This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Quiet carpets, fiberglass formation

Students solve engineering problems to win challenge

Published: February 23, 2012

Want to know why your footfalls echo more loudly on bare floors than on those that are carpeted?

It’s due to something called the “noise reduction coefficient” and UB students Rahul S. Thakkar, a senior electrical engineering and mathematics double major, and Vivek Kamath, a graduate computer science major who completed his studies in December, know all about this principle. They also know the melting point of nylon 6, the density of high-volume fly ash concrete and the uses for methyl ethyl ketone peroxide.

Correct answers to questions about these topics—and more like them—helped the two UB students place very highly in the 2011 Knovel University Challenge. The challenge is a series of questions on engineering-related topics presented by Knovel, a Web-based company that combines industry-specific information, analytical capabilities and search tools in applications designed to assist engineers and applied scientists in their research.

Thakkar won the grand prize, beating out 5,600 students from 600 universities in 93 countries to walk away with an iPad 2. Kamath was one of 17 other students to win a prize. UB was the only institution represented by multiple winners.

Two hundred eighteen UB students achieved correct answers 328 times in the sixth annual competition. UB’s high number of student submissions to the competition ensured that the university was guaranteed entry into another “contest-within-a-contest”—one reserved for those schools with outstanding participation. Kamath was one of eight winners of that smaller competition and received an iPod nano.

In this year’s version of the challenge, students could choose a series of questions from various levels of difficulty and had to correctly answer at least three of the questions presented. According to Virgil Wong, marketing associate for Knovel, the contest allowed students to submit two incorrect answers before being forced to leave the program and restart the challenge. Due to the multiple difficulty levels, there were more than 12,000 entries in this year’s competition—a 55 percent increase in participation from last year.

To enter the contest, participants had to use Knovel’s resources to answer the questions. The specialized, full-text database is one of many available to UB students. What makes Knovel’s resource unique, according to Nancy Schiller, librarian in the UB Sciences and Engineering Library, are its dynamic, interactive features. “For about 1,000 engineering handbooks, Knovel has programmed the tables and graphs so they’re not static and instead will solve for different variables,” Schiller explains. She hopes that by inviting students to compete in the competition, they will become more familiar with the resources available in the UB Libraries.