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Continued: Brooklyn Park camp inspires young engineers

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 22, 2009 - 9:56 AM

"Extreme Wheel 5000" is the latest in stomach-wrenching, envelope-pushing amusement park design. Imagine a Ferris Wheel, only rotating four times faster.

Safety could be an issue here. For one thing, the seats don't remain upright as the wheel turns around. This means that for a good part of their circuit, the riders must defy gravity, suspended upside down. There are no signs of seat belts or safety harnesses anywhere. Maybe the centrifugal force from going around so fast would keep the riders in their seats.

The problem is posed to the designer: Courtney Kruse. She's already arrived at a solution.

"They're glued into their seats," she said. Problem solved. Now, the people -- represented as faces painted on ping-pong balls -- can whir around without any danger of being flung off the ride.

Thursday was the last session of the four-day "Amusement Park Engineering Camp" at Monroe Elementary School in Brooklyn Park. Designed for rising third- through fifth-graders, the camp attracted 20 students who designed their own amusement park attractions. Those included mazes, little kaleidoscopes, and, for their finale, rides.

The ideas for the rides came from the students, either plucked out of the imagination or bearing some resemblance to attractions they've been on in the past.

"Some are rides they have designed themselves that might not have precedents," said Doug Paulson, curriculum integration coordinator for Monroe, which serves as a specialty school focusing on math, science and children's engineering. "Some relate back to Valley Fair or Six Flags rides they've been on." Case in point: Ten-year-old Kay Smith got her inspiration for "chaos" on a ride she once went on at the Mall of America.

Students at the camp did a lot more than just glorified art projects. First, they had to make a schematic drawing of their ride that, depending on the grade level, could include dimensions and the placement of the motors, batteries, switches and electrical wiring needed to make it work. Ten-year-old Alec Jonason had three speeds on his "RTD" carnival ride. The slowest one he called "old people speed." So intricate was his design that he even had a cordoned-off waiting area, constructed with pipe cleaners and pieces of balsa wood.

This is the second year Monroe has hosted the "Amusement Park Engineering Camp."

Campers use materials that were likely never available to G.W.G. Ferris when he was a child. There are pipe cleaners, plastic bowls, wire strippers for the electrical wires, balsa wood, colored electrical tape and metal fasteners that serve as contacts for the wiring. All in all, the projects take about five hours from planning stage to liftoff. In conducting the camp, the Monroe Elementary folks work in tandem with an Edina-based outfit called "The Works," which operates a hands-on engineering museum and conducts engineering workshops for children.

Nine-year-old Hayden Nelson has designed different levels and types of seating for his ride.

"If you want a fast, crazy ride, I suggest this one," he said, pointing to his "dome ball" seats, ping-pong balls with imaginary doors leading within. Those wanting "to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride," would be directed to the modified cups. Hayden calls his creation, which looks like a modified 'swing ride,' where seated riders are flung out, rotating, from the axis of the ride, "the double-edge fun changer."

Some students, even at the young age represented at Monroe's engineering camp, see practical applications to what they're doing. Kay figures learning how to connect electrical wires is a good thing to learn now, "so when I grow up I can do it."

As for the "Extreme Wheel 5000," designer Courtney has no doubt what she would do if faced with a real-life version of her model: She wouldn't get on.

"I don't like going upside down," she said.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547

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