Ryerson’s workshop of wonders

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Laser cutters, airplanes, wind tunnels and racing cars. Our reporters take a look at the things you didn’t know Ryerson had

Race Away
By Cormac McGee

The dimly lit basement of Kerr Hall East isn’t exactly a hot spot on campus. It doesn’t offer much — a few engineering laboratories and offices, and some janitorial space — but down a set of stairs only wide enough for one person is the Ryerson Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) workshop. You won’t find them on any club list, but this group is working almost full-time building cars to race against other teams from around the world. Room 23 in Kerr Hall is home to the team’s workshop, where the Baja go-kart is stored.

“This one is more for off-road racing,” explains Alan Machin. As an engineering support staff, he oversees the team’s work. “These guys work on it themselves all year and race in the summer.” Standing at about four feet tall, with thick tires, the black Baja is ready for the mud. It is raced on dirt bike courses alongside 100 other cars.

At the end of the big shop, there is a door leading to the lounge, which doubles as an office for the team captains, because the old ones down the hall have mould growing in them. Asleep on the couch is SAE captain Jacob Olszyna. Machin nudges him awake and explains schools in the U.S. curriculum have a budget to support their racing teams, “These guys have to fight for space, funding, everything.” Looking around the lounge, it feels like they’re fighting a losing battle. The cramped room is filled with office chairs, a couch, desks, cabinets and pieces of equipment. Tucked in the back behind some debris is another car — the RF 11. This one is for track racing. Olszyna drives this smaller, sleeker car. It’s used mostly for time trials, whirling around a track against four or five other cars, all trying to beat the best time. He rolls off the couch and grabs a textbook. “I probably spend a bit too much time here; I was supposed to have class a half hour ago.” Adds Machin: “When working on the cars, classes sometimes become a bit of a nuisance.”

It’s a place where many engineering students come and go and a project they dedicate a lot of time to. The Formula SAE team travels to California, Michigan and England each summer to race, and the competition is fierce.

“Out of about 125 teams, we usually finish top 30,” says Olszyna. With over 400 teams registered around the world, Ryerson is one of the top Canadian schools, alongside L’École Polytechnique, University of Toronto and University of Waterloo.

Laser Away
By Danni Gresko

The humming noise of machines and an aroma in the air of burning wood emanate from the basement of the Architecture building. The smell is caused by the laser-cutting machine.

There you can often find architecture science students like 21-year-old Scott Townsend hard at work in the “laser cutting room” better known as the fabrication lab.

As Townsend uses the machine, other students are hunched over desks piecing together their projects. They are building tiny scaled- down models out of puzzle-like pieces made by the machine roughly four feet in height. One student shows off a mini-model of a bridge that was recently built.

With one glance around the room it appears to look like a high school shop class with saws, sanders and hand tools for woodworking. Townsend demonstrated the step-by-step process it takes when using the laser cutter to create a small model or prototype.

“You build your model on a computer and it prints out everything at once,” explains the fourth-year architecture science student.

First, he uses a computer design program that also controls the laser cutter. Next, a long, flat piece of wood is inserted into the machine. The computer transfers the design information to the laser cutter and it cuts out all the pieces needed for his prototype. The tiny puzzle-like pieces are punched out of the wood and put together to build a model.

“It makes it easier than doing this by hand. It would be impossible to build these without this,” said Townsend.

Fly Away
By Danni Gresko

There’s a giant laboratory on campus. It’s filled with parts of aircrafts and components and pieces of airplanes.

The “airplane room” in the Engineering building is better known as FACES, or, the Facility of Research on Aerospace Materials and Engineered Structures. Each one has its own fancy set of gadgets, gauges and sensors. This is the place on Ryerson campus where parts of airplanes, such as wings, are put to the test by Ryerson students and faculty.

They experiment on large aerospace parts and test for failure says engineering professor Hamid Ghaemi. For example, airplane components can be bent or exposed to temperatures up to 1,000 degrees and parts of planes are tested to withstand elements, pressure and crashes.

Aircraft companies manufacture parts and components while Ryerson students and faculty from the Aerospace Engineering department, use the FACES room to test out these materials.

“It is all done by students, they are the bread and butter of the facility,” said Ghaemi.

