April 30, 2011

Compound Machine Building

Hannah Jane takes public school on-line part time and the science they send her has been focused on simple machines the past few weeks.  That's fine and all, necessary information I suppose, but kind of boring if you don't do anything with it.  I mean, why learn about machines if you're not going to build something fun?

I was exploring a site I found called Exploratorium, and was browsing their activities when I came across a short little tutorial page for making an automata (sometimes called an automaton).  A few simple machines combined to achieve a desired effect.

Hannah Jane is sadly spending her Saturday sick, missing her soccer game and a birthday party, so she's totally bummed.  She asked what fun thing she could do in bed, and I suggested building an automata.  I showed her some cool videos on youtube of other people's automatas and then had her read the how-to page on Exploratorium.  She immediately had a design in mind.  She wanted to make butterflies fly.  Easy enough, or so the website made it seem.

Corn nuts, hot tea, and sculpting clay will make her feel better!
We decided to use cardboard instead of foam because, well, we have a ton left over from our igloo base and foam is expensive (I should have gone to the Dollar Tree) and seemingly less durable.  Maybe that was the source of our difficulty and I didn't realize it.  This certainly wasn't as simple as they made it seem.

Helloooo in there!
We used a coffee can as our base so that the inner workings could be enclosed and out of view, adding to the mystery according to Hannah Jane.

I cut out the cam and cam follower as she colored the perfect butterflies and blew on the hot glued cams to try to speed the cooling process.  We assembled it all according to direction, but the cam follower kept slipping off of the cam.  Maybe the foam would have had more friction to keep them together.  I don't know.  I suppose it's not all that uncommon for things that look easy on-line to feel impossible in real life, but this really did seem so simple a monkey could do it.

Eventually, with a little tweaking, we had an automata that worked 75% of the time if you used your thumb to press he post upright, keeping the cam follower from slipping off the cam.  Hannah Jane was bummed that it was so hard, but tickled pink when it finally worked.

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