Portable Emergency Shelter
Photography by (clockwise from top left) Nicole Simpson, Julie Spiegler, Chris Connors, Karen Wilkinson, and Luigi Anzivino
Mendocino Motors Cardboard Automata Chain Reaction Contraption
Mike Petrich, San Francisco, Calif.
» Chain Reaction Contraption
Chris Connors, Duxbury, Mass.
» Mendocino Motors
One of my favorite projects is to build a collaborative
Chain Reaction Contraption, inspired by Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson (the U.K. version of Goldberg).
One project I’ve done is the Mendocino motor. It’s
a solar-powered, magnetically levitating motor.
Pythagoras Switch is another inspiring resource, a
Here’s a document that lays out a lot of the process:
Japanese TV show highlighting short chain reactions.
» Vibrobot Variations
We often impose a theme for the construction;
we’ve created chain reaction contraptions based on
Einstein, Pi/e ( 3.14159 and dessert), and Love.
Students encounter high-level design and problem solving. Experiments with completing circuits,
potential and kinetic energy, rotational motion,
leverage, humor, metaphor, and collaboration are all
required to build and contribute to the event.
I also like variations on vibrobots (as seen in MAKE,
Volume 10). A fun project we have done is to disassemble CD players, make battery holders, and then
turn them into vibrobots.
» Cardboard Automata
Inspired by the clever Cabaret Mechanical Theatre
in the U.K., we host an activity that allows teens to
construct their own narrative, kinetic machines,
utilizing cams, gears, levers, and other simple
mechanisms. Unlike other science activities that
use art to “decorate” the experiment, this automata
activity combines science, art, and storytelling in
equal parts. It is challenging, incorporates common
materials in unusual ways, and allows for individual
expression. makezine.com/go/automata (PDF)
With a limited set of tools, a couple of discarded
drives, and a few hours’ time, this project introduces
students to variations of manufacturing design,
sourcing supplies for future projects, and the joy
of discovery inside previously mysterious devices.
Museum of Science and Industry activities
Exploratorium Science Snacks
List of organizations that promote hands-on