Williams College students race against the clock studying the math of LEGOS


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Fifty Williams College students, most of them in a math class, will be racing the clock on Friday when they attempt to assemble a 3,152-piece LEGOS Star Wars Super Star Destroyer in 10 minutes or less.

It is the culmination of a winter study math class entitled "The Mathematics of LEGO Bricks," taught by associate professor Steven Miller.

"It's all about the mathematics of efficiency and organization," Miller said. For this class, he has enlisted the help of his kids -- Cameron, 6, and Kayla, 4 -- as teacher's aides.

"It's a great way to have fun, learn about math, and spend time with my kids," Miller added.

All of the students in the class have played with LEGOS at one time or another, and that had a part in their willingness to join the course.

"I love playing with LEGOS, and I'm a math major, so I think this was a great way to spend winter study," said student Neeko Gardner.

"I saw LEGOS in the [course] title and I jumped right in," added Ricky Faillace.

Miller said the idea is to show how applied mathematics can work in an organizational and engineering environment, and how logistics and creativity can play a major role in any project.

The professor bought four of the $400 kits -- two for practicing, one as back up and one for the final race. In each box are seven bags with pieces for seven separate sections of the ship. The class is split into seven groups. Each group has been practicing on their assigned bags for about two weeks, trying to find ways to optimize their efficiencies to cut down on their time.

There is an organizational structure as well: There are seven bag captains, seven human relations managers, one second-in-command and one third-in-command.

"This is sort of a life lesson," Miller noted. "It's not enough to do something well, it should also be done in a reasonable amount of time."

He said he decided on a 10 minute time limit because "I didn't want it to be so long that it would be easy, but not so short that they have no motivation."

The seven teams will build their sections and assemble the entire ship from there.

Friday at 3:30 p.m. in Paresky Center, the class -- with a few friends that were brought in to help -- will try to build the ship from opening the box to completion in 10 minutes or less. The public is invited, and Williams College employees have been invited to attend and to bring their kids to see the fun.

Miller said they will shoot video of the attempt, possibly for delivery to Guinness World Records.

The professor and his students are cautious but confident about their chances.

"It will be close, but I think we can do it," said student Scott Pelton-Stroud, second in command of the project.

Once completed, Miller and his class are pondering what to do with the finished ship. They hope for a more dignified fate for the ship than most LEGOS projects meet -- utter destruction in battles with other LEGOS ships. Maybe a spot in the math department, or the new library. But one place it won't be seen is at Miller's house. His wife set down the law.

"Elizabeth does not want it coming home," Miller said.

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