University of Southampton Malaysia Campus students win first place in mousetrap car competition
Can a model car powered by a mousetrap accelerate quickly?
Nearly 100 university students attempted to tackle this task but it was the first year engineering students of the University of Southampton Malaysia Campus who made the best mousetrap car during the Mechanical Career Fair (MECAF) Competition organised by the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia on April 27.
The winning team composed of Woon Tyen Likh, Ow Zheng Yang, and Lee Kean Wee created a mousetrap car with a very unassuming exterior but performed remarkably by covering a distance of 2 metres in 1.16 seconds.
In addition, another Southampton team composed of first year mechanical students Lim Si Zhe, Weldon Wong Kai Yoong, and Jayewardene Vinura Rogitha, won third place in the competition.
Secrets of winning a mousetrap car
Building a vehicle that will travel an 8-metre distance through obstacles in the shortest amount of time was the team’s main objective. Adding to the challenge was the fact that their car had to be powered solely by a standard-sized mousetrap provided by the competition organisers.
“All of the competing teams used the same mousetrap. The mousetrap’s spring cannot be altered or heat treated,” said Tyen Likh, a mechanical engineering student. “Designing and creating something unique using very similar specs was a real challenge for us.’’
Based on the contest’s objectives, the team made some careful design considerations which involved adjustments with the mousetrap’s lever, the vehicle’s wheel, as well as choosing balsa wood, a material used for glider planes, for its mainframe.
“The length of the lever is an important aspect in whether the car is suitable for distance or speed,’’ explains Kean Wee, a mechanical engineering student. “In our case, a shorter lever arm was the best way to adapt a mousetrap car for speed.”
For the vehicle to pick up speed, the team had to wrap its rear wheels in rubber material. Since cost was also factored in the design, the team repurposed readily-available materials such as old ballpoint pens, glue, shoe laces, as well as the balloons used recently at the university’s open day
“People at the student office were a bit bewildered every time we asked for a few of those rubber balloons,” Kean Wee chuckled. “Gladly, the university staff always gave us what we needed.”
In the end, the team spent RM25 for the model car.
“Our earlier experiments were unsuccessful,” confessed Zheng Yang, an aeronautics student. “We worked for several days to find out how short we can get the lever while maintaining control of the car as well as which string would give the best performance. In one of our many trials, the car’s dowels snapped.”
Looking back, moving forward
Although the competition just happened last week, the boys are now back at their usual fare, preparing for the upcoming exams. Nevertheless, all three students agree that they would be joining more competitions in the near future.
“Competitions such as this make us bond and bring our ideas together into work,” reflected Kean Wee. “It’s great to have these opportunities to apply what we’ve learned from our lectures.”
“Did you know that we almost didn’t make it in this contest?” piped in Tyen Likh. Apparently, the team applied right on the closing date and were initially rejected. However, by sheer luck, they managed to get in as the organisers made a last-minute decision to increase its contest participants.
“In hindsight, it was an exhausting period but all these challenges only kept us more excited to push boundaries. In the end, we realised that through winning, there’s still so much more to learn,” Zheng Yang concluded.