Students win Intel/Trail Blazers T-shirt launcher challenge

Arlington High School students Ty Davies (holding blue bag), Evan Poeling, Donny Haney, Ethan Weiser, Jessica Mundy and Ginger Evans practice with their award-winning T-shirt launcher last Friday at the Rose Garden in Portland.<br><I>Photo contributed by Alan Cunningham

Victory was sweet for members of Arlington High School's technology program last Friday as they shot T-shirts in the crowd at the Rose Garden during a Trail Blazers game with their winning T-shirt launcher.

As part of the Intel/Trail Blazers Engineering Challenge, the Arlington team had three months to create a T-shirt launcher that was creative and could shoot T-shirts into the upper rows of the Rose Garden arena without breaking any noses.

"We couldn't invoke the true meaning of 'nose bleed section,'" said science teacher Alan Cunningham, known to all at Arlington High School as "Mr. C."

Arlington was the overall winner of the engineering challenge, in which nine Oregon schools competed. All the schools worked for three months on the project and got help from Intel technology mentors.

In November, the teams submitted a paper on their projects, along with photos and an optional YouTube video. Three winners were chosen - one each for creativity, range and overall excellence.

The Arlington team won the overall category because of its enthusiasm, teamwork and awesome results, said Intel Community Relations Manager Laura Bain.

"They did everything well and went above and beyond everyone else," Bain said. To facilitate collaboration between the teams, Intel set up a wiki program online that allowed students from different schools to interact.

"They were very involved on the site," she said. "I got to sit back and watch Arlington jump in and help other schools with their designs or problems they were having."

For example, Bain said, Arlington students shared information about certain types of PVC piping that would not hold up under high pressure.

Bill MacKenzie, the communications manager for Intel Oregon corporate affairs, visited Arlington High School last month.

"The kids are just so incredibly enthusiastic," he said. "They took me out to demonstrate their project, shooting T-shirts and other items out into the football field ... I was just really impressed by their ingenuity."

The Arlington team's first launchers shot marshmallows - "They're biodegradable, don't go very far and don't cause a lot of damage," Cunningham said.

They experimented with different types of valves and loading mechanisms, eventually settling on a piston valve, as opposed to an earlier version of the launcher that featured a sprinkler valve.

To analyze a T-shirt's tumble and impact, they borrowed a camera from Insitu, Inc. that could take 2,000 frames per second.

For quick shooting, the team settled on a breach-loaded design, much like a bolt-action rifle. This innovation allowed the team's launcher to be one of the fastest, able to shoot a T-shirt every 10 seconds.

"We went through three different prototypes, two of them working with sprinkler valves, and one of them actually blew up on us," said Ethan Weiser, a senior.

It was their Intel mentor, Randy Fullman, who helped the team make the leap to a piston valve, Weiser said.

"Working with him we all learned that (air) going around 90-degree angles was not the best idea because you create pressure points. A piston valve is better because you force air to shoot out in one direction," Weiser said.

Even though the team knew their launcher was one of the better ones, he said, they were still shocked to win.

All of the teams got a chance to launch T-shirts into the crowed during the Trail Blazers Friday game with the Los Angeles Clippers. But Arlington, as the winning team, was invited back onto the court during the second time-out in the fourth quarter.

"Even if we had lost, it still would have been fun for us," said Ty Davies, a sophomore.

Davies said he helped design the launcher and figure out how much air volume was needed to get the T-shirt out of the barrel.

The project was so fun, said Davies, and his robotics class was so "amazing," he has even rethought his career plans adding "I think it's actually very possible that I'll get into robotics or engineering."

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