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Destress With Giant Student-Made Rubik's Cube at U of Michigan

It’s hard enough to complete a two-inch Rubik’s Cube, let alone a 1,500-pound version.

A giant model of Ernõ Rubik’s colorful combination puzzle, installed on the University of Michigan’s North Campus, is believed to be the world’s largest (stationary) working example of the classic toy.

Designed and built by two teams of mechanical engineering undergrads over three years, the apparatus stands on the southwest corner of the second floor of the G.G. Brown Building.

“Now North Campus has an iconic cube of our own,” co-developer Ryan Kuhn said in a statement, alluding to the spinning Tony Rosenthal sculpture on U-M’s central campus.

The idea hit Samuelina Wright on Pi Day 2014; together with Martin Harris, Kelsey Hockstad, and Dan Hiemstra, she worked on the concept for two years, before graduating in 2016.

It turns out constructing an enormous Rubik’s Cube isn’t as easy as simply scaling up the traditional trinket. In an effort to minimize friction, engineers used a series of rollers and transfer bearings, making it possible to push and pull each set of blocks.

Fine-tuning was then handed off to Kuhn, Jason Hoving, and Doug Nordman, who continued the project to its completion.

“This is a truly amazing and unique kinematic mechanism that functions as a Rubik’s Cube,” Noel Perkins, mechanical engineering professor, and student advisor, said.

Since its invention in 1974, the 3D puzzle has become the world’s best-selling game, helping to promote mathematical thinking and problem-solving—similar to the U-M task itself.

“The project became a fusion of both art and engineering,” according to Wright, who now works at Boeing. “Much like North Campus, the cube’s home.”

A larger Rubik’s Cube does exist, but requires the user to “literally roll it on the ground to solve and rotate the faces,” Perkins said.

“None of that is required by our stationary design,” he added. “So to be very precise, it is the world’s largest stationary, human-manipulable Rubik’s Cube.”

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