13 steps to pop a balloon
June 28, 2010
- GEMS students try, try again
- Goldberg method makes easy tasks more difficult
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Have you ever heard of the Rube Goldberg machine' No' Well, neither had most of the Gains in the Mathematics and Science I students here until they started a recent week-long class at the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.
According to the Wikipedia, "A Rube Goldberg machine is deliberately over-engineered and performs a simple task in a complex fashion and usually includes a chain reaction."
Students were to design, engineer, build and execute a Rube Goldberg machine with the intention of popping a balloon. The way they got there was up to them.
"The only restrictions are the machine must have at least 13 steps and be self sustaining, not being interrupted or needing to be restarted once it's began," Bonnie Garrett, GEMS instructor leading the Rube Goldberg module, said.
Tools were provided and parts were located in the room, including toy cars and locomotives, wooden rods, string, paper clips, dominos, golf balls, Styrofoam bowls, mousetraps, skillets, and weights.
The young men and women, aged 14 to 16, brainstormed, designed, and built their machine within a week, doing so while also building bridges, robots and rockets and taking tours and participating in contests to win special parts for their robots and Rube Goldberg machines.
With about one and a half hours a day to work on the machine, they were constantly resetting and attempting to get it to work the way they intended.
"The building was way more involved than you would've thought from the drawing," said Melanie Berry, a student.
Berry's comment echoed those of the machine's inventor, Reuben (Rube) Goldberg (1883-1970). An inventor, author, sculptor, engineer and cartoonist, Goldberg said his machines were "a symbol of man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results."
As students worked on their machines, it seemed like they were walking in Goldberg's footsteps. When a machine failed, they contemplated why and tried to fix it, trying different things after team discussions.
After three fixes to their problem, they reset the process and restarted.
When it came to the step that had failed the first time Berry grimaced. The golf ball rolled like it was supposed and struck a clothes pin which released a string attached to a weight that dropped onto a mousetrap that had a spike attached to it which burst the balloon.