Mixture Of Art, Physics Yields Functional Toys

March 20, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

In Martha Holshue's cluttered, busy art room at Howard High School, Steven Koziol and Cassie Thomas are debating whether their "Spooky goround" needs a pivot weight.

Which just shows that you can put a physics student into art class, but you can't stop him -- or her -- from thinking about toys in terms of balance, kinetic energy and motion.

"We just thought it would be neat to do something with harmonic motion, something as close to being perpetual (motion) as we can do with our present knowledge," says Steven, 16, a junior physics student.

When the toy is finished, it will look like a Maypole with strings stretching down to a circular platform at the base. Riding on the platform are a witch, a ghost, a black cat and a jack o' lantern.

Cassie, 16, a junior and a physics student, explains that when the toyis wound, the platform rises to the top of the pole. Released, the platform will spin down the pole and back up again -- "if it works right," she says.

The way the two students approached the design and construction of their toy is just what Holshue and physics teacher Donald Lewis hoped for when they started the project that brought together art and physics students four years ago.

Holshue got the idea when she looked at projects like toothpick bridges and decided they could use an artistic touch. "It was two of the most unlikely courses in school to bring together perhaps. But when you get out in the working fields, it's not just the technical quality, it's the aesthetics," she says.

She approached her colleague about a joint project. Physics students would be graded on making toys that work, art studentson making the toys attractive. The toys would be made of wood and could not be powered by motors or batteries.

Lewis, now a resource teacher at Mount Hebron High School, says he saw in the idea "a way physics could be made more real and meaningful to the students, to takeit out of the classroom."

The joint project got crowded out of the schedule last school year, but this year Holshue approached physicsteacher Mary Ratcliffe, who was receptive.

First semester physicsis primarily mechanics, which gives students the background they need for toy construction, Ratcliffe says. The general physics course covered such principles as torque, acceleration and the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy.

When the project ends, studentschoose different fates for their toys.

Cassie would like the toy she and Steven built preserved for posterity. "Hopefully, it'll get to stay there and be an example for other physics students," she says.

Greg Yancey, 17, a senior physics student, plans to take home theworld's first "Greg Yancey Action Boy." Wires and screw eyes make the arms, legs and waist movable, but it's the toy's exterior that is, as the students say, "awesome."

Greg's clone sports a black-and-white striped zoot suit -- "the painting is the hardest part; I can't make a straight line" -- silvered sunglasses and a stylish flattop haircut. Greg plans to arm the action toy with a sword or a gun.

Jim Frantz, 17, a junior art student, and John Duffy, 17, a junior takingboth art and physics, plan to give their penguin push toy to art teacher Elizabeth Barillaro, a new mother.

A bent axle inside makes the penguin raise his cane as the wheels, mounted on coat-hanger wire,roll along the floor.

Jim and John met the challenge of the toy'smechanics. But their description of grooving out the inside of the penguin with a hand chisel is a chilling tale -- "There was blood all over." "Yeah, and guts spilling out."

The wind-powered toy constructed by senior art student Kristie Gerwig; Wayne Miles, a senior physics and art student; and senior physics student James Green, requiredhelp from industrial arts teacher Robert Marshall.

Marshall taught Wayne to use a lathe to turn a spindle that is the base for the wind toy. Kristie explains that paddles mounted on a platform will catchthe wind, giving a free ride to the bird, rabbit and mouse on the platform.

"It's kind of interesting because you don't realize how hard it is," Kristie says. "It looked easy in the book, but it was hardto do." Balance was the major problem. The first version of the platform, off balance, did not rotate.

Paul Bachmann, 17, a senior physics student, took a purist approach to the red convertible with black ragtop and interior that he and physics student Kathy Bielat, 17, asenior, are building.

"We want to make the point that there is nothing artificial in this toy," Paul says.

Kathy explains that a bent axle made of coat-hanger wire will raise the headlights with each revolution of the wheel. The steering wheel will turn but will not rotate the car's wheels. It's hard to make a rotating axle with wood, Paul says.

Kathy won the right to take the car home because she putin more work on it. "And besides," she says, "I wanted it."

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