NORMAN — Moments after setting off an elaborate contraption that drove a nail into a piece of wood, Jalen Jackson acknowledged it would have been simpler just to use a hammer.
Jackson, 18, was one of 47 incoming University of Oklahoma freshmen who designed, built and demonstrated Rube Goldberg machines as a part of an OU summer program.
Named for American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg, the machines present an unnecessarily complicated, over-engineered solution to a simple task — in this case, hammering a nail.
The machine Jackson's team built was a system of rolling marbles, falling dominoes and a catapult that launched a pingpong ball, culminating with a hammer being dropped onto a nail. The teams took nearly three weeks to design, build and test the machines — “too long,” Jackson said with a grin.
The project was a part of the OU College of Engineering's summer bridge program, which brings incoming freshmen to campus for a four-week summer engineering camp. The program is intended to encourage diversity within the college and help incoming freshmen connect with other students and faculty.
For the project, students were given access to equipment in OU's Rawl Engineering Practice Facility and a modest budget to buy materials they couldn't find there. The machines were required to have between 10 and 20 steps.
Alex Powell, 18, said her team's biggest challenge was finding a way to link one good idea with another one. Because the machines had to operate as a chain reaction, each step had to lead naturally into the next step.
“Once you got started, things just started to flow,” she said.
Powell's machine started with a teammate calling a cellphone, which vibrated, knocking over a set of dominoes. Although it took a few tries, the dominoes eventually fell, setting the machine in motion.
In that regard, Powell's team was hardly alone. Most of the teams' machines had at least one stage that caused problems during testing.
For Randy Hernandez, that step was the final stage — a crossbow that fired a nail into the center of a University of Texas Longhorns logo painted onto a foam block. The team spent quite a bit of time testing, measuring and adjusting that step, Hernandez said.
“It does work about 90 percent of the time,” he said.