“Pure Genius”—I’m Moving on Up: Engineering an Elevator

Bobby Miller

Nvate Big Brain Theory Pure Genius by Discovery Channel, innovation Mark Fuller, WET

To begin the episode, host Kal Penn explained that moving water is one of humankind’s oldest energy sources, and it is still valuable today because it is a clean energy source. Our engineers must harness the energy of a small, man-made waterfall to power an elevator capable of carrying one contestant up 20 feet and then back down “in a controlled fashion.”

They had four days and $5,000 to make their ideas a reality. They were judged on functionality, ingenuity and design ascetics.

The Blueprint Challenge took place in the courtyard of WET, an engineering company led by Mark Fuller, one of the show’s judges. Penn warns the contestants to stay away from obvious solutions if they want to win this challenge. Although the engineers came up with relatively similar ideas, the judges picked Gui Cavalcanti and Eric Whitman as team leaders. They were team leaders back in episode two, where the teams had to design a projectile capable of stopping a missile.

This week, the red team consisted of Whitman, Corey Fleischer, Joel Ifill, Andrew Stroup and Alison Wong. The blue team consisted of Cavalcanti, Joe Caravella, Amy Elliott, Tom Johnson and Dan Moyers.

The Red Team’s Preparation

The red team decided to use a water wheel in order to lift up the elevator basket. The water flow would be ceased by a small barricade once it reached maximum height. Whitman gave out assignments to everyone, telling the audience that he’s trying to be “pushier” this time to make sure everything is completed more quickly. Last time he was team leader, they had to work up to the very last second to finish the assignment.

Whitman’s leadership proves so effective that they had enough time to make another wheel, one that will charge their laptop’s battery, the brakes and other remote controls. So, their design will be fully renewable. The team is able to set up their contraption at WET’s elevator with hours to spare. They can’t stop cheering when everything’s assembled.

The Blue Team’s Preparation

Cavalcanti’s design consists of a 24-foot aluminum and Plexiglas column. A buoy inside will rise, causing a series of pulleys to lift the elevator basket as a counterweight slowly descends. To lower the elevator, they will release the water from the column. And for some ascetic fun, they will put a rubber ducky on top of the foam buoy.

At first, everything goes smoothly as everyone takes on their responsibilities. When the judges visit, Fuller comments that it’s a beautiful design that could be a science museum exhibit; it’s something WET would be proud of.

Due to how Cavalcanti designed the column, Elliott had to crawl through it for an hour while fastening the bolts inside, which proved to be a claustrophobic experience. If the team didn’t have someone as small as she is, they would have failed. They are, however, able to assemble it just in time.

The Test

The red team came dressed up in bellhop outfits per Wong’s suggestion, acting like this is a hotel elevator. She and Elliott volunteer to be the contestants in the elevators since they’re both of “negligible mass.” Both teams are confident, but nervous nonetheless.

Nvate Big Brain Theory Pure Genius by Discovery Channel, innovation Mark Fuller, WET

When the waterfall starts flowing, the red team’s wheel doesn’t turn at all, but the blue team’s buoy and rubber ducky start going up high. However, once enough water builds up, red’s wheel begins to turn, and it lifts Wong up smoothly. On the other hand, blue’s buoy and ducky start to fall, which makes Moyers smile. Elliott’s elevator isn’t moving at all, and the rubber ducky and buoy drown in the water column.

Meanwhile, red’s elevator reaches the top, and Wong calmly tells her team, “Floor one, please.” On the way down, Wong is so happy that she dances. The team cheers and shares high-fives once she reaches the bottom.

According to the judges, Cavalcanti’s design failed because the buoy was made of open-cell foam that soaked up water and made it sink. Had the team realized this just an hour before the competition, they could have bagged up the foam to prevent the water from getting in. Also, according to Fuller, the supporting straps on the inside of the column were not necessary because the water would not have moved the glass panes. He claims an engineer must “learn to work with the forces rather than against them.”

Nvate Big Brain Theory Pure Genius by Discovery Channel, innovation Mark Fuller, WET

Only Cavalcanti, Elliott and Johnson were up for elimination. Cavalcanti said that his team failed because the company they ordered the foam from gave them the wrong kind. However, he admitted he should have caught this error. Johnson and Wong agree that Cavalcanti’s complex design was flawed.

The judges believe that Elliott complained too much about having to crawl through the column. Also, Johnson should have stepped up and disagreed openly with Cavalcanti’s idea if he thought it was stupid to begin with. However, they eliminate Cavalcanti due to his needlessly complex design and his poor leadership style.

The only time someone other than the team leader was eliminated was in episode two, when Ifill was shot down for failing to screw together his team’s contraption properly. The other four episodes featured leaders taking the fall.

In other news, Whitman and Fleischer have proven that they’re great partners in the workshop, aside from when they miscalculated the braking system used in the first episode’s truck explosion challenge. They’ve also proven themselves as leaders, so I would not be shocked if one of them rose victorious in this competition.

Nvate Big Brain Theory Pure Genius by Discovery Channel, innovation Mark Fuller, WET

The contestants who have not yet been eliminated include Elliott, Johnson, Stroup and Whitman.

To watch the full fifth episode, visit the “Pure Genius” website.

For next week’s episode the contestants must feed a hungry crowd at a beach—that was unexpected. We will find out the winner of the Wild Card, and the losing team will have two people eliminated.

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