Engineering students’ chain reaction machine to light up the CN Tower

Project leader Derek Stanley makes last minute changes to the Rube Goldberg machine, which was unveiled on March 18.  (Peter Lozinski / Ryersonian Staff)

Project leader Derek Stanley makes last minute changes to the Rube Goldberg machine, which was unveiled on March 18. It will light up the CN Tower on March 26.
(Peter Lozinski / Ryersonian Staff)

Ryerson engineering students unveiled a machine on Tuesday that will help light up the CN Tower through a series of chain reactions.

It was built as part of an annual event, organized by the Engineering Student Societies’ Council of Ontario, to bring universities together to celebrate National Engineering Month. According to the ESSCO website, the

Rube Goldberg relay is intended to promote engineering as a profession and to demonstrate collaboration.

The Rube Goldberg machine, unveiled at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, is a contraption that relies on chain reactions similar to a giant marble maze, or a scaled-up version of the game “Mouse Trap.”

Each complicated gadget is made with everyday items to complete a simple task.

The machine is named after an American cartoonist and engineer who first drew cartoons depicting the complicated designs.

The province-wide event will see engineering schools across Ontario build similar machines — linked together by cellphones — to form a chain reaction relay.

The series of domino-like reactions will work together to light the tower purple, the colour of Ryerson engineering.

This year, Ryerson holds the position of honour. The group represents the last school in the relay, allowing Ryerson students to hit a button and finish the chain that will light up the 553-metre tower. The Ryerson contraption combines boxcutter blades, eletrical fires and even hockey puck plinko.

Derek Stanley, project leader and third-year engineering student, relied on a team of engineering peers, including first-year students, to create the machine. “All these first-years have come out. They’ve stayed for long hours for building,” he said.

Stanley is also getting support from the university’s administration. Ryerson is paying for all of the materials used in construction of the device.

He said while building the machine can be lots of fun, the experience is also filled with frustration.

“They are not always reliable,” Stanley said. “Some of the steps (are) so complex there can be a lot of things that go wrong in-between. It all depends on how things hit, how each step reacts to the step before it.”

McMaster students Zehong Cao and Archie Naik have also run into trouble helping build their university’s leg of the relay.

The first-year students worked with a group of high school students from Orchard Park Secondary School in Hamilton. Their machine uses dominoes, marbles, balloons and floppy disks to complete the chain reaction.

“We had to fix a lot of things,” Cao said, stating that every time they had a stage completed, they would fiddle too much and mess it up. “We kept touching it.”

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy came by during the construction of the Ryerson machine to check up on its progress.

He laughed as Stanley demonstrated how the machine will work.

“Wow, cool stuff, neat stuff. Congratulations,” he told the students, ending the tour with handshakes. “Well done. I look forward to being here.”

The event will take place on March 26.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 19, 2014.

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