Phineas and Ferb Go To MIT

Because of course they would.   This is what they built over summer vacation:

Pic by Rachel Davis, '15, click for link to blog

Pic by Rachel Davis, ’15, click for link to blog

It’s a 130-foot-long roller coaster!   Students at the East Campus dorm built it for a freshman introduction activity.   The above is one end, and here’s the other, where you actually climb up to the top:

Entry end of coaster

Entry end of coaster

Once up there, you ride one of these:


The red chair is a one person ride

It zooms down the plywood track, goes up and down over two bumps, zooms up the other side, and then rolls back again.  The chair has wheels on the top and bottom of the track to hold it on, and all riders wear motorcycle helmets.  Here’s a ride:

My friend Paul pointed me to this story about it in Boston magazine.  I got to see it in person last Friday, just when they were taking it apart.   Sadly, I didn’t get to ride, but a guy there said that about 400 people had.  Some quite obscene things had been painted on it, though, so these Millenial-generation students are not all about good clean fun.

A much smaller one was built in 2010, but the city of Cambridge shut it down for safety violations as soon as they heard about it.  This time the builders were careful to get permits and an inspection by a structural engineering firm.

One of the designers, Ben Katz, built a 1:60 scale 3D model of it during a summer job at a 3D printer startup, Formlab:

Photo by Formlabs' Zach Booth

Photo by Formlabs’ Zach Booth

This is way cooler than the things undergrads did in my day!   Why is that?  Maybe:

  • MIT has a much more diverse student body today.  There are a lot more women, naturally, but maybe more art people than straight-up technicals.
  • Students are probably richer, and so can afford $10,000 of material for a hack like this
  • There are better design techniques, like the 3D printing above
  • There’s a lot more DIY art out there now, like Burning Man and Makerfests.   Students grow up with that instead of Heathkits.

I wonder, though, if something bigger isn’t happening.  A project like this would take at least a dozen people to design and build, and would take months.   You couldn’t have gotten a dozen of us to agree on doing anything.   We were solitaries, not solidaries, and still are.   As in Milorad Pavic’s novel of 1990, “Landscape Painted With Tea”, we were much more like the self-directed idiorhythmic monks on Mount Athos rather than the communal cenobites.  Students these days already know about working in teams, know that cooperation is critical to accomplishment.  We had to learn that in course of our careers.   Yet if learning cooperation early lets young people build stuff like this, I’m all for it!

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