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What’s Old is New Again in Student Clock Project

July 11, 2018

A casual conversation between a professor and a librarian led to an EPIC (externally-collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary culture) class project that saw the restoration of a handmade clock from 1933.

The wooden clock, which was originally manufactured for a pattern-making and machine-design class, was recovered from Wentworth storage by Rhonda Postrel, reference librarian. Stephen Chomyszak, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Technology, took one look and realized they had something special.

“I fell in love with the clock, and all of the attention to detail that it represents, not only as a handmade artifact from 80 years ago, but also as a working timepiece,” says Chomyszak. “Our modern aesthetic sensibilities have clearly changed over the years and the technology that we use to create things has definitely improved; yet, it isn’t clear that we are matching the quality of work, craftsmanship, and detail that was commonplace all of those years ago.”

Soon after discovering the existence of the clock, Chomyszak met with Edie Waldsmith, Maintenance C Worker for Physical Plant, to evaluate the status of its conditions. They determined that a new pendulum was needed, but Chomyszak was confident that “with a good cleaning and tuning, it will run for 24 hours, non-stop.”

The professor brought over three sections of his “Introduction to Engineering Design” class—a total of 65 students—to the Lloyd Andres Carney Technology Sandbox to show them the workings of the clock to help them with their final projects.

Chomyszak tasked his students with designing and building a mechanical device that used an escapement, a mechanism in mechanical watches and clocks that transfers energy to the timekeeping element.

“I [wanted] to show them how an actual escapement works and to expose them to all of the details that had to be thought about and executed in order to create this beautifully crafted clock,” he says.

The students’ final projects mimicked the movements of the old clock. Students were judged on overall function, appearance, and risk-taking.

“I am happy that the little snippet of information I passed onto Steve turned into an opportunity for students to relate to a pattern-making class from so many decades ago,” says Postrel. “This is now a clock that has a chance to tell time again.”

View images of the student-created clocks below or at Flickr. 

--Sumya Mohiuddin

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