SCI-TECH III Pneumatic Classroom v. 5.0


Photo by Allison Weidemann


With all the fascinating stuff on this blog about rivets, building codes, and bay windows, one of the most-viewed posts remains last year’s report on our SCI-TECH class’ Pneumatic Classroom lab.  So here’s this year’s version.

The weather this week was pretty amazing for central Iowa, so we decided that the lab would take place outdoors (despite predictions for 20 mile an hour winds, which fortunately never materialized). (Actually that would have been a pretty spectacular demonstration of some lateral principles).  The problem, as always, is to construct a classroom for the 25 students using lightweight plastic painter’s drop cloths, a fan, and some duct tape.  The results are always weirdly compelling, and the problems faced in such a seemingly simple problem drive home issues of energy consumption (do we need the big fan once the bubble is up?) and serviceability (hey, did someone kick out the extension cord?  It feels pretty small in here all of a sudden…)


Photo by Allison Weidemann


This is the last lab in our graduate students’ structures sequence, so there’s a bit of an elegiac quality to the event for me–but almost certainly not for them.  The pedagogy here is admittedly light, and we’re basically in it to do something a bit off the wall and certainly something that will attract attention.  There’s usually a mad rush to get things taped up–and then often untaped–as the thing inflates, and the weird, often anthropomorphic nature of the bubble makes for some obvious (and sometimes pretty off color) cracks.




Photo by Allison Weidemann


So here’s this year’s bubble.  Well done, M.Arch. class of 2012–the largest pneu classroom yet, the first outdoor one, and (thanks to some wise material selection on their part) the first biodegradable version.  Back to rivets or something equally steampunky next week…

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