Build a Bigger Mousetrap

Mark Perez, Rose Harden and the team behind the Life Size Mousetrap have taken a childhood game and turned it into a sideshow spectacle that any carny would be proud to be a part of. The structure itself is an impressive Rube Goldberg style machine, wrought large. Take a marble from the kid’s game, and turn it into a bowling ball. Now expand everything else to scale, and you’ll have some idea what I’m talking about. The bathtub is a real bathtub. The diver is the size of a person. The machine spreads over a 60×100 foot area, and weighs on the order to 50,000 lbs. It’s a pretty impressive engineering feat. The show has been touring for about seven years, and the team did some necessary rebuilding and refurbishing this year to keep things running smoothly.

As an entertainment, the show is more than just the machine. There’s music, composed and performed specifically for Life Size Mousetrap by the one-woman band Esmerelda Strange. Can-can dancers dressed as mice, unicycle riding clowns, and humorous patter accompany the already impressive display of physics in motion. Life Size Mousetrap recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund their efforts. Part of the funding will go towards further developing their STEM curriculum. If there’s anyone who can make engineering seem approachable and fun, it’s the creators of Life Size Mousetrap.

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Maker Faire was very happy to have Mark, Rose and crew back to World Maker Faire in New York this year. It’s one of my favorite things at Maker Faire, and I look forward to it every year. If you missed the show, be sure to check their webpage or their Facebook page for announcements.

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Popular at Public Lab

Out in Zone 5, Liz Barry of Public Lab is sensing strong interest in spectrometry.

The reason: “It’s like a Tricorder for $10!”

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Liz Barry of Public Lab

The Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns.

Using inexpensive DIY techniques, Public Labs seeks to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

And a good place to start: spectrometry.

“Because you can use it to tell what things are made of,” Liz says.

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The desktop spectrometer from Public Lab

Get out to Zone 5 and check it out!


Made in Space 3D Printer Launches Tomorrow Morning

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The first 3D printer in space is scheduled to launch on Saturday, September 20 at 2:16 a.m. (Eastern) aboard the SpaceX-4 Commercial Resupply Mission. The 3D printer, manufactured by Made In Space , will serve as a technology demonstration for the use of an FDM style printer on the International Space Station (ISS) and future spacecraft. The goal is to give astronauts the ability to quickly and cheaply manufacture parts on demand.

The Made In Space Portal 3D printer has a build volume of 50mm X 100mm X 50mm and will be ABS only. A second model, contracted for the International Space Station in 2015, will support multiple materials and a larger build volume. Many of the features of the Made In Space Portal can be found on current consumer 3D printers including an enclosed build volume with polycarbonate windows, remote video monitoring, and remote printing (via ground control). However, printing in space requires an extra level of features such as ruggedization to survive launch, thermal management, air filtration and optimization for printing in microgravity. The Made in Space team has flown over 400 microgravity parabolas and conducted 30,000 hours of testing in preparing the Portal for launch.

The Portal will integrate into the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) on the International Space Station. The MSG will provide a 28V DC power and 200W cooling capacity. Astronauts will have access to remove prints and change filament cartridges as well as perform maintenance tasks such as replacing a clogged print head or the electronics. More details about the mission can be found on the NASA 3D Printing In Zero-G experiment page.

The printer itself fall under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) so the Portal was unavailable for hands on testing in the Make 2015 3D Printer Shootout.

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Makers can participate in the mission by suggesting models to 3D print in space by tweeting their ideas using the #BeamItUp hashtag.

A STEM program sponsored by ASME and NASA called Future Engineers will kick off in a week or two with CAD tutorials and challenges for K12 students. Students will have the opportunity to design parts and tools for space with one student design being 3D printed on ISS.

The CityX Project is another STEM based project focused on design that challenges students 8-12 to use 3D printing to meet the needs of alien civilizations. A design by a 9 year old City X participant is also planned for printing aboard the ISS.

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The Portal won’t begin printing right away as other experiments are in line ahead of the 3D printer. We look forward to learning more details about the mission in the coming months.


Why Do Dead Alkaline Batteries Bounce?

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If you’ve ever wondered what retired old men (I’d assume some of them are or were engineers, scientists, or science teachers) do when they’re not annoying their wives, apparently some of them go out to eat with the Romeo club (the video will explain). Lee Hite, one of the members, apparently also makes incredibly popular Youtube videos. The one below came from a discussion as to why good alkaline batteries don’t bounce, while bad batteries of this type do.

Admittedly, I’d never noticed this phenomena, but if you’re skeptical, the extremely good experimental setup in the video should be pretty convincing. Basically, a stand is set up where several batteries are dropped from the same height. The bad batteries bounce, while those that are still good definitely do not.

These self-proclaimed “old men” had two general theories on this, one was that the batteries were outgassing, thus affecting the way they bounced. The other idea was the idea that the good batteries were exhibiting something they referred to as “anti-bounce.” You may be more familiar with this as the same principle behind a dead blow hammer.

The results are closer to the second option, but check out the video below to see the explanation. This kind of setup would probably make an excellent science-fair project, or you could tuck it away for when you’re older and need to win the inevitable argument about why batteries bounce!


Fueled by Coke Zero, Mentos, and Science!

Many people have tried a fun backyard experiment where you drop some Mentos candies into a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke or Coke Zero. If you have not seen this, here’s a spoiler: you get a giant geyser of soda. Since they first learned about it in 2005, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz of EepyBird have taken this simple experiment and elevated into performance art. Together Fritz and Stephen have performed their crazy soda experiments all over the world and on television, thrilling audiences and expending about 10,000 bottles of soda and over 60,000 Mentos.

EepyBird’s creativity doesn’t stop at soda geysers. Check their YouTube channel for cool science videos, extreme experiments with Sticky Notes, and of course, more fun with Coke and Mentos.

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Maker Faire has been thrilled to have EepyBird perform their Coke and Mentos magic at Maker Faire. The feeling seems to be mutual. The EepyBird website says, “If you haven’t been to Maker Faire, you must go! It is the coolest event on the planet, and we’ve had a ton of fun doing Coke and Mentos shows there over the last few years.” Come see them at World Maker Faire in New York this September. Bring your curiosity, a sense of humor and maybe get inspired to do some creative experimenting at home.

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Boom! You’ve Got Cereal!

What’s your favorite puffed cereal? Ever wonder how it was made? You probably wouldn’t guess that for decades it was made by loading it into a huge metal cannon and subjecting it to heat and pressure until it was suddenly released with a thunderous BOOM! However, that’s pretty much exactly the way it was done. Newer methods work on a more continuous process, not requiring the batch and explode system seen in the video above, but what fun is that?

The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) obtained this 3,200 lbs monster of a food processor, and have been experimenting with puffing various types of grains. Puffing cereal is kind of like popping corn. Except that many grains don’t have the hard shells of corn kernels. This is where puffing guns come in. Inside one of these messy mortars, grains are heated and pressurized within a chamber that does the same thing as a kernel shell… holds everything in until it is suddenly released. This results in the yummy exploded puffs that we are all familiar with.

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According to MOFAD’s website, they aspire “to become the global leader for food education: visitors will learn about the culture, history, science, production, and commerce of food and drink through exhibits and programs that emphasize sensory engagement.” I guess if you are trying to draw attention to how food is produced, bringing a giant puffing cannon to World Maker Faire in New York is a good way to go. They’ll be firing the puffing gun several times an hour, so I’m sure they will be hard to miss!

First test of BOOM! by the staff at MOFAD. Cereal everywhere.

First test of BOOM! by the staff at MOFAD. Cereal everywhere.

You can learn more about the MOFAD and BOOM! at their website.