What is the Gravity Design Challenge?
Participants who built a machine to complete the tasks presented in a space-themed design challenge had the chance to win a trip to New York to watch the premiere of Gravity, a Warner Bros Pictures movie starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. The winning student traveled to New York with 2 guests (including one parent or guardian), walked the red carpet and got a chance to see the stars!
The Gravity Design Challenge was organized by the nonprofit organization Iridescent in conjunction with Warner Bros Pictures and hosted here, at the Curiosity Machine, a platform for building awesome inventions based on actual work of scientists and engineers while receiving mentorship from experts in the field.
After Building a Rube Goldberg space mission by following this activity, students were evaluated using specific criteria of persistence, completeness, courage, creativity, and mentorship.
Click here to see complete contest terms and rules.
We also provided guidelines and recommendations for projects:
Guidelines for entries
- 1. Use the Curiosity Machine, talk to your mentor and iterate your design. This will help you to improve your design and get extra points.
- Your design needs to be a Rube Goldberg machine meaning it should be a chain reaction of events using physics principles, simple machines, etc. A Rube Goldberg machine should have complexity and humor: extra points will be given for complexity. Examples of Rube Goldberg Machines can be found here and here.
- Points will be awarded for completing the three missions and trying to achieve as many kinds of orbits as possible.
- Your machine cannot use pyrotechnics. That means no bottle rockets or the like.
- Don't just copy our design! Direct copies of our design will not be rated highly.
There were two rounds of judging - the first round of judging was carried out by Iridescent team members, who evaluated projects based on the number of questions that were answered and the quality of those answers: how complete each answer was, and whether answers included good pictures and videos; the number of challenge stages (out of three) completed; and how responsive the student was to mentor feedback.
For the next round he finalists were sent to the competition judges, who are experts in the field of aerodynamics, where they were judged on five criteria:
- Persistence: Did you undergo multiple iterations of testing your design?
- Completeness: Did you complete all the tasks in the challenge instructions and questions thoroughly?
- Courage: Did you honestly discuss your failures in building the design with a mentor, and what you learned from those failures?
- Creativity: Did you go beyond the the instructions to incorporate unique and original components to your design?
- Mentorship: Did you respond to and incorporate mentor feedback?
The judges selected the top three projects, and awarded the following prizes:
The first place winner got the chance to fly to New York and watch the Gravity premiere. Warner Bros. took the inventor of the winning project, a friend, and a guardian to the premiere of Gravity in New York.
The second place winner got to take 3 friends to dinner and received tickets to watch Gravity at a selected local theatre.
The third place winner got to take 3 friends to see Gravity at local theatre and received special Gravity-themed gifts.
Eric Blood received his B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Since graduation, he has been a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At JPL, Eric has formulated a lunar sample return mission, and tested and operated the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, which landed on Mars August 5, 2012. He is currently working on an Entry, Descent, and Landing technology, Low Density Supersonic Decelerators, which will enable further exploration of Mars.
Sean Carroll is a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in 1993 from Harvard University, and has worked at MIT, the Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Chicago. His research focuses on theoretical physics and cosmology, especially the origin and constituents of the universe. He has contributed to models of interactions between dark matter, dark energy, and ordinary matter; alternative theories of gravity; violations of fundamental symmetries; and the arrow of time. Carroll is the author of "The Particle at the End of the Universe," "From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time," and the textbook "Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity." He has been awarded fellowships by the Sloan Foundation, Packard Foundation, and the American Physical Society.
Susan Jewell MD is a physician/scientist/researcher/educator /biomedical engineer currently studying Aerospace/Space Medicine and obtaining her certifications in Biomedical Engineering at UC Berkeley/Laney College. She is also a candidate in PhD, Space Physiology and Health at Kings College in London and is a recipient of the space scholarship from the European Space Agency to attend the International Space University. Currently training in survival and extreme environments and pilot training to become a commercial "medical/scientist" astronaut for low earth orbit payload projects and eventually to deep space missions with the long-term goal to colonize MARS, her vision is to expand space physiology, telehealth, biomedical and research interests in lower earth orbit, deep space exploration, and the colonization of planetary worlds.
Eiley Hartzel-Jordan won first place in the Gravity Design Challenge for her entry. Eiley's design featured a balloon-powered rocket carrying a styrofoam ball to a funnel, which drops the ball into a v-shaped track made from cardboard. There, the styrofoam ball hits a heavier metal ball that moves down a slanted track, gaining enough momentum to enter orbit--through a mechanism made by hanging magnets from a string (and a trampoline!). Eiley's incredibly detailed record--which included sketches, videos of the design in progress, and detailed textual explanations--documented her persistence, determination, and ingenuity, as well as the in-depth engagement with her mentor, Bonnie Lei, an undergraduate at Harvard!
Check out this video of the final machine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtqMmabcQUE
Austin Tyler won second place for his entry, which documented his persistence and creativity. Beginning with a gravity-powered rocket, Austin altered his design multiple times to make the rocket more self-propelled. First trying multiple times to make a balloon launch effective, Austin eventually devised a Rube-Goldberg "mousetrap" consisting of a marble which hit dominoes, then cards, and then flipped a switch to start a propeller attached to the rocket. The rocket carried another marble to the transfer mechanism where it then made its way to the gravity well, passing through a wormhole and milky way in the process. Austin responded thoughtfully and creatively to mentor Xan Black's feedback, uploading multiple videos and photos documenting his thought processes as well as the design changes (including finding just the right marble).
Christopher Zamora won third place for his entry, which incorporated a weighted catapult launching a spiked styrofoam ball onto a balloon, popping it and releasing multiple marbles onto a ramp and then onto the gravity well. Through videos and detailed textual explanations, Christopher documented his persistent redesigns, from first launching the catapult to changing the projectile from a marble to a spiked ball so that the balloon would definitely be punctured, to describing the variously designed gravity wells (from "ice-cream cone shaped" to "nearly flat") and their effects on orbit shape and duration. All the while, Christopher made sure to respond to and address mentor Bonnie Lei's questions and suggestions.
See them all in action in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GZgUI52trk