Mechanical engineering, at its core, is about shaping the future through innovation and problem-solving. Whether you're a budding mechanical engineer or a bit more seasoned, participation in mechanical engineering competitions is an invaluable opportunity to put your skills to the test and showcase your inventive prowess. These competitions not only challenge your technical knowledge but also foster creativity, teamwork, and the drive to engineer solutions for real-world problems.
In this article, we're diving into 10 mechanical engineering competitions, offering insights into various contests tailored to this field. Whether you're passionate about robotics, aerodynamics, or energy systems, there's definitely a competition that aligns with your interests and aspirations.
As a budding mechanical engineer, you should consider signing up for the Bridge Building Competition. The challenge is held in Chicago and is open to all high school students. To qualify for the second, international round of the challenge, you must first qualify for the regional rounds. In the competition, you will be required to build a sturdy, efficient bridge while making it as lightweight as possible. The challenge is hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology and invites extremely innovative solutions each year.
The construction and testing of model bridges promote the study and application of fundamental principles of physics and also help you develop hands-on skills through bridge construction. By participating in this competition, you get a flavor of what it is to be an Engineer, designing structures to a set of specifications and then seeing them perform their function. They are also provided with an academically-oriented extracurricular activity which is recognized school-wide.
You can check out past winners and their work here.
Eligibility: All high school students from around the world can participate in teams of up to 4.
Application Deadline: Varies from region to region, you can check out dates for your region here. Dates: Dates vary for regional rounds, the International round will be held on April 29, 2023. Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate in the bridge-building contest. No information regarding prizes is available. Location: Illinois Tech McCormick Tribune Campus Center Auditorium, Chicago.
An exciting competition that combines sport with science and tech, the FIRST Robotics Competition gives high school students and their mentors a deep dive into robotics to solve a common problem. Each season of the competition includes multiple regional events that you must qualify for to take a shot at the international level.
The competition prides itself upon providing a real-world engineering experience to its students, with them being challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors (as per the website).
If you’re wondering about how mechanical engineering plays a part here, it is a vital component of robotics, providing the design and mechanics that enable robots to move, sense, and interact with their environment.
Eligibility: High school students from all around the world can participate in their respective regional, local, and national rounds.
Application Deadline: Varies from round to round, check out more details here. Dates: The FRC takes place over several months, with the game being announced in January and regional and district competitions taking place from February to April. The top teams from these rounds advance to the FRC Championship, which happens in late April or early May. Keep an eye out on the website for official dates for each region/district. Costs & Prizes: Varies from the type of event and round, you can check out complete cost information here. Participants and winners of the competition have gone on to receive awards and recognition. Location: George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas for the final round.
The VEX Robotics Challenge, annually hosted by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, attempts to gamify problems in the field of engineering. As part of the challenge, you will be required to form teams and beat other teams at the year's challenge.
This year, you'll be required to work on the following -
VEX Robotics Competition Spin Up is played on a 12’x12’ square field configured as seen in the link. Two (2) Alliances – one (1) “red” and one (1) “blue” – composed of two (2) Teams each, compete in matches consisting of a fifteen (15) second Autonomous Period, followed by a one minute and forty-five second (1:45) Driver Controlled Period.
The object of the game is to attain a higher score than the opposing Alliance by Scoring Discs in Goals, Owning Rollers, and Covering field tiles at the end of the Match."
The competition sees thousands of students participate and claims that over 95% of participants see an increase in interest in STEM, and have gone on to pursue careers in STEM.
Eligibility: High school students from all over the world can participate at local, regional, and national levels based on whether they qualify for each.
Application Deadline: Vary for each round, check the website for more details. Dates: April 25, 2023 - May 4, 2023 Costs & Prizes: Team registration costs $100-$150 per year, and awards and cash prizes of about $2,500 are awarded to the winners. Location: Dallas, Texas
The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is an engineering competition that celebrates innovation and creativity. Named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who was known for his whimsical and overly complex inventions, this contest challenges participants to design and build intricate machines that perform simple tasks through a series of convoluted steps. A Rube Goldberg Machine® is made from found or discarded household items. RGMs come from landfills, rather than contributing to them. This competition requires zero cost to build and participate. Anyone, anywhere, with nothing more than a pile of junk and a great imagination can build an award-winning Rube Goldberg Machine®.
