The Brigham Young University mechanical engineering department's Lab-o-ween event provided a unique experience to hundreds of visitors on Friday, Oct. 29 from 3-5 p.m.
The pre-Halloween event included 20 different labs in the Engineering, Clyde and Crabtree buildings on BYU campus. With lab doors opened, professors, graduate and undergraduate students had the opportunity to show off projects and research they’ve been working on.
Lab-o-ween has been an annual event since 2012, except for last year due to coronavirus restrictions. Neuromechanics professor Dr. Charles, who’s been helping run Lab-o-ween since it started, explained that over the years he's tried to simplify it while still reaching the goal — to expose students to the research that professors are doing and get them excited about doing their own.
“We noticed as a faculty that some of our students didn't realize we did research, and for many of us we spend slightly more time on research than on classroom teaching,” Dr. Charles explained. “We’re looking for ways to help our students understand the research that we and our students do. We try to help them see the variety in a fun way so they might be interested in doing research, and see enough labs to have a good sense of which lab they could join. That's the reason it started and that's the main goal every year.”
There was something to entertain the wide age range of visitors in every demo and presentation. Drones were being flown by students in the MAGICC (Multiple AGent Intelligent Coordination and Control) Lab, and neuromechanics instruments that measure human movement were being shown down the hall. Graduate students in the RAD (robotics and dynamics) Lab were running several robots, including a search and rescue bot, a soft bot and one that could “trick or treat.”
The labs got the opportunity to showcase their research in a relaxed environment, something many students, including Christian Sorensen in the RAD lab, felt was important.
“Lab-o-ween was a huge hit! We had a bunch of interested students come by and we were able to show off the interesting work that we're doing in the lab. I think that it was valuable to both the members of our lab and to the people who visited,” Sorensen said. “The stuff we do is cool, but often we're so focused on what's not working right that we don't see the things that are going well. I also think it's good for the visitors to get to see and interact with the work we're doing.”
Sorensen was running a blue and red robot hanging from the ceiling named Kaa. Its sensors make it so the robot can be taken into situations or circumstances where motion capture systems can’t go. The lab is also working on a base for a robot to drive on rough terrain for search and rescue missions.
Some of the labs sweetened up their demonstrations beyond the classic Halloween candy filled bags provided by the department. The project support center sported an escape room and provided visitors with root beer and the opportunity to try out an IR camera.
The Create Lab in the Clyde building had a demo that included a modified projector that melted chocolate powder and even included an inscription on a graham cracker that participants could eat if they wished. Dr. Jensen's lab used a medical device that opened a candy-filled treasure chest after checking a pulse.
“Lab-o-ween gives students who are starting out, or people that don't have that engineering background the opportunity to interact in a meaningful way with the research we do,” said Sorensen.