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8 STEM Contests That Start on Campus

By Amy Whitcomb on May 2, 2017 in Student Life

These science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) contests for UC Davis students create connections and products that address sustainability, health and exploration — of the whole universe as well as one single atom. Many of the teams need students with diverse expertise from different majors, so why not join a team today?

Check out the STEM Portal, Undergraduate Research and student clubs for more opportunities, and buff up on 10 Ways UC Davis is Great at STEM to get inspiration for your next steps. In the meantime, look at all the possibilities to test and apply your skills:

1. HackDavis

Students crowd tables to work together at computer stations
Hackathon taps into your technological know-how and your desire to do good for the environment and society. (Courtesy of UC Davis Hackaton)

HackDavis is UC Davis’ annual hackathon for students, run by students. Over 500 students, hackers and creatives come together for 24 hours of hacking. Build a web app, mobile app, hardware hack, open source tool or whatever you envision to solve environmental, health or education issues. The College of Engineering and Department of Computer Science step up to support the free event and its goal to “foster a community that uses technology to pave the way for social change.” Get ready: This contest occurs during winter quarter or sometimes during spring quarter.

2. Make-a-thon

Two students test their device for medical exams
In the 2017 Make-a-thon, student teams created devices that look into the eye to screen for abnormalities that could lead to blindness. (Courtesy of Jerry Hu/UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering)

Engineering meets medicine in the annual UC Davis Make-a-thon. In just 30 hours, teams of 4 to 6 undergraduates compete to design and build prototypes of a working device that solves a real medical problem. In the process and with the support of the Biomedical Engineering Society and Department of Biomedical Engineering, the teams can use CAD software, 3D printers, laser cutters and other equipment at the Translating Engineering Advances to Medicine lab on campus. Get ready: This contest occurs during winter quarter.

3. LED Design Competition

A woman wires together small painted boxes
Sydney Patterson competed in the 2015 LED Design Competition with a lighting unit she designed and built for children. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Want to make things a little brighter for lots of people? For years, the LED Design Competition has challenged the bright minds of students enrolled in Designing with Light to develop prototypes and functional luminaires (lighting units) using solid-state sources. Supported by the Department of Design and external organizations, this year’s contest ends with presentations at the California Lighting and Technology Center judged by a panel of leading designers and architects. Get ready: This contest occurs during winter quarter.

4 & 5. Concrete Canoe & Chemical Car Challenge

A group of students apply concrete to a canoe mold
Applying concrete to the canoe is just the beginning of this contest. Teams must also paint, test and race their canoes. (Courtesy of UC Davis Concrete Canoe Challenge)

Step one: Make a canoe out of concrete. Step two: Race the canoe over a specified course. The national Concrete Canoe Competition gives you hands-on experience in civil engineering while raising awareness about the versatility and durability of a common construction material. …If you’re more into chemicals than concrete, the College of Engineering has another team for you: Join the Chem-E-Car Challenge. Step one: Design and construct a chemical powered car. Step two: Race the car — carrying a specified load over a given distance — and stop.  

Two students closely examine wires around a miniature car
2017 is the first year that the Chem-E-Car team has ever created a new power reaction, with fuel cells built from scratch. (Courtesy of UC Davis Chem-E-Car Team)

…If you’re more into aeronautics, steel or electronics than chemicals, there are teams and competitions for those interests, too. Get ready: The Concrete Canoe and Chem-E-Car challenges occur during spring quarter, but preparations and related competitions happen over many quarters.

6. Big Bang! Business Competition

Three women and a man present their healthcare business plan
This interdisciplinary team of biomedical engineering and veterinary medicine students joined forces to develop a business plan for the Big Bang! Competition. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

You already know that business skills are essential to bring STEM innovations to market, but maybe you don’t know just how to win over investors for your new product or method. Innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs, including undergraduates, need to test business visions and plans. The Big Bang! Business Competition, run by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management and the Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, immerses you in team building, financing, networking and much more. And everyone wins with the program’s free workshops for building entrepreneurial skills! Get ready: This contest occurs during spring quarter.

7. Space Systems Competition

Students stand in a field next to their space rocket
In prior years, the Space and Satellite Systems Club has taken rockets to national competitions, like this one in Texas in 2016. In 2017, they launch a competition on the UC Davis campus for float unit control systems. (Courtesy of UC Davis Space and Satellite Systems Club)

Put your passion for space technologies into a product in this competition, run by the Space and Satellite Systems Club. Each team, made of club members studying mechanical, electrical and aerospace engineering as well as computer science and other disciplines, builds a mock attitude control system that will control a float unit. In other words, you can tinker with the devices made by expert faculty and graduate students in a special lab at UC Davis, the Center for Human/Robotics/Vehicle Integration and Performance Lab. It’s exactly rocket science, and it’s as close as you can get to hands-on knowledge of how satellites are developed in the space industry. Get ready: This contest occurs during spring quarter.

8. Solar Decathlon

What blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market appeal, and energy and water efficiency? The next full-size, solar-powered home you help design and build. From students with electrical know-how from the College of Engineering to those with design insights from the College of Letters and Science, the Solar Decathlon teams involve many students from departments all across campus. UC Davis teams have competed in the national U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon and been honored for their entries in the series of 10 contests. Go Ags! Get ready: This contest occurs during fall quarter, but preparations happen over many quarters.

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