Tang Qianjun, Victor Ho, Jeffrey Arcand, Georges El-Hage, Yue Yang, Riadh Habash, Pierre Guillemette and Thomas Rognant

From drafting to assembly, it was really great to let students take an idea and turn it into something public that hundreds of people try every day!  

Human hamster wheel built by engineering students draws rave reviews at the Canada Science and Technology Museum

The life-sized human hamster wheel—on display for the next six years as part of the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s Energy: Power to Choose exhibition—is the result of months of work between Georges El-Hage, Tang Qianjun, Jeffrey Arcand, Yeu Yang, Charles Blouin and Professor Riadh Habash, all of the Faculty of Engineering, and two Ottawa-based industrial partners, PRONOX and TRIAS Innovations Group.

"From drafting to assembly to electrical and software, it was really great to have industry work with academia to let students take an idea and turn it into something public that hundreds of people try every day!" says El-Hage.

The system was designed by the museum and ARISE–Green Engineers students; the mechanical parts were assembled at the PRONOX facility; the electronics, controls and monitoring system were designed and built by the students in collaboration with TRIAS under the supervision of Professor Habash.

“He’s an excellent supervisor! He gives us enough distance to make our own mistakes. We attempt to fix them, and then he provides guidance if we can’t find solutions on our own,” says Qianjun, an international student from China studying electronics engineering.

A museum visitor powers the wheel by walking for about ten seconds, or until enough power is generated (more than 100 watts is needed), whichever happens first. This causes a bolt of electricity to fire in a Tesla coil adjacent to the wheel.

“The human hamster wheel has been immensely popular with visitors of all ages,” says Jason Armstrong, Exhibition Interpretation Officer at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. “Whether you are a kid or an adult, there is something very engaging about this interactive exhibit. The design and interface allow people to instinctively know how to use the machine, and the tesla coil reward keeps them running till the end. Visitors come away with an understanding of how their own kinetic energy can be used to generate electricity.”

From the moment the wheel was installed, those numbers have been skyrocketing. Since the wheel made its debut last summer, over 80,000 museum visitors have run up the watts—which works out to about 10,000 “hamsters” per month!

Text: Dave Weatherall
Photo: Robert Lacombe
Published: April 2012
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Last updated: 2012.11.27