Something you may not know about Chicago Children’s Museum, is that we create, design and build many of the components in our exhibits, in house. One such creation is The Launchinator! CCM’s very own catapult.
Matt Nicholas, a lead preparator at the museum, explained that the idea to build a catapult came along during preparations for our Summer Launch themed programming two years ago. The exhibits team had already designed and built small catapults to be used in the Great Hall as part of the No-Name Game, a program where visitors could invent and play their own game. And it occurred to Matt, what if we made a bigger version of these catapults? A MUCH BIGGER version.
Everyone was immediately onboard, and so the preparators got to work.
The first decision they had to make was what kind of catapult to build? They decided to make a torsion style catapult, as this used the same science to launch things into the air as the miniature game versions.
Now with the larger scale, came bigger problems: the arm, the basket, and the actual mechanism inside of the catapult. Once they had the basic frame down, much of the design was perfected through trial and error.
The basket was a whole project unto itself. The original design featured a wooden basket. The problem with this was that during testing, the basket would come loose, splinter and was generally not safe. The preparators prototyped different materials as well as different basket shapes, to make sure that the final product would be safe and capable of launching whatever we could come up with clear across the Great Hall.
The whole process from inception, construction, testing, to the final product, took about a month. And when they were done, they brought us THE LAUNCHINATOR!
In the past we have launched rubber bouncy balls, foam comets, streamers and even a stuffed animal moose!