Engineering Students Test Their Mettle with Complicated Contraptions

Engineering Students Test Their Mettle with Complicated Contraptions
A golf ball sits triumphantly on a tee during Associate Professor Jawaharlal's ME 421 class, Dynamics of Machines.
Mechanical Engineering student Janelle Doose checks on her device during class.
Tadeh Avetian and Argin Hayraptian work on their contraption.

It is unlikely that Tiger Woods would use a complicated device that needs an air compressor, water pump and a series of plastic pipes to place a golf ball on a tee.

But this device is not designed in mind to win the PGA Championship. It's a contraption created for the purpose of testing the skills of Cal Poly Pomona mechanical engineering undergraduates.

“The idea is to teach design in a fun way,” Associate Professor Mariappan “Jawa” Jawaharlal says.

For the last four to five weeks, Jawaharlal's Mechanical Engineering 421 students have been designing and constructing 10 Rube Goldberg-inspired contraptions that place a golf ball on a tee.

Goldberg was a famous cartoonist in the first half of the 20th century whose education in engineering gave him inspiration for comics featuring silly complicated devices. The board game “Mouse Trap” should come to mind.

On Monday, Aug. 21, Jawaharlal's students displayed their contraptions on the Engineering Meadow.

There were a few hole-in-ones and a few Mulligans.  

“It's all par for the course,” Jawaharlal says.

Mechanical Engineering students Janelle Doose and Robert Reiber kept the cost of their device down by using items they found around their homes. Their unique assortment of materials included: a Lazy Susan, scuba diving weights and a 12-volt motorcycle battery.

They used engineering software to design their contraption and then made few modifications along the way to make it work.

“Designing it is the easy part,” Doose says. “Dealing with the problems that perk up while you're building it – that's another thing.”

On Monday, reporters from two newspapers and two television news shows interviewed a few of the engineering students and Jawaharlal. Stay tuned to PolyCentric for Web links to that coverage.