The High-Speed Gasdynamics Laboratory subjects aircraft components to high-speed winds and forces. A large blue tank in the room forces air through a tunnel at subsonic levels. “The flow of air is more than the speed of sound,” said Ghaemi.

Their department also houses another room called the Space Avionics Instrumentation Laboratory, where navigation sensors for spacecrafts are studied.

Build Away
By Tara Lindemann

Twists and turns down dreary halls, doorways becoming unrecognizable, lay the steel, double doors of the theatre workshop.

Not many are working in the shop on a Friday afternoon. It is a massive, industrial room, containing every machine and tool imaginable. All sit silently, as if anticipating an opportunity to dance.

Dust lightly layers the colourful ducts and air vents cross at about 5 meters, and set projects by students lay about the edges on temporarily unused benches.

The centre of the room is empty enough to allow for larger set designs. There is plywood two-by-fours, salvaged, older props on the far walls and steel tables nearby with space to create. The tables are covered in cuts and splotches of paint from years of productions.

The L-shaped, second floor has a small, fluorescent-lit office, and a fellow with glasses and a ball cap peers through the dusty windows.

Will Sutton, the scenery shop supervisor is exactly the kind of person a student wants to be around. Beneath his initial gruff demeanor lies the warmth of an engaging instructor.

The department juggles high aspirations with a limited budget. Phillip Dodham-Cormier, 22, is a performance production student and the technical director for Ryerson’s next play, “Richard III.”

He unrolls the set plans on out in front of Sutton, and they discuss the more complicated aspects of carpentry. Sutton scratches his head. “And what’s your budget, like forty bucks?”

Dodham-Cormier laughs. Sutton knows this will get them nothing close to what the production needs. “Time to go to the well again,” he says, chuckling.

One side of the room is called “The Wall of Shame.” It boasts tools that have died before fulfilling their promise.

Cupboards and closets of wood and metal line the walls and each bin is carefully labeled. Paintbrushes of various sizes are carefully hung. It’s kindergarten for adults, where one can find anything and create something beautiful for the world to see.

Sutton tracks everything students have made over the years with photo albums. He pushes for creativity more than technical aspects.

This can be seen by the miniature sets dotting the edges of the main level. They start at about one meter tall and range from two to four feet in diameter. They are made with wood, styrofoam, stone, grass and metal, and all are painted.

Sutton says they can be as large as one of the worktables. The miniature sets are the stage for various musicals and plays. There are rock star designs, with steel railings and rafters and there are jungle sets. Suddenly this space doesn’t seem large enough.

Sometimes students just don’t want to leave. “We’ve always got one “Phantom of the Workshop,” says Sutton, “Someone who’s always here, day and night working away. I should set up a cot in the back room.”

Blown Away
By Cormac McGee

It’s easy to walk past Kerr Hall South room 37. A small sign designates it the Aerodynamics Laboratory No. 2, informing passersby that only those with permission are allowed in.

Inside is one of the most powerful machines on Ryerson’s campus — the Ryerson Engineering closed-circuit subsonic wind tunnel. The tunnel itself is five by 13 metres with a test section of one metre square. Surrounded by a blue barrier, the tunnel itself almost fills the room. There is only room for some desks with materials scattered around them. On the other side, there are some cupboards and workbenches, where a roll of toilet paper sits beside a bag of styrofoam and a small rocket — possibly test subjects.

The wind tunnel tests the effects of air moving past solid, small-scale objects, produced by a large fan. Winds can reach about 160 km/h, which is around the speed of a mild hurricane. It is mainly used for aerodynamic research projects, according to Paul Walsh, an associate professor and Interim Chair for the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

Many objects have been tested in the tunnel, including propellers, wings, model buildings and cars, as well as sounding rockets that were subsequently used for atmospheric research.

Undergrads use it, but it is mainly for graduate work on professors’ research projects. “The professors are responsible for the project, but the students do the work,” says Walsh.

There are two main tests done in the tunnel — force and pressure. Force measurements determine whether objects can withhold the high-speed winds. Pressures across a model can be measured by using small perpendicular holes called pressure taps. Computers collect data for accuracy. “Numerics are fine, but you need a good grounding in the real world, i.e. the wind tunnel, or you could go off on a tangent that you are not aware of,” explains Walsh.

Students who wish to use it need to book it and have engineering staff present to oversee their work. It’s a place that many students will never see, partly because of the “sensitive projects” that go on there.


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