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Modeling The Mouse Trap Car

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.870.1 - 7.870.11



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Paper Authors

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Clark Merkel

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Session 2793

Modeling the Mouse Trap Car

Clark T. Merkel, Mechanical Engineering Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Abstract: Most students have the ability to build a car powered by a mouse trap. However, a typical student who has completed their sophomore dynamics course will still have trouble modeling and analyzing their design. This paper presents a structure to aid in completing the modeling and analysis of a mouse trap car project. It discusses a twelve step design process that could be provided to students to guide them through difficulties with the design analysis before they start building.

Introduction: I have used the design and construction of a mouse/rat trap race car as a team design project to cap a course in dynamics. Students enthusiastically embrace this project. Why is that? Just like their instructors, they like to build things. Just like their professors, they like to play with toys. It’s not hard to understand that if you have your students design and build a toy they get to test and play with, and make it a competitive event against other teams, you will have a project that the students can get excited to participate in.

However, after using this activity a number of times, it became apparent that the focus of the student efforts tended to be top heavy on the construction side and not focused enough on the design side. To compensate for this misplaced focus, the project format was changed to emphasize the design and communication component of the project. The major communication component added was a poster presentation of their car design in conjunction with the building of the model. The poster presentation was scheduled concurrently with the race competitions which are held during the last week of the class. The poster was to include requirements such as team information (team name and members), photos and/or drawings of their design/prototype, a list of safety measures to be followed when working with their car, and a complete analysis of the dynamic principles behind their design. In addition to forcing the students to formalize their design and analysis, these posters allowed the other students to examine other possible solutions to the same problem they were working on. This was a graded project where 80% of the grade is allocated to the poster, 15% to the construction and performance of the vehicle, and 5% to their group interaction and participation. While the construction and racing may have been the “fun part”, the design and communication of their work made up the majority of the student's project grade.

After running this projects for two semesters, it was found, that even after putting this emphasis on the design and analysis component, the sophomore students still had much difficulty with the modeling and analysis of the car. It became apparent that they had difficulty breaking the problem down into smaller tasks that they felt comfortable

“Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ã 2002, American Society for Engineering Education”

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Merkel, C. (2002, June), Modeling The Mouse Trap Car Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10371

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