Kevin Klinkel loves math. He finds great joy in deriving the complex equations that lie behind what appear to be simple toys. Last spring, Kevin happened to enroll in Drs. Ann and Mike Eisenberg’s section of First-Year Engineering Projects. The course’s overall theme is engineering design and the special topic in that specific section was automata―moving mechanical toys. It was in that course that Kevin had the opportunity to combine his mechanical engineering skills with his interest in music. Kevin and three other students designed a complex mechanical simulation that used a gear device to tap out the Indiana Jones theme song while an action hero scaled a wall with the help of magnets.
After demonstrating his interest and electro-mechanical aptitude for these types of projects, Kevin was invited by the Eisenbergs to spend the summer working in their Craft Technology Group laboratory in the Discovery Learning Center. As an intern, one of Kevin’s first assignments was to build a zoetrope, which, according to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, is “an optical toy, in which figures made to revolve on the inside of a cylinder, and viewed through slits in its circumference, appear like a single figure passing through a series of natural motions as if animated or mechanically moved." His zoetrope uses a self-timing strobe light design to animate a tesseract (a three-dimensional perspective of a four-dimensional shape in the family of squares and cubes), as well as a cube being truncated and then returning to a cube.
He also designed small-scale Ames rooms which demonstrate how it’s possible to create the optical illusion of a regular rectangular room using a trapezoidal-shaped room, as well as to make objects within appear to change in size when at different locations. These projects were developed as part of a proposal for a course in engineering projects for psychology majors. The point of the proposed course is to provide psychology students the opportunity to learn a little about the engineering design process so that they can clearly communicate when they need to have displays or other devices built for use during experiments. Working in the Craft Technology lab, Kevin has discovered just how much you can build with simple technology. For instance, he built a bearing using several pieces of acrylic and 12 marbles. That bearing, when sitting flat, can allow the zoetrope to spin for close to two minutes.
Kevin moved on to an earn-learn position as a Teaching Assistant for the Eisenbergs' latest First-Year Engineering Projects course, this time having a focus on DaVinci’s creations. When asked what advice he would give to another student who might be considering getting involved in research or earn-learn activities, Kevin enthusiastically says that students should “definitely do it because it’s worth the experience and it’s more fun than a regular job.” Asked the key to his success, he presents his mini-Leatherman tool. It also helps that he thinks that “math is awesome” and that deriving mathematical solutions provides more satisfaction to him than iterative guessing techniques.