Two teams of MIT alumni and students will compete tonight on "Junkyard Wars " in a race to design and build wind-powered sand-sailing vehicles. The show airs at 9 p.m. and midnight tonight and again on Sunday, June 16 at 6 p.m. on The Learning Channel.
The Geeks will battle the Quantum Mechanics--the first all-female team ever to compete on "Junkyard Wars"--to build "sand yachts" out of scrap metal and other detritus scrounged from a junkyard. The competitors have 10 hours to complete the job of designing and building a mobile, robust machine that can sail over land. The show works much like MIT's famed annual machine contest for students in 2.007 (Introduction to Design and Manufacturing), except for the contestants' vibrant jumpsuits and ever-present, ever-filming camera crew.
The Geek team captain, Thomas Massie, will be familiar to fans of 2.007. Massie (S.B. 1993), won the MIT contest in 1993 and went on to found SensAble Technologies. He also won the Lemelson-MIT student prize for inventiveness and the 1995 MIT $10K Entrepreneurship Competition, both in 1995. His hobbies include drag racing. Rounding out the team are Rony Kubat (S.B. 2001), who lives and works in France, and Rhett Creighton, a senior in nuclear engineering.
Speaking of the "Junkyard" experience, Massie declared, "It was 2.007 cubed! Imagine building a 2.007 machine that you have to
ultimately ride in and having only 10 hours to do so. And we got to keep the jumpsuits--they're awesome. Rhett called them 'super-hero costumes.' I wore mine to work once already."
The Quantum Mechanics are all MIT alumnae. Leila Hasan (S.B. 2000, M.Eng.) plays Balinese music and enjoys building electronic and nonelectronic musical instruments, kinetic sculptures and robots. Danielle Smith (S.B. 2002) enjoys classic car restoration, skeet shooting and quilting. Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli (S.B. 1994) is a postdoctoral researcher at the Media Lab. The former radio DJ enjoys drawing, photography, hiking and watching Kung Fu movies. She has also published articles on semiconductor nanocrystals and biological antennas.
At dawn, "Junkyard Wars" contestants are assigned a guest expert and informed of the day's mission, which could be to build anything from a giant drill to a hydrofoil or even a street-sweeper. Teams have until sunset to design and build a working machine with all the tools they want and all the parts they can find in an actual junkyard. All scavenging, design and construction work stops after 10 hours.
At sunup the next day, the two teams compete to see whose machine is a metallic masterpiece. The victors win only the respect of their peers and a trophy made of, yes, more junk. Hosts Cathy Rogers and Tyler Harcott give viewers the play-by-play as the teams design their creations, scramble for parts and try to piece them together.
In addition to following the competition, the show reveals the physics and mechanics behind the machines, taking viewers aside for quick lessons in everything from lift-and-drag to air velocity and trajectories. Experts explain the problems that the teams face and diagram possible solutions, so viewers get insight into the basics of how complex machines work.
The judge for "Sand Yachts" is Bob Dill, a manufacturing engineer from Burlington, Vt., and president of the North American Land Sailing Association. He and a friend share the world record for the fastest land yacht (116.7 mph), breaking the previous record set in 1977 at 88 mph by Nord Embroden. Embroden himself is the expert for the Quantum Mechanics. He is an instructor of industrial education at Victor Ride College and California State University. He enjoys land sailing and teaches snowboarding in the winter.
Dennis Bassano of Santa Cruz, Calif., serves as expert for the Geeks. He owns Bassano Racing and Bassano Plumbing and holds the National Landsailing Championship in two classes.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 12, 2002.