Art students debating the meaning of the four junk sculptures on Cross Campus may be disappointed to find that, for once, there is a right answer. The collections of wood, scrap metal and recycled copy machines are actually clocks that were built in a seven-hour engineering marathon Saturday.
The clocks are the product of the second annual “Junk Yale Wars,” an event organized by the Yale Engineering Design Team in which teams of student and amateur engineers compete to assemble the machines from a scrap heap. None of the machines constructed in the basement of Mason Labs was completely successful, and no winner was declared. But, participants agreed that the event was an interesting exercise in engineering ingenuity.
“It’s a good creative exercise,” said David LaVan, a mechanical engineering professor and faculty adviser to the Yale Engineering Design Team. “At the University there’s a lot of emphasis on math and physics in the engineering department, and this event is a good opportunity to remind engineers that there’s a creative side to engineering.”
“Junk Yale Wars” was inspired by “Junkyard Wars,” a television show on TLC. In Yale’s version, seven teams of three to five people built machines from a communal scrap heap provided by the event’s administrators.
The objective, which was kept secret until the competition began, was to build a functioning clock. The clocks were designed so that a ball released at the top of the machine would reach the bottom in exactly 90 seconds. The devices were also required to make a sound every 30 seconds. The clocks were judged on their accuracy and complexity.
In an exhausting flurry of hammering, sawing and experimental sound-making that lasted from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., participants attached a variety of contraptions to a provided wooden base in order to keep the ball in the machine for exactly 90 seconds. The teams made ramps, obstacles to slow down the ball and elevator pulleys using counterweights and leaking water containers to pull the balls back up the machines.
Allison Polland ’07, said she enjoyed applying principles she had studied academically.
“This is why I’m taking physics,” she said. “It’s not because I like physics. This is a very hands-on manifestation of the stuff I learned in class.”
Only about half of the participants were engineering students. Because the event is accessible to students who know little about engineering, event organizer Drausin Wulsin ’07 said, the engineering design team views it as an opportunity to recruit new members.
“Because this project caters to people with a wide variety of engineering experience, it gives students — especially those without as much experience — a view of what kinds of things we do in the club,” he said.
YEDT’s current projects include rebuilding a car to run on vegetable oil and creating a computer program to simulate the evolution of artificial intelligence.
No winners were declared because each device ultimately required at least one “help,” such as nudging a ball that got stuck, to function. A number of machines did, however, come within seconds of the 90-second goal.
The administrators and some participants said that though the event was technically a contest, the point was to build interesting machines, not to win a prize. In fact, no prize was offered.
Tomer Edry ’08 said while he was not pleased with his machine’s progress, he still found the exercise enjoyable.
“I am a bit disappointed,” he said. “I thought I would do better. But I enjoy watching the show, and I like building stuff. I’m having fun.”
The event administrators said using junk instead of normal engineering materials added a creative dimension to the contest by forcing participants to think about new uses for old objects.
Caroline Howe ’07 said she also viewed using junk as a statement about recycling.
“That’s why this is so cool from an environmental perspective,” she said. “We’re showing the Yale community how cool junk is.”
Howe added that the machines, four of which will be on display on Cross Campus through Monday, were more than simple products of science.
“I view our work less as engineering than as a work of art with a function,” she said.
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