Published: Nov. 3, 1997

A unique CU-Boulder engineering facility that provides real-world experience to more than 1,200 undergraduates and hundreds of K-12 students and teachers each year will be the site of two public open houses on consecutive Saturdays beginning Nov. 8.

The $11.5 million Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory features a number of highly interactive exhibits through which people of all ages can learn about different aspects of engineering in everyday life, said ITLL Exhibits Coordinator Steve Davis. Many of the exhibits are from the famed Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco. Exhibits include:

*An elaborate, piano-sized machine dubbed “Pythagorean Fantasy” that uses the movements of balls to demonstrate the principles of kinetics, or dynamic motion. The balls can be manipulated to loop and spiral on an extensive track, bounce off swinging baskets and ring a bell. Faculty have even developed a curriculum around the complex device for use in an engineering dynamics class.

* A wind sculpture mounted on the outside of the building that is made up of 10,000 free-moving mylar disks. The wind generates a variety of patterns on the sculpture’s face, and people can create their own patterns by pulling on a handle attached to the sculpture.

* A chaotic pendulum that demonstrates that slight changes in the device’s starting motion can lead to drastic changes in its behavior. Since it is housed in a nearly frictionless environment, the pendulum’s motion continues for extraordinarily long periods of time.

* A washtub-sized tectonic basin filled with red garnet sand that constantly vibrates, creating complex patterns. The sculpture mimics tectonic activity and illustrates elaborate mounds and wave patterns formed by vibrating sand particles.

* A cantenary arch, consisting of wooden blocks and an arch frame. After the blocks are assembled in numerical order, the horizontal frame is lifted vertically to bring the blocks into the arch position. When the arch platform is removed, the blocks stand freely.

* A set of square wheels that roll smoothly over curved bumps. The exhibit operates on the premise that the wheels’ center of gravity are always at the same height, which allows the wheels a smooth trip across the curves.

“We have a strong commitment to help educate the community,” said Davis. “We view this as a K-16 facility and would be delighted to have parents, children and school teachers come experience the excitement with us during these open houses.”

The open houses will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday, and a number of CU students and faculty will be on hand to answer questions. The ITLL facility is located east of the main engineering building, at the corner of Colorado Avenue and Regent Drive on the east end of campus. Metered parking is available in the area.

The Nov. 15 open house will feature a variety of student inventions created by first-year projects course teams that will be demonstrated from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Developed for specific clients, projects range from assistive technology devices for people with disabilities and exciting exhibits for children’s museums to sensing devices that track pollutants.

One of the devices is a flexible “ski-walker” that will allow a person with poor motor skills to turn and stop by shifting his body weight in the walker-like device. Another is a machine to open child-proof medicine bottles created for one of the student’s grandparents. There also is a device to help a client with cerebral palsy cook pasta.

Another project is a “harmonograph” developed for the Denver Children’s museum that allows users to trace repeating patterns from the pendulum on pieces of paper. A CU student team also developed a machine for the Boulder’s Children’s Collage Museum that lets kids create enormous “bubble walls.”

Other students in the projects class will demonstrate zany “Rube Goldberg” devices built to perform simple tasks using a number of unusual processes and transitions with surprising results, said mechanical engineering Professor Lawrence Carlson, who co-directs the ITLL with civil engineering Professor Jacquelyn Sullivan.

One hallmark of the unique ITLL building is its “inside-out” design, exposing many of the building’s systems through transparent wall panels. More than 200 sensors placed throughout the structure allow users to “take the pulse of the building,” including its temperature, humidity, heat-transfer flows, vibrations, structural and mechanical components, electrical systems, computer networks and other systems.

The three-story ITLL features two large learning plazas and 30 lab stations outfitted with advanced instruments and computers. Undergraduate engineering teams use it to tackle hands-on problems ranging from water-pollution mitigation and software design to the construction of spacecraft instruments.

The ITLL is perhaps the best example on the Boulder campus of the Total Learning Environment, or TLE, a pivotal theme developed for the future of the four campus CU system by President John Buechner. TLE focuses on supporting learning innovations in education, using technology to improve teaching and research, being responsive to students and other constituents, and enhancing the university’s various infrastructures.