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Knovel Challenge Tests Engineering Student Research Know-How

Students from the University of California, San Diego, Virginia Tech, the University of Arkansas, and 16 other institutions have won prizes in an annual contest that encourages engineering students to learn how to do specialized searches. The competition is sponsored by Knovel, a company that has a Web-based application for searching and analyzing technical information from 2,000 reference works and databases.

The 2010 University Challenge, which has become a requirement in at least one freshman engineering class, tests students' abilities to answer 12 questions on engineering-related topics. The point is to use Knovel to research and find the answers. Contestants who correctly answer at least three of the questions are entered into drawings. The company received 10,000 eligible entries in the latest competition, which started in September and ended on December 1, 2010.

Among the questions in the 2010 round were these two:

Choose the correct response completing the statement "helium is the only liquid which cannot be frozen by the reduction of temperature alone."

a. Pressure must also be applied. It is also the only substance lacking a "triple point"
b. Pressure and magnetic field are applied to reach its triple point.
c. Pressure must be applied to achieve a triple point state and then gradually reduced
d. None of the above

The correct answer is a (page 891, Chemistry of the Elements, 2nd Edition).

Which answer best represents the definition of Eddy-current couplings: "Eddy-current couplings resemble induction motors in that they develop torque by 'slip' and the throughput efficiency":

a. increases in inverse proportionality to speed
b. falls with decrease of speed
c. is relatively insensitive to change in speed
d. increases with increase of speed until critical rotor speed is reached and then decreases

The correct answer is b (page 20.8, Electrical Engineer's Reference Book, 16th edition).

This year, Moustapha Adoum at UC San Diego won an iPad; Jacob Dodson of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg took a $500 cash prize; and Benjamin Sissons of U Arkansas in Fayetteville received a Toshiba laptop. Other entrants won gift cards and iPod nanos.

Sissons' school actually requires its 600 freshmen to enter the contest as part of a one-credit course that introduces students to the resources they need to support studies in their program. According to Patricia Kirkwood, an associate professor and engineering and mathematics librarian at U Arkansas, the program initially attempted to have students write a paper and cite good resources. But, she said, that turned out to be too complicated and too much work for all involved. That's when she persuaded faculty to adopt the contest as a replacement requirement.

"I'm using the Challenge to promote quality resources without doing a generic Web search," she explained. "Unlike Web search engines, Knovel searches always find data and information from reliable technical resources. You don't have to pore through a page of questionable options."

Nine other schools had at least 100 students participate.

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