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News Release

Water Bottle Rockets and Non-Newtonian Liquid? Must be E-Week at the Jacobs School

San Diego, Calif., Feb. 21. 2013 -- "Three, two, one...Wow!" Rockets made from soda bottles flew over Warren Mall Wednesday while groups of middle school students cheered wildly. It was all part of Enspire, an annual outreach event organized by the Triton Engineering Student Council. 

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Matthew Huang and Tony Tran, two fourth-year aerospace engineering students, set up a water bottle rocket experiment on Warren Mall. 

During the day-long event, students got to build their own robots and tour the campus. They also visited labs and took part in hands-on activities, including making a cup of oobleck or slime, scientifically known as a non-Newtonian liquid, meaning that it’s both a liquid and a solid at the same time. 

 But perhaps one of the more popular activities was a water bottle rocket station set up on Warren Mall by members of the UC San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Engineering students filled up soda bottles about a quarter full of water. Then a middle school student pumped air into the bottles with a bike pump, pressurizing them. Finally, two other middle students pulled on two ropes, releasing a mechanism that kept the bottle put and sent it soaring high into the air. 

"I've always loved airplanes and rockets ever since I was a kid," said Stevie Jacobson, an aerospace major who worked the water bottle rocket station, when asked why he chose to study engineering. "I enjoy math and science and the projects we do. I enjoy the hands-on aspect of engineering." 

Asked why he decided to volunteer for the event, Jacobson mentioned his parents, who inspired him throughout his life. "I wanted to give back," he said. "There's someone or something that inspired all of us." 

The United States badly needs to increase the number of engineers it educates, Jacobson added. If only two or three of the middle school students who visited the UC San Diego campus during Enspire decide to become engineers, that will be a step in the right direction, he said. Perhaps some of them will study at here and take part in outreach events. "I hope they'll continue this tradition," Jacobson said.

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Graduate student Janelle Shane demonstrates how a powerful, yet small, laser works.

In addition to water bottle rockets, middle school students got to visit the Nanoscale Optics Lab of Shaya Fainman, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, among many other labs. Graduate student Janelle Shane showed them powerful, yet tiny, lasers used to create the optical circuits of the future. 

“Once I explained to them that I didn't know how to make a light saber, they were excited most about the fact that visible light, infrared light, radio waves, and microwaves are all the same thing—it’s just that our eyes can only see the visible light," Shane said. "They were excited to hear that if our eyes could see microwave radiation, a microwave oven would appear to be glowing.”

Students also visited the Computational Fluid Dynamics Lab of Sutanu Sarkar, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. A group of graduate students, including Matt de Stadler, Eric Arobone and Anikesh Pal, explained what turbulence is and how it is different in the ocean and the atmosphere. "The good news is that we know the equations that govern turbulence," de Stadler said.

Finally, middle schoolers also interacted with members of many student organizations, including the Society of Women Engineers, IEEE and the Society of Automotive Engineers. 

“This is awesome,” one female middle school student said during one of the lab visits. 

Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering