Working with what we have or: Becoming a MakeShop Scavenger

Daniel, a regular visitor to the Museum, helped me realize that you can seriously start to develop an entirely new project right on the Museum floor in front of visitors and staff alike.  The Curcuit blocks are back and Electricity is the Theme of the MakeShop currently.  For about two hours on Sunday Physics and Prototyping became the main attraction, at least for Daniel and I.  This entire Experiment was spurred on by Daniel playing around with a plastic wheel, a motor and a power source.  He was able to attach the wheel to the motor and get it spinning at an incredibly fast speed.  Then he demonstrated to me that he could slowly nudge the wheel of the motor and it would eventually fall off.  After it fell off the wheel would shoot across the table; all of that stored potential energy became kinetic immediately.  It was fun just watching the wheel roll all over the Shop.

Then we started brainstorming and the real fun started.  I showed Daniel that we could guide the wheel if created a track for it to follow.  I found two pieces of scrap wood in the Shop closet and used those to send the wheel in our desired direction.  At this point we were simply guiding the moving wheel off the table, I then suggested that we make a loop out of cardboard and attempt to get the wheel to ride around it.  We constructed a simple loop out of cardboard I found lying around but the wheel didn’t seem to go fast enough to make it all the way around.   We both wanted to get the wheel moving faster and we decided  to use gravity to help us reach our goal.  Our goal was to get the wheel to successfuly complete a cycle around the loop we created.

I found one of the big cardboard tubes we had used while exploring sound in the Curiosity Lab.  We were able to rig up the tube to the end of the table and placed the other end on the floor.  Daniel and I used the pieces of wood to direct the wheel into the tube which would then shoot it out onto the floor of the Shop.  The wheel certainly came out of the tube at a fast pace, yet it was directed on a pretty straight path too.  We were slowly coming to conclusions as we played.  It seemed that the longer you sped the wheel up on the motor the faster it would go once it was released.  We were also using two different wheels, one was heavier than the other.  This certainly provided more variables for us to play around with while we prototyped.  We still had our goal in mind, get that wheel to successfuly ride through the cardboard loop that we constructed.

We attempted to place the loop on the floor at the bottom of the tube.  The wheel was going way to fast to actually ride around the loop.  Sara, a Museum Educator suggested that we change the angle of the tube by placing it on a stool from the Shop (not only were we scavenging materials,we also scavenged ideas from passers by).  The wheel would still travel faster because of gravity but at the same time it wouldn’t simply crash into the floor before it entered the loop.  Trial and error, trial and error.  The best thing about this experiment was that neither of us gave up, we set our own goal and we needed to reach it.  I kept making adjustments to the loop and tube while Daniel constantly kept experimenting with the motor and the wheel.  It was at this point that we realized a we had an audience watching us prototype right on the floor (for me, literally) of the Musem.   They kept asking us what we were working on and honestly we couldn’t answer that question because we were constantly changing the project to meet our needs.

With a lot of tinkering and tape we were able to get the wheel to successfuly travel across the table and down the tube and around the loop (several times).  I explained to Daniel that this is how we do things at the Museum, we try projects and programs out over and over and slowly change them till they work.  You need to be persistent and open minded to develop a new project or exhibit.  It was great to demonstrate these ideas with a visitor in the Shop in front of everyone and anyone who was curious to know what we were doing.


  1. Paul Reply

    Very Cool! I’m glad Daniel has made an appearance on the MakeShop blog. He is a great tinkerer that is open to experimenting and troubleshooting.

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