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‘Steer’ the Turtle

Pullies, Pingpong Balls and Propulsion Mobilize a Mascot at the 2023 Alumni Cup

By Maggie Haslam

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering team lifts trophy at Alumni Cup

An undergraduate team of students from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering took first place in Friday’s A. Clark School of Engineering’s 12th annual Alumni Cup. It’s the first win for the department in the competition’s history.

Photos by Stephanie S. Cordle

How many engineering students does it take to move a statue of Testudo safely across McKeldin Mall? As it turns out, eight.

Yes, the statue is a four-inch, 3D-printed replica of the real thing and the mall, a cardboard diorama—but the feat of engineering was no less spectacular. Solar sensors, chemical reactions and old-fashioned gravity moved the miniature mascot along an obstacle-like course to arrive at its target, earning lab coat-clad students from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering first place at the A. James Clark School of Engineering’s 12th annual Alumni Cup on Friday.

Sponsored by the Engineering Alumni Network in conjunction with National Engineers Week, the Alumni Cup challenges undergraduate student teams from each of the school’s eight departments to design and build a Rube Goldberg-inspired machine that can accomplish a simple task. With two weeks and just $100, teams work around the clock to deliver complex, elaborate contraptions that ooze creativity and team spirit as much as engineering prowess.

“The test runs have been pretty successful,” said aerospace engineering junior Kruti Bhingradiya, a three-time participant. “But it’s also a single-point-of-failure machine, so pretty successful is not really successful.”

Top secret until Cup day, the team creations go head-to-head in a live-judged competition with the promise of spills and thrills for the hordes of faculty, student and alumni onlookers camped out on all three floors of the Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building rotunda. This year’s competitors did not disappoint, with elaborate contraptions that had Testudo hitching a ride on the Purple Line, escaping a burning building and touring A. James Clark Hall.

“I just love seeing students coming together as a team and the cool solutions they come up with,” said Matt Leidich ’12, Alumni Cup master of ceremonies and a member of the Engineering Alumni Network. “We write the rules to be specific but to leave room for interpretation. We just let them run with it.”

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering team at the Alumni Cup

A fan favorite with the elbow-to-elbow crowd, the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering’s solar and hydroelectric “Green Machine” exceeded the competition’s 3.5-meter distance requirement by almost half a meter.

bioengineering team at Alumni Cup

Slow and steady wins the race: A stepper motor-powered winch designed by Team Bioengineering pulled Testudo into its designated 6 x 6-inch square for a tension-filled finish.

red four-inch Testudo statue

Over the years, the Alumni Cup has challenged teams to blow up balloons, sink tennis balls into buckets and procure selfies. This year, teams were tasked with moving a four-inch Testudo statue across “campus” to a designated target.

Team Mechanical Engineering at Alumni Cup

At 26 steps, Testudo’s odyssey from Stamp to McKeldin—which included two forms of transit, pingpong balls and buckets of water—was the most elaborate machine at this year’s Cup competition, earning Team Mechanical Engineering second place.

Aerospace Engineering team at Alumni Cup

From rotorcraft to rover, all of Team Aerospace Engineering’s expertise was put to work to rescue Testudo from a “friendly balloon” and take third place in this year’s Alumni Cup.

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