CORVALLIS - Watch real robots negotiate a labyrinth. See a turbine the size of a house fan that can generate electricity when dropped into a creek. Take tours of laboratories where transparent electronics glow eerie shades of green, blue, and pink.

This sounds like some sort of high-tech circus. But it's also a display of the hands-on learning that has become a major part of the curriculum at Oregon State University's College of Engineering, where students are discovering they don't have to wait until graduation to invent some very cool stuff.

Sponsored by the OSU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Engineering Expo is a three-hour forum where undergraduate electrical and computer engineering students show off the fruits of their "senior projects," and trot out the robots they have built piece-by-piece during their engineering education at OSU.

The event will be Tuesday, May 7, from 2-5 p.m. in Owen Hall on the OSU campus. It is free and open to the public.

"This type of work, which is often done in collaboration with industry sponsors, offers our students a realistic engineering experience applied to a real problem," said Terri Fiez, professor and head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "The interest in it has doubled in the last few years, and we now have about 110 students from electrical engineering who will showcase their projects."

About 40 industry sponsors will also attend the forum, Fiez said, along with area K-12 students "who get to see what engineering is all about, get excited and may later consider it as a career." Area high school participants will also have robotics displays.

One part of the event will be a TekBots Triathlon, in which students will compete with robots they designed and built during a learning program funded by Tektronix. The TekBots will be judged on appearance and design, race through mazes and demonstrate unique innovations.

The other main category is the senior design project competition, and some of the inventions in this competition might have made Thomas Edison envious - there's a sensor system that automatically dims electrical lighting to compensate for bright sunlight, maintaining a constant level of room light.

Working in the emerging fields of microelectronics, some OSU students have created "smart" ID tags that transmit their position, so it's easy to track where anything with the tag is within a given area. There's also a new braking system for a racecar that helps to correct steering problems.

And one of the newest creations seems highly promising for small-scale, environmentally friendly energy development. It's a micro-hydro generator about the size of a house fan that can generate energy when placed into a flowing stream. The force of the current spins the turbine and can generate enough electricity to power an entire household. Developers say it might have a wide range of applications, from supplying emergency power during outages to running pumps on irrigation canals.

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Terri Fiez, 541-737-3118