Latrobe students’ contraption takes the cake, and top prize
It took 10 Greater Latrobe Senior High School students, using more than 20 steps, to tie a knot.
The school’s 10-member team took home the top prize earlier this month in the annual Chain Reaction Contraption competition sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Co.
Coinciding with National Engineers Week, the competition is meant to foster an interest in engineering by challenging students to create an overly complex mechanical device that will handle a specific themed task — in this case, tying a knot.
“Our students are very proactive,” said the team’s faculty adviser, chemistry teacher Aaron Richter. “As soon as they hear about the theme, in late summer or early fall, they’re already thinking about what they want to do. It’s definitely student-driven.”
With input from Richter and local engineering mentor Tom Irwin, the students decided to interpret the theme both figuratively, exchanging wedding vows, and literally, binding together pieces of string.
Using wood, cardboard and other materials, they fashioned a three-layer wedding cake in cross-section. Miniature figurines played out a different stage of a romantic relationship inside each layer, progressing from a first meeting to a first date and then an engagement.
Finally, the device automatically tied a knot over the arms of two larger mannequins atop the cake, symbolizing a marital union.
“There was a lot of prototype work,” said student team member Christopher Cox, a junior from Unity Township. “We went through three or four revisions of the knot-tying mechanism.”
While some other teams also adopted a connubial interpretation of the theme, Greater Latrobe’s cake concept stood out.
“All the layers of the cake started from a closed position and each would open after the layer below it ran through its steps,” Cox said. “That was pretty engaging and eye-catching for the judges.”
To enhance the device’s visual appeal, two of the four student presenters dressed as a bridge and groom.
Cox and his fellow team members — Sarah Dill, Emma Greathouse, Matthew Cox, Lindsey Smith, Luke Moore, Zachary Buerger, Mattalyn Harr, Nicole Kondrich and Devin Watson — each received a tenth share of the $600 top prize. They also won $50 for the school’s science club.
Christopher Cox, who plays in multiple instrumental ensembles, has a plan for his share. “I’ll order a new trumpet mouthpiece,” he said.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @jhimler_news.