of the website and the author of books that include How Stuff Works and The Teenager's Guide to the Real World. He has degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.

In addition to Duke, participating universities will include Virginia State University, University of Tennessee, Clemson University, James Madison University, Richmond Community College, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Old Dominion University, North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University, Virginia Military Institute, University of Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

The conference is sponsored by GE Corp., which will hold an information session open to all conference participants from 10:45-11:45 a.m. on Saturday, April 2. GE representatives also will be available throughout the conference to review resumes and discuss career issues.