Marshmallow Launcher Challenge

November 7, 2013
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Student Reflection - November 6, 2013

The Weekly Innovation Challenge brings students together from all majors and backgrounds to compete. The competitions themselves are similarly diverse, ranging from business and presentation challenges to more hands-on activities. This week’s “Marshmallow Launcher Challenge” was one of the latter, relying more on engineering and design abilities than luck or business acumen. The objective of the competition was to build an accurate tool to fling the marshmallows from a starting position into a marked scoring zone about ten feet away.

My team this week was a mix of old and new faces. First, I was able to work with my old roommate, a senior neuroscience major. Then, we met a graduate student in electrical engineering. Including my status as a biochemistry senior, my team was a mix of science and engineering. While it might have been an effective combination for this building and design challenge, we were certainly lucky that the contest did not go outside of our narrow range of specialties. On another day, a business themed challenged might have been beyond our skill sets.

Initially, my teammates and I focused on finding a good design for our launcher. Officially, the device needed to accurately lob the marshmallow a good ten feet while resting on a table and being operated by only one hand. Furthermore, our supplies included two different types of popsicle sticks, straws, rubber bands, hot glue, and a full plastic water bottle. My initial vision for the launcher was a medieval trebuchet that used the water bottle as a counterweight, but we quickly saw the infeasibility building one with our simple materials.

As the time for the challenge ran down, we decided on a slingshot design (A). The water bottle would stabilize a set of popsicle sticks with rubber bands stretched between them. We began building this device, but encountered numerous setbacks. Besides some of the mockups failing catastrophically in a shower of wooden sticks, we realized the difficulty in operating a slingshot with one hand. As a result, we added additional sticks to form a catapult (B). This made handling the marshmallow easier due to my teammate’s addition of a bendy-straw basket for the projectile, but it was still too unwieldy for the rules of the challenge.

With only five minutes to spare, the launcher was a failure. We could not hurl the marshmallow off the tabletop, let alone across a room. As the first teams began their official launches, my teammates and I held a hasty redesign conference. Quickly, I tore the terminal set of popsicle sticks off the arm of the launcher and reattached them to the side of the water bottle. This formed a new catapult arm, and the old one was a stabilizing base (C). After fortifying the new arm with rubber bands, we were ready to go.

As we set up the catapult, the crowd seemed disinterested in our hastily redesigned launcher. I loaded the first marshmallow and let it fly. The crowd gasped audibly as the candy lobbed in a perfect arc to the target, nearly hitting the bonus section. My teammates were equally surprised. That spectacular launch was the first ever shot for our completely untested design.

My team may not have won the challenge, but it was our fast adaptation and innovation which saved the project from failure. Ultimately, the challenge showed the importance of making the best of adverse circumstance and not giving up on even a seeming defeat.


Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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  • Jan 1st, 2:48pm

    Great.. hope you get a winner sooner.
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