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Ready to launch: Design competition challenges students to build a device that launches a foam football

For many students, the end of a semester means a long exam or an even longer term paper. For Johns Hopkins first–year mechanical engineering students in the Intro to MechE Design & CAD course, it means launching a foam football as high into the air as possible.

But the final assignment isn’t as simple as it sounds. Based on what they learned throughout the course, students spent three months designing, prototyping, and testing their launching devices. On Wednesday afternoon, 18 teams put these devices to the test in a single-elimination tournament in Hodson Hall.

Students, faculty, and guests crowded the staircases on multiple levels that overlooked the launch site at the bottom of the north stairwell. Teams had two minutes to set up and connect their devices to the energy input system—a five-pound weight and pulley system that, when released, provided a fixed amount of rotational energy to each device.

“The team that can best capture the spinning energy and launch the football the highest will win the competition. The devices are all different—some students opted to use levers, others used springs, etc.,” explained David Samson, a teaching assistant for the class. “The ultimate goal is to hit the ceiling on the 3rd floor.”

Image credit: Deirdre Hammer

None of the footballs hit the ceiling of Hodson Hall, but some got serious air, much to the excitement of the crowd. And even when devices failed to launch, students were quick to congratulate each other on their hard work and offer suggestions for improvements.

After an intense competition, Team Full Metal Jacket finally emerged as the winner. Other devices were more complex—and some were decorated with Christmas wrapping paper or…

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