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A team from Cambridge Design Partnership recently took part in Cambridge Science Centre’s Chain Reaction event, where teams of children, parents, schools and companies plan and build contraptions that link together to form a working ‘chain’ of mechanisms and gadgets. The theme was Destination Space in anticipation of British astronaut Tim Peake’s launch to the International Space Station this week. And so hundreds of entrants built an assortment of crazy contraptions from ducks in flying saucers to space railways; a particular favourite I noticed was a Newton’s Cradle of planets.

A group of engineers from CDP were delighted to take part as both sponsors and STEM Ambassadors, and were tasked with creating a finale. We chose to replicate the solar system using a Coanda effect driven orrery. The planet earth was represented by a beach ball which orbited the sun (a larger beach ball), held captive by the impressively stable levitating powers of an everyday leaf blower. Orbital period was defined by the speed of the motor and the circumference of a converted bike wheel. However this alone wasn’t enough for us ambitious engineers, so we also built a countdown clock, encouraging children on the day to help us by illustrating the numbers. It provided a countdown for the four rockets: a compressed air rocket, a liquid CO2 rocket, a solid fuel rocket and finally a gravity-driven rocket built by our friends at the Science Centre.

Check out the short slo-mo film of our model rocket blasting off, in a practice run before the event.

These were of course highly engineered solutions, with launch platforms made of K’nex, repurposed from one of our team’s (extensive) collections and mousetrap powered triggers.

During the day we also found the time to wander around the hands-on science demonstrators usually housed at the Science Centre, and checked out what other teams were creating with their builds. We even took along some demonstrators of the Coanda effect (ping pong ball and straws), which went down very well with the kids; lots of them kept coming back to have another go.

All in all, it was a fantastic and inspiring day which we felt lucky to be involved in. We owe a lot of thanks to the team at Cambridge Science Centre for being helpful both on the day and during the build-up. Having attended the event twice now, I can definitely say that it is well appreciated by parents, children and corporate teams like ours! The excitement on the day surpasses any other science event I have been to, even the Science Museum in London! Now we have to start planning another crazy contraption, and work out how we can top our rocket solar system next year!

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