Miniature Maverick

Gabriel Russ, a senior electrical engineering major from North Canton, Ohio, is doing something that’s never been done.

“Have you ever seen Maverick up at Cedar Point? It’s based on that,” he says. “It’s just being built on a much smaller scale.”

Did he just say he’s building a miniature version of the Maverick roller coaster?

Nobody's been able to build it before," he says. "Nobody has designed anything this small before with K'nex."

As a child, he grew up with roller coasters and theme parks. His family made annual trips to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, for as long as he can remember, and when he played with his toys, especially K’nex building toys, he made roller coasters. Even his favorite video game was Roller Coaster Tycoon.

As he got older, Russ began to combine his passion for roller coasters with his intellect. He was intrigued by the thought of designing his own linear synchronous motor propulsion system for a K’nex roller coaster.

“It’s a permanent magnet motor. It’s been unwrapped and laid flat, so instead of having a series of coils of wire, I’ve got a line of individual coils, and the moving piece – the car – has magnets that then go with that,” he says.

If it sounds complicated, it is. To get everything to work, Russ had to build his own circuit board, something he learned to do in the courses he’s taken for his major.

“I designed the circuit board and had it sent off to be manufactured. Then I assembled it myself. I soldered all the parts on to it by hand,” he says.

Russ isn’t receiving any college credit for building his K’nex coaster. It’s purely a passion project, a challenge he gave himself. The College of Engineering has helped him along the way, giving him a room in the Biggs Engineering Building to build his coaster and expertise from the college’s faculty and staff when he needed it.

"I gained a lot of knowledge by myself, but I also gained a lot of knowledge from my classes. Having personal projects helps you learn a lot more. You can only learn so much in a classroom."

Now that his roller coaster is finished, he’s hoping to turn his passion for roller coasters into a career.

“I'm trying to get into the theme park industry. I worked at Cedar Point for two years running different coasters. Now I am going to try to make a career out of this project. I’ve already gotten to talk to a couple of people from a company that does control systems a lot.”

Russ is taking all of the necessary steps to land his dream career. He will earn the professional recognition he needs from the American Society of Civil Engineers from a paper he wrote about the circuit board.

“When I finish it, I’ll probably write one or two more. I think I will benefit from this project academically and professionally. There are already several companies that know who I am because of what I’m doing with this.”