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Expo May 2018

Students Show What They're Passionate About

Olin’s Expo is a semester-ending extravaganza where students pick their favorite projects to exhibit. After weeks of preparation, on Monday May 14 a wide array of passions were on display in the presentations and posters that lined Olin’s Academic Center hallways and spilled outside into the Oval. 

They ranged from the hyper-technical —“The Tumor Suppressor Protein RASSF1A modulates transcriptional activation of NF-AT”— to the super-whimsical, such as a “Pick-up Line Bot.” Among the nearly 90 projects and presentations that made up the event, there were musical performances, an improv and magic show, a pop-up coffee house and an electric vehicle.

“Expo is our recital—our Carnegie Hall,” said Olin President Richard K. Miller at an introductory breakfast before events kicked off. 

Junior Katya Soltan presented a small biomimetic robot fish, which swam back and forth in a remarkably lifelike manner in a tank set up next to a table on the first floor. Although the invention seemed fanciful, it had serious purposes—for example, to create a swarm of fish sensors that could be introduced into fragile marine environments to monitor water quality.

“Imagine 50 of these tiny little guys swimming around,” said Soltan. “It’s not so disturbing as a big robot.” Also, much cheaper and more durable, she notes. If you lose one, the others can carry on.

First-year Raquel Dunoff lounged comfortably in a “Fuzzy Hammock” on the lawn outside the Academic Center. The product adds a pillow and warm blanket to the traditional piece of summer lawn furniture, considerably extending the hammock season. Dunoff and her teammates created the hammock as part of Products & Markets, a class that charges students with creating an enterprise.

The team tested their product on college campuses and generated considerable interest. “We got a lot of positive feedback—people were taking it outside and setting it up and loving it, and we kept working on it and making it better,” said Dunoff.

Unfortunately, it was such a great idea someone else patented a very similar product and launched a Kickstarter campaign for it shortly before the class ended. Still, the team learned a lot.

“I learned a lot about design and products more so than entrepreneurship in this particular project,” said first-year Libby Tawes, another member of the team. “We had to learn a lot about manufacturing and how we could make this feasible. We covered all the bases and were able to make this product.”

Academic Center Room 306 was turned into a penny arcade displaying semester projects from the Elecanisms class, which challenges students to invent devices that combine electrical, mechanical and software components. Visitors to the arcade enjoyed a jump-rope device and an “out-of-this-world” marble obstacle course, among other amusements.

Alex Hoppe, Audrey Lewis, and Max Wei, all juniors, along with senior Logan Sweet, entertained a succession of eager players with their “Bomb Squad” game. The device offered a real version of a popular video game called “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.” In the team’s version, players must collaborate to complete a series of puzzles, such as decoding a password, to keep an imaginary bomb from going off.

Sweet discovered an unexpected love for coding in doing the project. Wei liked its interdisciplinary aspects, while Lewis and Hoppe pointed to teamwork skills as the big takeaway.

“By the end of it we were a super cross-functional team and we could get it all together so that it works, and it’s a great demo,” said Hoppe. “I had a great time in this class.”

On the third floor, first-year Emma Pan presented the “Pick-up Line Bot,” a machine learning web application that generates individualized pick-up lines. Users go to a website and enter names or keywords. The application searches the web for pick-up lines with those names in them, or, if keywords were entered, it searches a pre-existing database of come-ons. User feedback “trains” the app to better target the lines it supplies.

The application allows users to express more personalized and creative flirtations. A search on the word “flower,” for example, turned up this: “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I’d have a Secret Garden.”

Team members learned a great deal about project management, web app development and website creation in the final project for their Software Design class, according to Pan, who says the main aim of the team’s invention is simply to add a playful element to relationships.

“It’s just a fun thing we created that we hope people will enjoy,” said Pan.

Check out our Expo slideshow in Behind the Scenes.