Be the Hamster - Make: Community
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Be the Hamster

By Joe Donoughe

I have created an 8' tall hamster wheel, that when a kid gets in it and start running, it grinds up ice to make a snow cone.

Type: Education


State: Florida
Country: United States
Affiliation: None

What inspired you or what is the idea that got you started?

A few years ago, my curiosity led me to start experimenting with human-powered devices to get kids interested in STEM. I started with a treadle-powered wheel; the type found on older sewing machines, but, much bigger. It started out fantastic. The power was incredible. I quickly imagined all the possibilities of use. While my thoughts wandered, someone else took control of the treadle wheel, but with a less than perfect outcome. As it turned out, not everyone had the rhythm needed to keep the flywheel rotating. The wheel eventually slowed to a stop. Bummer. It failed. At that moment of perceived failure, one of the young onlookers said, "Goes to show you, some people can't walk and chew gum at the same time". After laughing along with the thinly veiled insult, reality struck. He was right. I determined that most people would have the ability to do one or the other. So, with that idea fresh in my mind, I built a 10' tall hamster wheel so that the task would be simplified. Just walk!

What is your project about and how does it work?

The human-powered hamster wheel went way beyond my expectations. It put science, engineering, art, and math, to work to create a fun, yet educational self-powered snow cone during the processes.
The individual places a cup on a chain-driven conveyor and advances the cup to the first operation. Here, the cup is raised to meet the ice grinder, ice is added to the grinder, and a train whistle is blown to get everyone's attention. The individual then enters the wheel, releases the safety brake, and starts running to shave the ice. Once the cup is filled, the individual advances the cup via the chain-driven conveyor to the "Hammer", to temper the top layer of ice. The cup then proceeds to the toppings section, where the colored flavorings are applied via showerheads, completing the snow cone. Everything is kid-powered and self-driven. There is no outside power source

What did you learn by doing this project?

I found the power of the words "That's cool but...". I call it the Big Butt just to get kids attention. If you see or hear of something cool, always say "That's cool but", and the magic happens. Everything can be made better. It can happen anywhere and everywhere. With this newfound tool, the possibilities to shine are endless. Simple ways to make things "more cool" is to embellish on an idea by getting other human senses involved. For instance, I think that all art should not only look good BUT, it should also smell good and taste good. I looked at the hamster wheel in the same way. I was moved to not only make it look good, BUT also sound good, and taste good. It was like hitting the Trifecta Sensory overload with stellar results.

What impact does your project have on others as well as yourself?

Last year, at a Makers Faire, an individual approached me and said, "Hey, remember me? I made a snow cone 5 years ago." He then reminded me that on that day many years ago. that I took him behind the scenes and shared all the details of the equipment. I shared my successes, failures, and motivational direction. His eyes were wide open. He was so inquisitive. He was a maker in the making. Our paths crossed with a purpose. Time would tell.
Now five years have passed. We meet again. He then proceeds to tell me that at that shared moment years ago, he was so moved, that he decided that he wanted to be a Maker too. He was now in his second year of college working towards an engineering degree. He thanked me ten times over. He claimed I gave him the kick in the butt to make it happen.
That was the best hug ever. That is why I do what I do.