Making It Seem Natural

March/April 2006

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Making It Seem Natural

Courtesy Sun Koo Kim

Sun Koo Kim knows more than he ever thought he would about Chiropteran echolocation. Or reality TV. Kim, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, is one of several Stanford engineers participating in Chasing Nature, an Animal Planet show where teams of students attempt to replicate Mother Nature’s perfect engineering. Filmed in Australia, each episode springs an animal with a special skill or quality on two teams. The students have four days to design and build an equivalent mechanism for competition.

In Kim’s episode, contestants were to develop a bat-like sonar system that would allow them to fly (on a movie stunt rig) through a cave (made of balloons) catching prey (while blindfolded). Despite the challenges of quickly performing such an engineering feat with a film crew hovering over him, not to mention working with a would-be rival—his partner was a Cal student—Kim devised a contraption that enabled the flying human to find prey and avoid obstacles using a light sensor. “The program has a great objective,” says Kim. “It’s to show kids that engineers can have fun.” Chasing Nature’s “bat” episode airs March 14.

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