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Clarkson hosting engineering celebration on Thursday

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POTSDAM - What started as a class project has evolved into a day-long celebration of engineering organized by undergraduate students at Clarkson University. Engineering Day will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at locations across campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The day will include a rocket launch, a series of speakers and a tennis ball accuracy contest using sling shots and targets from 11 a.m. to noon in Baghdad Field. There will also be SPEED team displays from noon to 1 p.m. in the Student Center Multi-purpose Rooms and an “egg drop” from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Center for Advanced Materials Processing building atrium, where students will design an apparatus to protect a raw egg, then drop it to test its durability.

A seven-foot-tall, 5 1/2- inch wide rocket designed to reach a mile high in altitude and equipped with a parachute, onboard cameras and a global positioning device will be launched between 2 and 4 p.m. in Baghdad Field on Baghdad Road, depending on weather conditions. It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of work for Conor Cullinane and Matthew Kane, both senior aeronautical engineering majors.

They have designed a rocket with an internal control system that will guide its path once launched. The control system can auto-correct the rocket if it goes off-course. The pair received help from members of Clarkson’s roCKeT Division, which was started by Cullinane and Kane as part of Clarkson’s applied aerodynamics lab.

The other division members are Nathan Torkaman ’13, a mechanical engineering major from Alfred; Dan Hoose ’13, an electrical engineering major from Ballston Spa; and Elijah Kapas ’13, a mechanical engineering major from Greenwich. The group’s Web page and more information on the event can be found at http://www.clarkson.edu/rocketdivision.

Kane and Cullinane’s senior project required hundreds of hours of work. They and the team combined their childhood interest in model rockets with the science and technical skills they had learned at Clarkson to make the rocket functional.

“Because you’re interested in the topic, you actually enjoy doing the work,” said Kane, who grew up in Castle Creek, N.Y. “It’s a lot of work but we’re having fun.”

The rocket launch was originally the only planned event, but the day has since evolved into a series of engineering events in order spur more interest in the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines among high school students, Kane said. St. Lawrence Central and Norwood-Norfolk students will travel to Clarkson to attend; community members are also welcome.

Cullinane, who grew up in Hampton, N.H., said he hoped the day would prompt more area high school students to pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) discipline in college and beyond.

“We have the opportunity to pass our enthusiasm onto other young engineers,” Cullinane said. “We get to spread the opportunities that we have had to people who may not have had the opportunity to see this type of work before.”

Cullinane and Kane had originally set out to write a paper for their senior research project, but wanted to take the experience to the next level. Their advisor, Associate Professor of Aeronautical Engineering Ken Visser, encouraged them to pursue their passion.

“It’s not about getting the answer in the back of the book. It’s about getting the answers to problems that don’t yet have an answer,” Visser said. “That’s the kind of innovation I think Clarkson does a good job of fostering. It’s an opportunity for them to gain insight about what it means to be an aeronautical engineer.”

Designing and building such a rocket will give the two invaluable experience as they prepare for graduate school — for Cullinane at MIT and for Kane at Notre Dame.

“The opportunities we have are something most undergraduates don’t ever have a chance to have,” he said. “We’re going to be head and shoulders above people that have never had that opportunity before.”

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