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03-04-1999

Racquetball Invention Designed By Clarkson University Students To Be Featured In Smithsonian Exhibit

An invention designed by Clarkson University students will be one of 16 featured at the nation's premier museum of American history, invention and culture.

The third annual "March Madness for the Mind" takes place Thursday, March 11, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The one-day exhibit will feature the most promising prototypes of 16 teams of student inventors.

Clarkson's student-designed innovation is called the Racquetball Practice Partner, or RaPPy for short. The prototype stands about two feet high, by 20 inches wide by two feet long, and shoots racquetballs at an estimated speed of 70 miles an hour, allowing enthusiasts to practice their game even if they don't have a partner available.

The project, started in the fall of 1996 Integrated Design class, was the idea of the class instructor, Dr. Eric F. Thacher, associate professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

There were three design teams, said Thacher, who serves as project adviser to the students. "Each built a different RaPPy. We had a competition in a racquetball court. One team elected to keep on with it."

Interns in the summer of 1997 picked up where the original group of eight left off. The current group- Kevin T. Campbell (senior, electrical and computer engineering, Hartland, VT), Justin R. Frisch (junior, mechanical and aeronautical engineering, New London, CT) Colin D. Gallagher (senior, mechanical and aeronautical engineering, Trumansburg, NY), Eric Laribee (senior, mechanical and aeronautical engineering, Lowville, NY), Craig Neitzke (senior, mechanical and aeronautical engineering, Potsdam, NY,) and Jeff J. Spitzlei (senior, interdisciplinary engineering and management, Green Pond, NJ) -- is working on what will become the newest RaPPy prototype. All share a common bond. "We have found that most students working on the project have a fondness for playing racquetball, and would eventually like to see such a device in use," said Neitzke. Like many others, I have joined for this same reason."

But creating a RaPPy prototype has had its ups and downs, said Neitzke. "During the design, construction and testing phases we've experienced a few minor setbacks like any other product would, but we have always worked hard to correct and overcome these issues. However... there still is nothing like seeing the what you've worked so hard on, perform as expected in its intended surroundings for the first time."

The RaPPy project has been fodder for students in electrical engineering classes, as well as mechanical engineering classes, and independent study, he said. "For example, the current design group consists solely of mechanical engineering students and is functioning as part of the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department's two-semester capstone sequence, Integrated Design I & II. In earlier stages we had electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and marketing groups in the project. The marketing students did a consumer benefit analysis, among other things. The engineering students worked on the electrical and mechanical design and construction."

Neitzke said today's marketplace wants employees who are not just smart, but have experience in working in a team and possess interpersonal skills. The RaPPy project, he said, fills the bill on both counts.

With projects like the RaPPy, students are given the opportunities to gain these experiences and skills. Having the RaPPy appear on your resume is a big seller. Students who have worked on the RaPPy and have interview with companies always come back saying that the project was a major topic of discussion during the interview.

Both Neitzke and Thacher are pleased that the University and its students will be represented at the Smithsonian.

Added Thacher. "It gives the students an opportunity to network and to get some positive feedback from the public."

March Madness for the Mind is sponsored by the Lemelson Center, which is based at the National Museum of American History in Washington. The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) Exhibition is administered by the Lemelson National Program at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. The exhibition is part of the annual meeting of the NCIIA, held March 11-13 at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, Va. The NCIIA provides grant support to colleges around the country for the creation of student invention teams (called "E-Teams" for excellence and entrepreneurship), courses, projects, networking opportunities, and resources for faculty and student innovators. It funds E-teams whose work is likely to result in the licensing of new products or technologies, or the start up of entrepreneurial ventures.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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