The University Record, November 13, 2000

Student mousetraps explore design

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Not all of the ‘better’ mousetraps met the test, with the subjects occasionally escaping.
Amid cheers, squeals and anxiety, first-year students in Shaun Jackson’s design class tested their ideas for a “better, yet humane” mousetrap. The teams of five students each were introduced to the history of design through the assignment’s stipulation that only those engineering principles known to Leonardo da Vinci could be used.

The mice were introduced to the various traps, most of which were constructed of basswood, screening and plexiglass. Whether thumbtacks, metal hinges, razor blades and Hershey’s chocolate were available in da Vinci’s time was not established, but those materials as well as cheese and magnets were used by the various teams.

Mice became project testers this fall when students in Shaun Jackson’s design class were challenged to make a better mousetrap using only the technology available to da Vinci. Photos by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
Some design flaws became immediately apparent, as the mice became entrapped as a door slammed shut, but still managed to escape through a “back door.” Sometimes the weight of the mouse was not enough to trigger the device that lowered the ramp, that pushed the thread onto the razor blade, that cut the thread, that snapped the door shut.

As the mice climbed over, sat on, ran under and hid inside inventions that sported names such as “K-A-T” and “Crystal Palace,” the students soon learned that a consumer often wants to use a product the way he wants to use it, which may not be the way the designer wants him to use it.

“This generation seems to have little interest in machines,” says Jackson. “They are more interested in information. But when they discover the workings of machines, it becomes magical for them.”

And so the cheers and shrieks and boos and applause accompanied each mouse as it explored the facets of a trap that may or may not have been better but was certainly humane.