Archive for June, 2011

A competitor examines his creation.

Last week was the Dr. Bob’s TechnoBrain competition, an annual mechanical engineering contest in its ninth year. This year the competition consisted of designing, building and launching a yo-yo from a 98 foot crane. The requirements for the competition stipulated that the yo-yo had to climb back up 66 feet of rope to qualify and then additional scoring was given for successive climbs. The grand prize was 10,000 shekels to the winner, 5,000 to the runner-up and 3,000 to third place (approximately $3,000, $1,500, $900 USD, respectively).

The competition was started by Niv-Ya Dorban while he was a student at the Technion. Technically he was an ‘atudai,’ or a student soldier on a scholarship track with the military. Even with his busy schedule, he still found time to establish and organize this competition. When he was killed in 2003, the competition continued to be held in his honor.

A Yo-Yo is dropped from the crane.

Most of the students worked in teams, using materials they found around the house. A quick survey of participant’s projects revealed many day-to-day circular objects turned into giant yo-yos. There were more than a few bicycle wheels, tires, and even a fan grate. It was interesting to see designs that fell outside the box as many students took chances with their design. There was one design that wasn’t round at all and instead featured two large metal X’s connected at their cross point by a bar. Some of the yo-yos had whimsical decorations and released confetti when they dropped.

There was a familiar face in the group of participants: Gilad Doron, who I met in the wind tunnel lab, also built a yo-yo. His design was simple, built out of bicycle wheels and climbing rope. He added weight to the outside of the wheels to help the yo-yo build momentum fast. Gilad pointed out to me other teams who tried creative ways to give their yo-yos an edge: Two teams placed water receptacles on their traditional yo-yos to add disposable weight. He explained that they wanted to use water to pull the yo-yo down fast and then spill, allowing the now-lighter yo-yo to rise faster and farther.

The event was a real crowd pleaser.

Not all of the participants were Technion students. A team of eighth graders entered the competition as “Team Maxwell” with their teacher from the Vardi Center in Rishon L’Zion. They spent two weeks building the yo-yo based on Maxwell’s pendulum which is a classic example of a nearly-elastic collision where kinetic and potential energy are barely lost. The design calls for two nylon cords mounted on the axel of a wheel. While this works well indoors on a small scale, a gust of wind at the wrong time tangled this yo-yo design before it could reach its full potential.

The crowd cheered as each yo-yo beat the breeze to rise up again. The biggest issue that seemed to plague many of the designs was balance. With the slightest wobble, the yo-yos lost a lot of their momentum and began twisting, ultimately failing to rise up again. Several of the yo-yos didn’t launch fast enough, getting struck by the trap doors of the launch pad as they fell.

Winner Eyal Cohen and his yo-yo.

Finally, it was the smallest yo-yo, designed by a lone first-year that blew everyone away. The tiny disk rocketed from the crane when it was released, rising and falling many times as it secured the win for its designer. Eyal Moshe Cohen designed his yo-yo to act like a car’s flywheel so that it would be able to run back up the rope many times. He accepted his prize holding the etched metal yo-yo in his hands. The announcer was excited to announce the winner, as Eyal’s grandfather had served as the announcer’s battalion commander in the Yom Kippur War.


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Here are some pictures supplementing the Technion USA Summer 2011 edition. The photos illustrate a day in the life of Technion graduate students Alina Shapira and Daniel Hurwitz, and Technion American Medical School students Karyn Winkler and Michael Star.

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Performers light up the night on the main stage.

Last week was the Technion’s annual student festival, Yom HaStudent. The event was put on by the Technion’s student union, a huge and incredibly influential group of students that works hard all-year to improve life on campus. The two-day festival featured music, games, restaurants, and more.

I sat down with Yael Avital, the head of the student union (and part of the 2011 ATS student delegation), who told me all about the work the union does on campus. “The student union is a very important part of life at the Technion, more so than most students realize,” she said. Students only know about 20% of what we do,” she tells me. “We are involved in everything, from the small issues like how much it costs to copy or fax something, to the biggest production like Yom HaStudent.”

Students enjoy the pool at the sportsclub.

Yael has been involved with the student union since her first year at the Technion. Today, as the head, she manages an organization with over 350 employees and oversees “Effect,” the company for commercial activities on campus. “If Coca-Cola wants to advertise [on campus], all that money goes back to the students…. All the money that comes in goes out.”

Yael Avital is head of the highly active Student Union.

While much of the funds go towards the massive organizational effort of Yom HaStudent, they also go to subsidizing student expenses, offering affordable tutoring to students, and financing the student union. Yael ran for her position on a platform of strengthening the financial foundation of the student union, and, today, it is highly effective and very successful. “She’s pretty amazing,” another student union representative told me at Yom HaStudent. “I don’t know how she gets everything she does done, but it’s impressive.”

On the main Yom HaStudent stage, bands and artists such as Balkan Beat Box, Beri Sakharoff, and Moshe Peretz performed. During the afternoon, many students escaped the heat on shuttle buses down to a local sports club to swim in the pool. Other activities included a salsa room, a disco hall, and Arab music concerts. The variety of activities was astounding.

A carnival game draws the interest of Technion students.

After nearly a full year of classes— and with finals not too far around the corner— it was clear that this was a welcome reprieve from their hectic schedules. The student union organizers were incredibly efficient throughout the day reminding me, once again, that I was dealing with very professional students. As Yael had told me before, being part of the student union “can be a full time job, even a full and a half.”

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