Students design, build educational toy for children's museum

The bubble tower was designed by Grand Valley engineering students. Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Children's Museum.
The bubble tower was designed by Grand Valley engineering students. Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Children's Museum.
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Children visiting the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum are playing with a new educational tool designed and constructed by engineering students from Grand Valley State University. 

The project began when Jan Stone, exhibit and community relations manager for GRCM, approached the School of Engineering last year seeking assistance in replacing their more than 10-year-old bubble tower. “We have more than 150,000 visitors each year and most of them use the bubble tower, so it was time to find a new one,” she said. “A lot of engineering calculations go into making these devices, so I contacted Grand Valley.”

In January 2011, engineering professor Wael Mokhtar assigned two groups of senior students the task of developing the new bubble tower, which was completed in August.

One requirement for the new bubble tower was to have it be wheelchair accessible. “This could very well be the first bubble tower in the nation that is wheelchair accessible; I’ve never seen one before,” Stone said. “The students had so much knowledge of materials we didn’t know existed. They knew what they were doing.”

Communicating with Stone and others from the museum in layman terms then receiving feedback and translating into technical terms was a challenge for students, explained Mokhtar. “That’s what it is like in the working world, though, so it was a great opportunity [for the students] to experience what it’s like to work with a client,” he said.

Stone explained that the bubble tower touches on many subtle, but important nuances that are important for a child’s development. “There are pulleys attached, so kids are experiencing how simple machines operate,” she said. “The bubbles themselves are a simple chemical solution and you can tell they are experimenting with what works and what doesn’t work when the bubbles pop.”