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By Lisa Moore
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
What started out as one student’s idea for an extra credit physics project grew into a potential world-record-breaking feat. Cole Smith, a Wellesley High School Senior, was looking for an idea for a physics extra credit project when he thought about making a kinetic ball machine using K’Nex building pieces he had at his home. Cole started working on the project, and with the help of some fellow students, built a structure about 10 feet tall. After completing the extra credit project, Cole started to wonder what the world record was for the tallest kinetic ball machine built entirely out of K’Nex. After doing some research, he noted that the tallest kinetic ball machine made of K’Nex pieces was approximately 24 feet tall. “I thought that was impressive, but beatable. I have a ton of K’Nex pieces and thought it would be really cool to beat a world record,” he said.
After dismantling his physics project, Cole started to think about design plans for a new, taller machine. Several other students got involved in different stages of the project. Soon, plans were drawn and building commenced. For over four months, the students worked at building and perfecting their structure. After realizing a need for more K’Nex pieces to complete the larger structure, Cole and his build team started taking donations of old K’Nex sets from friends and neighbors. While the donations helped their cause, they would not be enough for the plans Cole had. Consequently, he contacted K’Nex manufacturers directly, who in turn donated more pieces for the project. A Go Fund Me campaign started by Cole brought in an additional $780 in donations, which were used to purchase more K’Nex pieces. In total, Cole and his team of builders constructed a 43-foot-four-inch tall kinetic ball machine out of 12000 pieces of K’Nex building pieces. The entire structure weighs in at about 90 pounds.
After fixing a mild setback a day before the unveiling (the 87-foot chain broke and had to be rebuilt), the feat was completed. At the unveiling in the WHS auditorium, the machine was plugged in and a small crowd of onlookers assembled to watch the potential world record-breaking feat in action. Five balls started their journey at the base of the structure and rode up on a conveyor belt over 43 feet. The structure that was constructed on the stage in the WHS auditorium towered many feet above the catwalk. The assembled crowd watched the five balls take about seven minutes to complete a round trip from the base of the structure up the conveyor belt and back down through a series of ramps before returning to the base to start the cycle again. The machine is electrically powered and based on mathematical simulations, the team estimates that the design they created could conceivably be built to over 200 feet high and still maintain its structural integrity. Plans like that would call for a lot more pieces, though, and budget constraints prevented the team from building past the current mark of over 43 feet.
While the team waits to hear back from officials at the Guinness Book of World Records for the official word on whether their structure has indeed broken the world record, they continue to make minor adjustments to perfect the design and are enjoying the success of their creation. The group hopes to possibly showcase their structure at a local museum, like the Museum of Science or the Boston Children’s Museum. They have also discussed using the pieces they have collected to start a K’Nex building group in Boston, where they could combine resources with other builders to construct even larger structures.