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Big Book Project Reaches a Milestone

Students Hand Over Book’s Robotic Page-Turner

members who participated in the big book project pose together with their award.
Dean John Ting of the College of Engineering hands over the page-turner’s manual to teacher Betsy Sawyer. Looking on are, from left, Linda Barrington, undergrad student Jason Cook, alumnus Mike Gagnon and grad student Kiersten Lemoine, Mechanical Engineering Prof. Sammy Shina and Electrical Engineering Prof. Yan Luo.

09/30/2009
By Edwin L. Aguirre

There may be books that span 500 pages, but it’s unlikely that they weigh more than a ton, stand 12 feet tall and stretch 21 feet wide when open. A group of students at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School are hoping their book will be the first to achieve such gigantic proportions.

A number of UMass Lowell engineering students are helping make that happen.

Since 2004, members of the middle school’s Bookmakers and Dreamers Club have been working on their “Big Book: Pages for Peace Project,” the creation of an enormous tome filled with messages of hope and peace sent to them by nearly 1,000 people from all walks of life, including Nobel Laureates Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Such a massive book requires an elaborate mechanical system for page-turning. Luckily, mechanical and electrical engineering students from UMass Lowell were up for the challenge.

“For the past three years, our students have been working on creating and enhancing a prototype automated page-turner as part of our Service-Learning Integrated throughout a College of Engineering program, or SLICE, which combines coursework with community service,” says Linda Barrington, service-learning coordinator at the Francis College of Engineering.

The quarter-scale prototype uses suction nozzles to lift one sheet at a time, allowing a robotic bar to slide underneath it and slowly flip the page (watch the YouTube video to see the page-turner in action).

UMass Lowell students also visited the middle school and hosted mini-workshops for club members on the campus to teach them about engineering concepts and to help solve technical issues, such as choosing the proper media on which to print the club’s giant book.

The project achieved a milestone this year on Sept. 11, the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks and the first officially recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance. The club’s president and adviser, Betsy Sawyer, and parent-engineers from Pages for Peace met with UMass Lowell engineering faculty, students and alumni for the formal hand-off of the robotic page-turner.

“We are handing off our work to the Pages for Peace engineers so they can work on the next step, which is to engage exhibit builders to have the page-turner scaled up to full size,” says Barrington.

Sawyer, a fifth-grade language arts teacher, says the students are hoping their completed project will make it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest book ever published. But the book’s message is the most important thing, she says.

“We are devoted to promoting the idea that kids can make a difference in helping to create a more peaceful world,” she writes in the club’s website. “Our ultimate goal is to share these messages with children worldwide by displaying our giant book in major museums internationally.”

For more information about the project, visit www.pagesforpeace.org.

This photo shows the scale of the book’s page when published.