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Lang Bests Neo for 2.007 Title With Asteroid Shove at Buzzer

By Rima Arnaout


“Tell us how you feel!”


“Favorite equation?”


That was the response Kevin R. Lang ’02 gave to host Professor Alex H. Slocum seconds after winning the final round of the 2.007 contest, known this year as “Sojourner This!” Professor of Physics Walter H. G. Lewin would be proud.

After two days of elimination rounds, and Jock Jams performed by MIT’s Marching Band, Lang and Lincoln Neo ’02 reached the final round. Neo’s machine was designed to push balls on the obstacle course into his hole. 2.007 contestants scored points based on the total weight of objects -- balls, pucks, and a basketball-sized “asteroid” -- deposited in their respective holes.

Lang’s machine had two parts: the major part pushed balls into his hole, while the second, smaller part drove towards the opponent’s hole with a wire grating in tow. When the small machine fell into the opponent's hole, it would cover the hole with the grating, making it impossible for the opponent to score points.

Lang’s strategy had worked well in previous rounds, but in the final Neo anticipated Lang’s action and headed off the smaller machine on its way to Neo’s hole. It looked like Neo had won, but then Lang was able to get the asteroid into his hole while Neo’s machine was busy. The asteroid was heavy enough to win Lang the contest.

“It was almost too close -- I mean, if the contest were scripted, this would seem like a really contrived, made-for-TV ending,” Lang said.

After he won, Slocum ran over and scooped up the 6’ 4” Lang and ran with him around the stage.

When asked what he eats for breakfast to be able to carry contestants around, Slocum replied “I just maximize sugar intake. Sugar and carbs.”

Slocum also draws energy from “the absorption from the galactic energy ether bucket. When students get excited then you get excited ... it’s the thermonuclear geek-fusion process.”

Carpeting speeds up contest

This was the first year that the contest course had carpeting, which “allowed the motors to utilize more torque,” Slocum said.

Normally there’s a lot of wheel spinning, but this year the carpets enabled the machines to engage in more high speed action and to push heavier loads. “Students really got to see more than ever that all the mechanics and physics and all of those happy subjects actually have a purpose,” he said.

This year, contestants also get to keep their machines for the first time. “Every year before this year, you recycled your machines: you took out the motors, recycled all the metal and all the parts that are left over,” Lang said.

Slocum, 2.007 professor and six-time host of the contest says that 2.007 is a unique and valuable experience. “The course incites passion and ownership from the students and the staff,” Slocum said. “Learning is automatic ... no pain is involved, unless you watch your machine rip itself apart if you didn’t do the calculations properly.”

“There’s really no other class like it at MIT, at least in Course II,” Lang said. “It’s cool that you have so much freedom in terms of going anywhere with your design.”

Driving acumen key to victory

“We started actual design as soon as class started back in February,” Lang said. “I started building back during spring break and was building nonstop until the contest.”

“With a good machine, driving should only be like 25 to 30 percent” of the contest, while the rest it up to its design, Lang said. “With my machine, it was more like 50-60 percent. I was lucky to have a good co-driver. Before every round, Oren [Bernstein ’02] and I would plan out a strategy for a particular opponent.”

Bernstein, Lang’s co-driver, made it to the quarterfinals and will be one of the six 2.007 winners to participate in the International Design Contest in Singapore this summer.

Lang, Neo, third and fourth-place Michael Roberts and Albert Leja, as well as alternates Bernstien and Mark Jeunette, will also attend the IDC.

Six students each from the U.S., Japan, Germany, England, France, Brazil, and South Korea will be organized into international teams. The teams will then have two weeks to design a machine to perform in a contest.