Hawkeye Science Fair - Rolamite project

Hawkeye Science Fair – Rolamite

Project recap






Presentation & exhibit at the 1969 Hawkeye Science Fair explaining rolamite technology. Recently patented and described in a NASA Tech Brief, rolamite consisted of only four components (two rollers, a tension band, and a rectangular enclosure) and was hailed as a new, simple machine on par with the lever, fulcrum, and wheel.


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Project details


I admit it - I think I've always been a geek. I used to design space ships as a little kid. I remember watching the Mercury (yes, really), Gemini, and Apollo space launches on my parent's black & white TV. I clearly remember the first episode of Star Trek which aired on September 8, 1966.

Since I was in love with all things extra-terrestrial, it seemed perfectly normal - to me - that a 12 year old kid should read NASA Tech briefs.

So when I decided to enter the science fair computation, I thought I should browse back issues of Tech briefs for ideas. That's when I saw the Tech brief on the rolamite device.


This was my first science fair, and even then I guess I was more of an engineer type than scientist. To me the thrill was in discovering the technology, learning how it worked, and then explaining it to others. I wasn't developing anything, or experimenting; I was helping people understand technology and how we could put it to work.


I built several models of rolamites, even ordered some pre-made tension bands from a company. By changing the material of the band, creating shaped cut-outs in the band, or even using bi-metalic material for the band - you could change the behavior of the rolling action.

Tools & resources



I created the display board you see in the photo above, then verbally explained how the device worked as I let visitors to my booth play with the models I'd built. Looking back on it today, my approach at the time was definitely a "Tell. Show. Try." methodology.

I must have done OK because I won honorable mention. For a state-wide competition, I thought that was pretty good. Interesting point though, the guy who won first place that year - and got a big article in the Des Moines Register & Tribune newspaper - invented and built a voice activated typewriter. Yeah, in 1969 the kid was working on voice rec. I wonder where he is now?

I think there was like 250 or so exhibitors at the science fair, which was held at Veteran's Auditorium in Des Moines. From those 250, about 15 of us got selected to take our exhibits to the Iowa State Fair. You had the option of just setting up your display and not spending the week with it at the Fair, or you could be there with your exhibit. I chose to actually be there, and it seems like I explained hundreds of times to Fair go-ers what a rolamite was and what you could do with it. I had my pitch down so well that I literally woke up one night giving it in my sleep! To me it was fun helping people understand something that at first seemed to make no sense what-so-ever.

The following year I started working on an experiment with my pet hamster (Hammy) and understanding how biological clocks worked. Unfortunately, I didn't have the success I did with the rolamite project in '69.