Teams of high school and college students compete, at a live regional or online, to create the most elaborate and entertaining machines. These machines often incorporate everyday objects like balls, ramps, pulleys, and dominoes to achieve the final objective, such as turning off a light switch or squeezing toothpaste onto a toothbrush.
The contest not only promotes problem-solving and engineering skills but also encourages teamwork, out-of-the-box thinking, and a good dose of humor. It's a fantastic opportunity for budding mechanical engineers to showcase their talent and creativity while having a lot of fun in the process.
Winning teams receive recognition and prizes, making this competition a great platform for aspiring engineers to gain exposure and kickstart their careers in mechanical engineering and design.
Eligibility: All students aged 8-18 can participate.
Application Deadline: Registrations typically close in January. Dates: The national-level contest is typically held in late spring or in the summer. Costs & Prizes: Prizes include Visa gift cards, and trophies and are showcased on social media. Location: Varies, with an online participation option.
Hosted by the Society For Science, the Regeneron ISEF is the world's biggest pre-college STEM competition, inviting entries from thousands of students every year. To participate at Regeneron ISEF, you first must participate in a local or regional-level fair, and will then be shortlisted for the ISEF program that takes place in a hybrid format each year. It has a maximum 2-5% acceptance rate.
You participate by presenting original work that has been going on for no longer than 12 months - the more recent, the better.
Some subcategories you can present your research in Engineering include Civil Engineering, Ground Vehicle Systems, Industrial Engineering-Processing, and of course, Mechanical Engineering.
Working on engineering-related research projects, and getting shortlisted to present at ISEF is a prestigious opportunity and a great way for you to build a network with like-minded, passionate young students.
We’ve covered everything you need to know about ISEF here.
Eligibility: All high-school students with a strong passion for research in science, math, and engineering are encouraged to apply.
Application Deadline: Varies from state to state. Dates: Local and regional events take place throughout the year but usually conclude by April. The ISEF Fair will take place from May 13-19, 2023. Costs & Prizes: On-site registration of $25 for each participant. Special Awards such as tuition scholarships, summer internships, and scientific trips, as well as cash prizes of up to $75,000 are awarded to winners. Location: Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Dallas, Texas
RoboRave is an international robotics competition that fosters engineering skills and creativity through robotic challenges. Established in 2001 in New Mexico, it has grown into an international event held in various countries. Participants design, build, and program robots to complete tasks, emphasizing technical skills like coding, circuit design, and mechanical engineering.
With esteemed sponsors like Intel and a global presence, RoboRave is prestigious. It combines fun with a high level of difficulty, testing engineers' problem-solving abilities, experimentation, innovation, and passion for robotics. Alumni have gone on to prestigious universities and work for elite institutions.
RoboRave features diverse challenges like line-following robots and autonomous aerial vehicles, with each country customizing formats, rules, and challenges. Teams, consisting of 2 to 4 members and one coach, can get creative with materials and technology, although size and weight constraints apply. RoboRave encourages innovation but bans software that overly simplifies challenges.
Mechanical engineering plays a fundamental role in robotics. So if you’re an aspiring mechanical engineer, consider participating in this competition!
We’ve covered it in depth here.
Eligibility: Regardless of age, location, or nationality, anyone is eligible to participate, as long as there is an accessible RoboRave location nearby. Events can all be found here.
Application Deadline: Varies from location to location Dates: Varies from location to location. Costs & Prizes: National recognition and certificates Location: Held in various countries. Please check the website for more information.
The TSA offers 40 high school competitions in a range of fields and subjects. Each competition is conducted at a regional and state level, and then at a national level. Each field has a number of competitions under its umbrella.
