Freshmen take on world record | The Triangle

Freshmen take on world record

Photo Credit: David Stephenson
Photo Credit: David Stephenson

Drexel is partnering with The Franklin Institute and The Dow Chemical Co. to challenge an incredible Guinness World Record. A team of 45 freshman engineering students has started work on constructing a potential world record Rube Goldberg machine.

The Drexel Goldberg machine, in which mechanisms trigger event after event in sequence to complete a simple task, aims to have the largest number of sequential events ever.

“We’re going to have at least 301 events to beat the current record, but we’re targeting 400 events,” Adam Fontecchio, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering, said.

Fourteen teams, each comprised of students from the same engineering learning community, will be responsible for designing, building and testing a two by two meter square filled with 25 to 30 events that will eventually fit into the larger machine. Fontecchio also teaches the class section that will be primarily responsible for designing the machine.

“We’re taking A [art] and adding it to STEM to get STEAM,” Fontecchio said of his students, referencing an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, the traditional areas of the College of Engineering. “This project has really given the students the opportunity to apply these concepts and skills in a way that’s challenging, and it’s fun all at the same time.”

After each group has designed their section using Google SketchUp, they will construct each piece and test the entire machine in the Drexel Armory before it is moved to the Philadelphia Convention Center for a grand unveiling April 25.

The unveiling of the final machine will have a city-wide audience as it is slated to be the kickoff event for this year’s Philadelphia Science Festival.

“We are thrilled to launch the 2014 Philadelphia Science Festival with an event that so wonderfully captures the spirit of science within our city and so beautifully highlights the numerous collaborations that, year after year, make the festival a reality,” Dennis M. Wint, president and CEO of The Franklin Institute, said. “This is an inspiring group of students and a shining example of what it means to be leaders within the science community.”

The festival, which was one of the first of its kind in the country, has become a major event in the city, with Drexel sponsoring STEM education events each year. The primary event of the festival is a science carnival along the Ben Franklin Parkway on May 3.

“It takes science out of the classroom, [into] museums, into libraries, into restaurants, to street corners and even cemeteries,” Wint said. “The simple goal is to bring as many people as we can in contact with science.”

“The science festival is a great way to inspire our students, faculty and professional staff to engage with a broader audience,” John DiNardo, senior vice provost for academic affairs at Drexel, said. “These efforts are one of the many ways in which we’re carrying out President John [A.] Fry’s vision of becoming the most civically engaged university in the United States.”

Although the students involved in the design of this project are all freshmen at Drexel, the events of the festival aim to reach a much larger audience.

“Drexel University continues to have a keen interest in students learning in STEM. And we’re really making great inroads at that learning beyond higher ed[ucation] and into the K-12 levels,” DiNardo said. “We’re honored to host the kick off event for this year’s festival on April 25.”

Each of the Drexel student groups designing parts of the machine are also partnered with experts from the sciences who are helping them shape their designs.

“There was a time not too long ago, here in this city, that the ability to mobilize a community around science, engineering, technology and math was a figment of our imaginations,” Justin Land, Northeast public affairs manager for partner DOW Chemical said during a press conference in the Bossone Research Enterprise Center March 5. “Over the past four years together we have seen the Philadelphia Science Festival not only develop and evolve, but to experiment and incubate and to lead and inspire.”

Some of the ideas that the students have come up with for the Goldberg machine are quite inspired. For instance, one group, which has partnered with the Philadelphia Zoo for advice, will be using a trained chicken to get the machine started.

Another team, comprised of freshmen Taryn Francischetti, Kerry Milligan, Brittany Pellettieri and Shane Darreff, has partnered with the Philadelphia Please Touch Museum to create a section of the machine inspired by actual exhibits at the museum.

“We really got the inspiration for our events from seeing the different exhibits at the Please Touch Museum,” Francischetti said, noting parts of their design, like a spinning maze and a bell, that directly mirror exhibits at the museum. “The spinning maze came from an Alice in Wonderland exhibit we saw at the museum.”

Although their section of the machine still exists entirely as a virtual design, the team members said they were excited to start building their final product.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that engineers often use the computer models as a rough draft,” Milligan said, “but the real work and changes will be made when we actually start testing it with a real model.”