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Wayne High School New Tech Academy’s contraption for the Chain Reaction Challenge

TekVenture attracts creative chain reactions

Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Toby Watson, 4, clings to his father, Christer Watson, as a storm trooper approaches them during the Chain Reaction Challenge on Saturday morning at the downtown Allen County Public Library.

– “Stars Wars” has fascinated several generations, and many know Luke Skywalker’s father. But only in this galaxy does Darth Vader get run over by Yoda in a Lamborghini.

Engineers of all ages used the force for good in the sixth annual TekVenture’s Chain Reaction Challenge on Saturday at the downtown Allen County Public Library.

This year’s theme was “May the force (of gravity) be with you.”

Seventeen teams had to build a contraption that went through a number of chain reactions with enough energy to lift a golf ball one inch off the ground.

The machines were judged and awarded in eight categories, including the Judges’ Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award, tabulated by votes given during the day. At the end of the day, all of the machines were connected to create a large chain reaction from beginning to end.

TekVenture is a nonprofit organization whose focus is to offer the space, tools and materials needed for human innovation. The annual challenge draws attention to the organization as it temporarily resides at the downtown library.

“One of our main objectives in setting up the chain reaction is to get the community excited about inventing things and creating things by using tools to solve problems,” said Greg Jacobs, president of TekVenture. “All of these chain reaction machines require a lot of engineering problems to be solved.”

Teams like Yoda on a Lambo went with the “Star Wars” theme.

The team’s machine powered a toy car that went around a track and launched a mouse trap. The mouse trap sent enough energy to shoot a Yoda figurine in a toy car – the team called it a Lamborghini – across the top of their machine and knock off a Darth Vader figurine.

The machine began as an engineering design project for IPFW students, and they decided to turn it in for the challenge. Team member Patrick Lothamer said they started the machine over spring break in March and finished it nearly nine hours before the competition. The team won first place in the “Whimsical Wonder” and “Survivor” categories for their surprising finale and reliable machine.

“It’s been a lot fun,” Lothamer said. “And being able to see all these projects is really cool.’

The People’s Choice Award was won by Team Something Awesome from New Tech Academy at Wayne High School. The team took a different approach with the “force of gravity” theme by placing an Isaac Newton figure under a tree. The machine goes through a series of steps of weights, marbles and strings to pull a toy apple off his head. Team member Aubrey Powell said they knew they wanted Newton to be the finale, but the challenge was getting it to the final point.

“We participated last year, and we knew we wanted to do it again,” Powell said. “It’s just really hard to get all your ideas set out. If you have one big idea, you have to work off that and put things together.

Scott Rizzo, leader of the team Return of the Rizzo, was one of the few people to participate who was not a student. As an IT manager with a degree in electrical engineering, Rizzo said he was at the event for fun.

Rizzo has participated in the challenge every other year since the second annual chain reaction challenge. His machine featured starships criss-crossing on string that were set off by a set of marbles with a sign that lights up above his contraption.

His design was enough for the judges to give him the Theme Award. Besides the number of awards he has collected, Rizzo said the challenge is really a way to keep sharp.

“I like the engineering challenge,” Rizzo said. “You have to think about things you normally don’t think about.”