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Fun science at the exhibit hall

An “energy-saving” Rube Goldberg house.

By Margaret Harris

For the past two days the conference exhibit hall has been full of both regular conference-goers and also parents and children attending “Family Science Days”. I wasn’t able to catch the full show at the “Physics Van” yesterday, and I’m not even sure what the giant inflatable shark near the hall entrance was supposed to do, but I did happen to pitch up at this energy-saving house just in time to watch it in action.

The house was built by members of the Glenbrook South High School science club, and it’s designed to show people just how “easy” it is to switch from incandescent bulbs to LED lights — by making the switch in the most complicated way possible. I grew up calling such things Rube Goldberg machines, but I’m told that the British term is “Heath Robinson contraptions”. Great minds think alike, or something.

Whatever the name, the result was impressive: there were trains running down slopes, propellers spinning into things, bowling balls lumbering along tracks and fizzy-drink cans catapulting through the air — and yes, the LED light came on at the end of it. Club leader Dan Uhler and team members Max Frotheringham and Liam Ennis talked me through its operation afterwards, and Uhler told me they’d been generating ideas for the house since Christmas. All in all, it was a fine demonstration of physics in action — and although everyone on the team told me they want to study engineering, I guess there’s still time for them to change their minds.

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