|Shaun Jackson (right), associate professor of art, watches as Sana Hong prepares her design to be tested. Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services|
These students have grown up in an era where the machine age is past, says Shaun Jackson, associate professor of art. They live in a virtual world. They are products of the information age, so for them, even rudimentary mechanics is problematic.
The student projects suggest the work of Rube Goldberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, sculptor and author. After abandoning his fathers wishes that he become an engineer, Goldberg drew cartoons of inventions that resulted in more difficult ways to achieve easy results. His cartoons were, he said, symbols of mans capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results. And this became the goal for Jacksons class. But Jackson added one caveatthese absurdly connected machines could utilize only those materials known to and used by da Vinci. Well, Jackson did waffle just a little and allowed rubber bands.
With a prescribed amount of basswood, wire and rods, the student teams began working with mechanisms available in the 16th century. Their imaginations took them to cotton string, fire, fabric, water, rocks, fishing line, matches, ball bearings, leather thongs and paper, and visits to local craft stores.
The result was a series of successful contraptions that did turn on the lights. From a sailboat carved from basswood and a balancing thing named George, to a catapult and a wagon with wheels, the teams perhaps did what college students would have done even in da Vincis time. They stayed up until the wee hours completing and perfecting their mechanical light switch thing-a-ma-bobs.