Faculty and staff at UC Merced have consistently promised students that their education in the field of engineering will be not just theoretical, but practical. And the follow-through on that promise is beginning even before the campus opens.
Vanguard, UC Merced’s student engineering organization, traveled in July to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and to the Del Monte fruit processing plant in Modesto. The trips offered divergent but equally fascinating views of how engineers apply their knowledge.
On the July 20 trip to Livermore students discovered the tight security and high-tech exploration that characterize national laboratories. They visited the National Ignition Facility, where they saw lasers, optics, and other technology they will learn about at UC Merced being used to start fusion reactions that could be used for nuclear energy or weapons.
They also toured the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, a facility that supports Livermore and other institutions that need services like carbon dating. CAMS provides about 25 percent of all carbon-14 measurements in the world, completing 26,000 tests in 2004. The center also measures other isotopes such as tritium (hydrogen-3), lithium-7, and beryllium-10.
When the students visited Del Monte on July 29, they got a very different view of how engineering ingenuity can be put to work. The plant they visited packs peaches, pears and pineapple into various glass, metal and plastic containers. Each packing method requires different technology, with the plastic-cup packing being the newest.
Some canning machines in the plant had been running since the 1930s, with regular maintenance. Other processing areas employed newer sensor and vision-tracking technologies. The plant is even using x-ray inspection to check weed jars with structural flaws from its glass packing line. Students said the tour demonstrated how even a seemingly basic industry like food packing can benefit from the use of advanced technology.
More field trips are in the works. Vanguard president Crystal Wuebker is considering visiting a nuclear power plant being decommissioned, among other facilities. Students interested in engineering and in Vanguard can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.