Massive Rubik's Cube installed on University of Michigan campus

You might be able to handle the handheld version, but can you spin a 1,500-pound Rubik's Cube and solve it?

Students at the University of Michigan will get a chance, thanks to a project by a group of engineering students.

The massive sculpture was unveiled today, in the southwest corner of the second floor of the G.G. Brown Building. It was imagined, designed and built by two teams of mechanical engineering undergraduate students over the course of three years.

The students had to figure out a movement mechanism that would allow people to spin the sides. They realized they couldn’t simply scale up the approach of a handheld cube because the friction would be too great. To keep friction minimal, they devised a setup that utilizes rollers and transfer bearings.

“This is a truly amazing and unique kinematic mechanism that functions as a Rubik's Cube,” said Noel Perkins, the Donald T. Greenwood collegiate professor of mechanical engineering and adviser to the students.

“There is no other human-manipulable cube like this, to the best of our knowledge. That said, it is not, technically, the largest cube. We're aware of a larger cube that requires the user to literally roll it on the ground to solve and rotate the faces. None of that is required by our stationary design. So to be very precise, it is the world's largest stationary, human-manipulable Rubik's Cube.”

The first group of students came up with the idea for the cube on Pi Day 2014. Martin Harris, who can solve one in 43 seconds, and Samuelina Wright, who can deconstruct one and reassemble it in a solved state, were hanging out in the college of engineering honors office. Harris was fiddling with his cube when Wright had a vision: What if they made a massive version as a nod to the central campus sculpture?

The two got approval to carry the idea forward as a capstone senior design project.

The first team of four students — Kelsey Hockstad, Dan Hiemstra, Harris and Wright — worked on it for two years and graduated in 2016. The cube still needed fine-tuning, as well as a stand. They convinced others — Jason Hoving, Ryan Kuhn and Doug Nordman — to continue the project. The original team stayed involved to guide them.

Harris, who works as an as an engineer for Herman Miller in Holland, Mich., has been intrigued by Rubik’s Cubes since childhood.

“The Rubik's Cube has been a consistent source of relaxation and mystery for me over the years, which is what I love most about it,” he said. “Since high school, I have thought of it as a physical representation of entropy. By inputting enough work, it's possible to make the cube more organized, but its natural tendency is toward chaos.”

This isn't the first cube to make an appearance at U-M.

“Now North Campus has an iconic cube of our own,” said mechanical engineering student and cube codeveloper Ryan Kuhn, referring to the spinning Tony Rosenthal sculpture on U-M’s central campus.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or djesse@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdavidj.

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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