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Clarkson hosts Myth Olympics; students create Rube Goldberg machines



POTSDAM — The sounds of innovation were in the air Wednesday afternoon at Clarkson University’s annual Myth Olympics Training Camp Program, as high school students presented their Rube Goldberg machines to an audience of family members, professors, college mentors and peers. The camp seeks to give educational opportunities to high-achieving high school students in science, math and engineering. It is run by Clarkson and sponsored by the Alcoa Foundation.

Students set up their machines in a din of activity in the Andrew S. Schuler Educational Resources Center’s main foyer.

They tested, reassembled and tested again.

“We did a whole bunch of stuff that people don’t get to see,” said Parker Estey of West Canada Valley High School, who joked that they had tested their machine more than they would have liked. “This was really a lot of fun.”

Both expansive and compact, the machines were composed of everyday items such as bottles, mousetraps, textbooks, dominoes, and long lines of cording. One machine sent bottles flying off a balcony to the floor and across the room, toppling dominoes and freeing a cluster of balloons to rise with an American flag to the ceiling.

Another set off several objects on a table into a tennis ball, which wound down a pole and set off a balloon-popping, confetti-filled finale.

Three teams of students worked with college mentors, said Shane Rodgers, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a coordinator for the camp.

Also coordinating was Michelle Crimi, associate professor of environmental science and engineering.

“They’ve been this excited, this engaged since we’ve been here,” Mr. Rodgers said.

The students came from towns across the north country.

Students have been involved in the Rube Goldberg projects for the entire camp schedule in their spare time. “This was the first thing we did when coming to camp,” said Colvin Chapman, of Ticonderoga High School. “I was just amazed by the awesome classmates I had and the amazing people and ideas I was surrounded with.”

Camp documentation states the camp’s mission is “to promote science, math, and engineering education by providing real hands-on high risk/high reward experiences to academically-talented high school students in the north country that may otherwise lack these opportunities pre-college, and to improve the technical competence of the workforce of the north country to provide opportunities to grow economically.”

Also this week, students have been exploring and testing scientific myths related to hypnotism, forensics, explosives and ballistics.

Several organizations and individuals have donated time and materials to this year’s camp, including electrical and computer engineering professor Stephanie Schukers, chemistry professor James Peploski, environmental engineering Ph.D. candidate Michael Jahne and military science instructor Dennis Truman.

Community partners for the camp included Alcoa West plant manager Steve Rombough, hypnotist and comedian Daniel James, certified consulting master hypnotist Ben Lavallee, Martin’s Maple Street Station-AAA Road Service, which donated a car for ballistics tests, officers from the Potsdam Police Department and the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department.

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