CSUN mechanical engineering class is off to the races

Elano Pizzicarola

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A mousetrap racer is released in an attempt at the longest distance challenge for Prof. Ho's introduction to mechanical engineering class. Students contructed mousetrap cars to compete in longest distance and fastest time challenges. Photo Credit: Ken Scarboro / Online Editor

Mousetraps converted into small, soapbox-sized cars darted down a hallway in Jacaranda Hall Wednesday for a project in an Introduction To Mechanical Engineering class.

Associate Professor Of Mechanical Engineering Nhut Ho held the event that involved students collaborating in groups of four and spent eight weeks building the cars beforehand. The hallway was chosen with consideration to the cars’ size and distance they were expected to roll, Ho said.

One of the program’s aims was to cultivate teamwork, a trait Ho stressed as vital.

“If you talk to any employer, they will tell you your team work skills are as important, if not more important, than your technical skills,” he said.

He explained that the “name of the game” is utilizing the springs to propel the cars.

The standards imposed on how the cars were built were relatively loose. Ho explained that that would allow students to use “engineering creativity” when designing their cars.

“So they do whatever it takes to achieve the longest distance and the fastest speed,” he said.

The first competition was speed. It consisted of three races of about 15 feet. The cars lowest time of the three trials was used to determine their rank.

The second race was a distance competition, to see which group’s car rolled farthest.

Team one won both competitions. In speed, their car dashed 15 feet in 1.65 seconds. It traveled 138 feet in the distance competition.

The project has been held in the class for about five years. It allows students to harness skills they developed from physics, engineering and their mathematics courses, Ho said.

“Another really important aspect of this project is to teach them the entire process of how you start, from conceiving an idea, to designing it to implement it and to operate it,” he said.

The cars will also be reviewed by a chief engineer from Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power.  Ho stressed that grades will be based on peer reviews as well as a teacher review.

“The competition is just an encouragement,” he said.

Ho said that the students will walk away with the myriad of skills, including communication.

“So those skills are very much an integral part of their education and their future.”

It has only been three years since they began consulting engineers. And demand for the class has grown as the event’s popularity has increased.

“The students love it. That’s why we keep on doing it.”