The TSA competitions have a wide reach, with a solid national presence, and are fairly well-regarded. A huge bonus of these competitions is that they can cater to intricate and niche interests in STEM and a few non-STEM fields. More importantly, if you’re looking to explore certain facets of mechanical engineering - from the design of a physical structure to that of an industrial product, from gaming to manufacturing, TSA has a competition you can participate in.
For students interested in mechanical engineering, here are some TSA high school competitions worth considering.
Architecture and Construction Technology: Architectural Design, Structural Design and Engineering
Manufacturing and Transportation Technology: Dragster Design, Drone Challenge, Flight Endurance, Manufacturing Prototype, Transportation Modeling.
STEM (General): Engineering Design
Technology and Research: System Control Technology
STEM and the Arts: Animatronics
Each of these competitions incorporates mechanical engineering fundamentally. When creating your proposal, your model or prototype, and your final presentation, using mechanical engineering concepts will be vital.
Eligibility: Students in grades 9-12 can participate. Some states and certain competitions may have varying eligibility, please check your state’s TSA website for further details. This is an eligibility chart that provides further information on the TSA national conference.
Application Deadline & Dates: The dates vary from competition to competition, from state to state, as all competitions will have local rounds first. Costs & Prizes: Most competitions have a small $20-30 registration fee. Winners receive trophies and cash prizes. Location: Varies from state to state.
8. Artemis II and You! Challenge (part of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge)
The NASA International Space Apps Challenge is an annual global hackathon-style event organized by NASA in collaboration with other space agencies and organizations. This event is open to people from all backgrounds, including engineers, scientists, coders, designers, and anyone with an interest in space and technology.
The challenge encourages you to engage in real-world problem-solving on Earth and in space. You will be joining a collaborative global community where age, expertise, and backgrounds vary, united by a passion for exploring our planet and universe. Challenge yourself, learn new skills, and connect with experts while working on challenges spanning storytelling, software development, astrophysics, and more.
NASA's Artemis II mission is set to achieve several historic milestones, including the first mission to send a woman, a person of color, and a Canadian to lunar space. Your challenge will be to create a concise video, lasting three minutes or less, to convey how the development of the Artemis II mission is influencing individuals and communities worldwide. In the video, you must maintain factual, scientific, and educational content without advocating political positions and using original or NASA-approved media (Here are some resources the challenge posting provides).
You must enhance accessibility, present Artemis II uniquely, involve perspectives from Apollo missions, explore primary resources, and reflect on the Artemis Generation's significance.
Eligibility: This is a beginner-level challenge, so all students can apply.
Application Deadline: The deadline to submit your project is typically 5-7 days before the global challenge.
Dates: The 2023 NASA International Space Apps Challenge will be held October 7 - 8, 2023.
Costs & Prizes: Winning teams are invited for a visit to a NASA Center, which could potentially include viewing a spacecraft launch.
at a NASA facility.
The Altair Global Student Contest is an international competition that invites engineering students worldwide to exhibit their innovation and engineering skills. With a focus on sustainable, lightweight design solutions, participants are encouraged to explore the capabilities of the Altair Inspire technology.
As a contestant, you are required to submit a solved Inspire model file along with a video outlining their optimization process and key takeaways. The video must include essential details like student or team name, current university, Altair product usage, optimized parameters, improvement achieved, and lessons learned. The video should be no longer than 5 minutes and feature a visual representation of results.
Additionally, you can create a promotional video (90 seconds max) highlighting the contest's value and excitement, and stand the chance to win the creative video prize ($200). This video should be posted on your YouTube channel and shared with the submission.
Judging criteria include the explanation of optimization choices, the effectiveness of Altair's software usage, and the creativity demonstrated in the video. This contest aims to foster awareness of lightweighting through topology optimization and empower students to elevate their engineering skills while enjoying the process.
Eligibility: The contest is open to all students, regardless of their age or discipline.
