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Busch Wins 2.70 Niagara Contest

By Dan McGuire
Associate News Editor

After several hours of stiff competition, Sami S. Busch '98 emerged the winner of this year's 2.70 design competition, held Tuesday night. Busch narrowly defeated Harvard University senior Ethan D. Maniatisin in the event's final round.

The narrow win goes to show that "we can teach anyone to be almost as good as we are," said Professor Alexander H. Slocum '82, who teaches the class. But "in the end, MIT nuked glutes," he said.

This year's contest marks a name change from previous years. The course, previously and still popularly referred to as 2.70, was renamed 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I) and its units increased from nine units to 12. "This is the old 2.70 with three extra units of happiness," Slocum said. The contest, however, is still called 2.70.

With their performances, Busch, Maniatisin, Megan M. Owens '98, Mads C. Schmidt '98, and two others earned trips to Munich, Germany, where this year's international design competition will be held. There they will join Japanese, Brazillian, and other college students in a machine design project.

Busch wins with long-arm design

The contest this year, Niagara Balls, required students to design machines that could gather as many ping pong balls as possible. Balls were released from cartridges held high above a playing table to begin the contest. The machine that put the most balls into a bin on its side of the table won.

Busch spent 80 hours designing and building his machine, which consisted of an arm that reached out into the flow of falling balls, caught them, and directed them into his bin. The design is an effective one, Busch said. "I think the arm design could have taken more [balls] than a car" that would try to gather balls by rolling after them around the field, he said.

Busch said he was surprised that he got so far in the contest. "I was happy I was in [the final] round," he said. The machine was "pretty marginal about a week ago."

Maniatisin, who is majoring in mechanical engineering at Harvard, cross-registered to take 2.007.

"I worked on it really hard," Maniatisin said. "I didn't think it was possible" to get so far, he said. "I was actually told that the contest would be sabotaged if went to the final round."

Slocum explained. "The Harvard folks have a very good science and math program" that stresses decision-making skills, he said. "It's just so much fun to make fun of them."

Harvard students returned the favor. Halfway through the competition, the lights in 26-100 were dimmed and the projection screen was lowered. Written on the screen was "And God said," followed by some mathematical formulae, and the words "and then there was Harvard." Students reacted with boos, except for the small Harvard crowd, which erupted in cheers.

Whatever the plan, 2.70 students design to win

Students used two fundamental design approaches: an arm to redirect the balls into the bin and a car to scoop them up and put them there.

"The arm is definitely the way to go if you can manufacture it," said Amy Banzhaf '98, a student in the class. But "It's really hard to make it work," she said.

"You have the ultimate strategy" -- an arm -- "competing with the ultimate reliability, which is a stout vehicle driving around," Slocum said. "It's very difficult to make a reliable arm."

"Most people are spending all day in the lab," said Indran Ratnathicam '98, who spent 100 hours building his machine. "Pretty much whenever the lab was open we were there," he said.

"I'm going to lose, so I'm going to ram my enemy," said Dennis J. Evangelista '97, whose machine was one of the first to be run. "I went pretty early on [in the qualifying rounds] and the crowd clapped because my [machine] didn't turn over," he said. During Monday night's qualifying rounds, a machine that lost was allowed to advance to the formal contest if the audience cheered enough.

Slocum called this year's crop of machines "double extra fantastic," something which he attributed to this year's use of the well-equipped Pappalardo Laboratory in Building 3 and the practice in machining tools that most students got from participating in an engine competition held during Independent Activities Period.