Rockets soar tens of thousands of feet into the air, human-powered vehicles shoot past competitors, and off-road vehicles race across unforgiving terrain. Relying on club-acquired camaraderie and know-how, University of Arizona College of Engineering students take to the road and put their creations to the test.
“Being part of the club taught me what it is like to work on a project with other engineers, which is something we don’t often get to do inside the classroom,” said Steve Smith, president of UA Students for the Exploration and Development of Space and a member of the University’s chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, or AIAA. “It gives you the teamwork and project experience job recruiters are looking for.”
That teamwork paid off at a June 2017 AIAA competition in New Mexico when the club won a silver medal at the global SpacePort America Cup/Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition. The Wildcats took second place in a Student Researched and Developed solid rocket motor category. More than 100 teams from six continents competed at the event, where sponsors included NASA and SpaceX.
“This project provided a unique opportunity for students to apply classroom theory to a real-world, fast-paced research and development project,” said club member Abhishek Rane, who helped organize the team for the SpacePort competition.
The goal: Design, build and fly a rocket to a target altitude, with competition categories ranging from 10,000 feet to 30,000 feet. The UA team’s rocket reached about 21,000 feet in the 30,000-foot-elevation category.
“While our altitude was lower than expected, our recovery system worked flawlessly, and the rocket safely parachuted itself down, allowing the team to successfully recover the vehicle,” Rane said.
“Our balanced launch, strong flight performance, and successful recovery propelled us to second place in our category.”
The Human Powered Vehicle Club’s El Niño [video] placed ninth overall out of 24 teams at the North America West portion of the 2017 American Society of Mechanical Engineers Human Powered Vehicle Challenge.
When it comes to naming their competition vehicles, club members draw inspiration from Ben Stiller’s Zoolander. Vehicles in previous years have been christened Magnum and Le Tigre.
The competition took place in March at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where vehicles completed a speed event and an obstacle course. Vehicles were also judged on design quality and innovation.
Each year the club competes, it must build a brand new vehicle, including at least one technological or mechanical advancement. The 2016 vehicle featured a well-functioning GPS system, but it rolled over at competition. So the club decided to create better rollover messaging in the next build.
Through her senior project in 3-D design and an internship at software company Photometrix, Ling Bin Lu recruited a multidisciplinary group of club members to improve the system for 2017.
“This helped us do better than the previous year,” said the spring 2017 mechanical engineering graduate who led the team. “The outcome is better when people work on parts they know they are good at.”
"We could not have achieved this success without the support of our sponsors," she added.
Members of the UA Baja Team, who build a newly designed single-seat off-road race vehicle every year, competed in a four-hour endurance race in Gorman, California, in April 2017. The team finished 45th out of 85 teams, a big improvement over 2016’s 72nd-place finish.
“Our proudest achievements were a 38th-place finish in the endurance race, 29th place in the suspension event, and being the fifth team to pass the technical inspection,” said Kyle Everly, former director of operations and treasurer for the club.
The team was 61st in the vehicle technical inspection line, so being the fifth to pass -- out of only 12 vehicles to do so the first go-round -- is a testament to the team’s skill.
The UA student chapter of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, or SME, is on the hunt for a new trophy case. The group received its eighth Outstanding Student Chapter award in early September 2017.
The chapter has long been among the winningest of Wildcat engineering clubs, with several awards for community outreach, including top prize in the 2014 International K-12 Outreach Challenge.
“We are excited that our efforts over the last few years have been recognized and look forward to many more successful years,” said Garrett Anderson, UA SME senior vice president. “Our SME chapter is a great professional and networking opportunity, which helps our students get internships and job offers.”
The UA chapters of the Design-Build Institute of America and American Society of Civil Engineers teamed up to take first place in the Design-Build/Construction competition during the ASCE Pacific Southwest Conference in April 2017 at the University of California, Irvine.
Eighteen groups competed in the event, which addressed UC Irvine’s aging infrastructure. Teams planned the repair of a section of campus sidewalk, constructed the concrete pads over a half day, then presented their projects to a panel of professional judges. Project submissions included detailed descriptions of design, cost and materials and a SWOT analysis.
The UA College of Engineering boasts about 40 clubs and organizations, ranging from a Rube Goldberg Club with its wacky contraptions to accomplish simple tasks, like zipping a zipper or hammering in a nail, to Engineers for a Sustainable World, a group giving serious consideration to how to make the world’s finite resources last, and the Arizona Home Brew Club, complete with recipes and tastings. Win, lose, draw or just plain fun, students would be hard-pressed to find a better way to get hands-on experience and make lasting friendships and memories. “AIAA has given me my closest friends, whom I look forward to seeing every day,” said the chapter’s vice president, Michael Nathanson.