Students vie to design Cyberfest time capsule

Device will be opened on UI's 200th anniversary

By Julie Wurth
News-Gazette Staff Writer

     URBANA - Students in Professor Surya Vanka's industrial design class are working on a Cyberfest time capsule that will be opened on HAL's 70th birthday.
     The capsule, to hold items chosen by Arthur Clarke and other Cyberfest participants, will be buried near the Undergraduate Library and opened in 2067, the UI's 200th anniversary, said UI spokeswoman Carol Menaker.
     UI student Christine Tanner, who works with Menaker, was looking for a way to involve students in Cyberfest and contacted Vanka.
     "This is an interesting project for the students, to design an object that is probably going to outlive all of them," Vanka said. "Most of them will be about 90 years old when it's taken out of the ground.
     "It's got to protect the contents for 70 years. At the same time, it has to be a poetic object. It's supposed to communicate our culture to the people of the future."
     The 24 students have come up with radically different designs - everything from an egg to a pyramid. Entries will be judged at a Dec. 10 exhibit, and the winner will be involved in the production of the time capsule.
     Lucretia Jensen is working on a seed shape, with a sprout representing growth.
     "We had to look for inspiration to other artists' or other designers' work. It was just sort of a haphazard idea," she said.
     Rob Glenn is designing a big envelope, part of which would stick out of the ground.
     "My thinking was that it's basically mail we're sending - we're sending a message to 2067," he said.
     Besides, he said, people could look at it for 70 years and think, "That's odd."
     Margaret Butler wants to show the time capsule as a gift from the people of 1997 to the people of 2067. She may use some kind of net coated in silicone, symbolic of wrapping paper.
     "I had so many ideas. But I thought I should just keep it simple," she said.
     Julie Yu took her inspiration from a campus building. She's designing a reverse pyramid with three square tiers, the largest on top, like the Foreign Language Building.
     Each layer would represent something different - technology, the UI, and Cyberfest itself. A ceremony would accompany the opening of each layer. The time capsule also would be covered with a textured material resembling corn on the cob.
     Students said the project is worlds away from their usual assignments, which involve products designed for mass production - everything from simple household products to cars.
     "This is a one-time thing. It gets buried once, it's opened once, it's only made once," Jensen said.
     The project is also unprecedented, as most time capsules are "pretty utilitarian," Glenn said.
     The campus, in fact, was going to use a pet coffin, Tanner said.
     "It's like opposing values there," Glenn said. "Do you really want to stick a coffin in the ground with all these things you want to last 70 years?"

This article has been electronically republished with permission from The News-Gazette.
©1997 The News-Gazette