Application Deadline: Varies for each monthly contest
Dates: The contest year begins on April 14, 2023, and ends on May 31, 2024. Students can submit (unique) entries for each monthly contest. Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. At the end of the contest year, all first-prize winners from the three regions (North and South American (AMER), Europe, the Middle East, and African (EMEA), and Asia-Pacific (APAC) regions) will be automatically entered into the running for the global grand prize of $7,500. Additionally, there are 3 monthly prizes of $750 for exceptional entries, 1 monthly prize of $200 for a creative presentation video, and 1 monthly wildcard winner who receives $100 and is chosen at random.
The SkillsUSA Championships stands as a prestigious platform to showcase the country’s talented career and technical education students. This extensive event, held annually alongside the National Leadership & Skills Conference (NLSC) in June, gathers over 6,000 state champions from across the United States. These students engage in 115 competition categories, both in skill-based and leadership domains.
Of these 115 categories, there are several that apply mechanical engineering or have mechanical engineering as the central concept. Some of these are Automated Manufacturing Technology, Industrial and Engineering Technology, Engineering Technology – Design, Mechatronics, Robotics and Automation Technology.
The core philosophy of the SkillsUSA Championships revolves around rewarding excellence, involving industry experts in assessing student performance, and aligning classroom training with the evolving needs of employers. Approximately 2,000 industry volunteers are dedicated to nurturing the next generation of skilled professionals, equipping them with career readiness and a strong sense of community responsibility.
This national event marks the culmination of a year-long journey that starts in local SkillsUSA chapters, progresses through district and state competitions, and ultimately leads to the national stage. Winners not only secure gold, silver, or bronze medals but also have access to scholarships, professional tools, and even job offers. The SkillsUSA Championships underscore the importance of skilled trades and ensure students learn practical skills.
Eligibility: All high school students can participate.
Application Deadline: June 6, 2024
Dates: The SkillsUSA Championships are held from Tuesday to Thursday during the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference (NLSC). The NLSC will be held in Atlanta till 2026 on these dates: June 24-28, 2024 | June 23-27, 2025 | June 22-26, 2026 Costs & Prizes: Along with gold, silver, and bronze medallions, participants may earn scholarships, tools of the trade, and even job offers right off the competition floor.
Location: Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, Georgia
Now that we’ve covered competitions that focus on mechanical engineering, here are a few more rounded engineering competitions you can consider.
You can also look through this article, where we’ve gone into the top engineering competitions in depth.
THINK is a science, research, and innovation program for high schoolers. No completed project is required to participate; extensive background research is enough. Selected students get a $1,000 grant and mentorship from MIT students. THINK, run by MIT undergrads, embraces various engineering concepts, with a $1,000 budget for semester-long projects.
This is a prestigious science fair backed by the government. With over 8,000 participants nationwide, it's highly competitive, with less than 3% reaching the final round. Unique to JSHS is its mentorship program, aiding students year-round. Mechanical engineering enthusiasts can explore categories like Aerodynamics, Solar Energy, and Robotics. The National Symposium is held April 12-15, 2023, in Virginia Beach, offering scholarships and national recognition.
You can check out our comprehensive guide to winning the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium here.
This program seeks to identify and nurture the brightest talents in the field of engineering. It offers cash prizes up to $50,000 for innovative projects. Teams of two high school students can enter with projects that approach graduate-level research. This is a virtual program.
This competition challenges high school and college engineering students nationwide. The task is to design assistive technology that enhances workplace inclusion for people with disabilities. Teams collaborate with local individuals with disabilities to address real needs, with judging focused on tangible impact. Winning projects aim to boost employment opportunities and are scalable solutions for nationwide use.
This is a STEAM problem-solving competition for students from pre-K to university level. Teams tackle open-ended challenges, promoting creativity and ownership of solutions. These challenges foster multidisciplinary learning and rapid problem-solving. The program is flexible and suitable for various educational settings, including group gatherings. Teams consist of 2 to 7 members, working on designing and creating solutions independently. Top teams progress to higher-level competitions, culminating in Global Finals. The season runs from August to May.
If you are interested in doing university-level research in engineering, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.