Challenging cartoons

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By Kirsten Laskey

Wile E. Coyote always got dealt a bad hand. The skinny as a stick Warner Bros. ACME cartoon character with a ravenous appetite for roadrunners, developed some ingenious inventions and methods to kill the speedy bird. But despite all of Wile’s smarts, every one of his ideas blew up on him, or fell on him, or flattened him, while the bird zoomed on, unharmed.

Well, not anymore.

2001 Los Alamos High School graduate and New Mexico Tech graduate Daniel Preston joined five of his fellow students and five engineers to try out a few of the coyote’s ideas, this time in real life. What they accomplished will be shown on truTV, which was originally court TV. The six-part series, titled “Man Vs. Cartoon,” will begin airing in October.

Preston said the stunts and devices featured on the show include the rocket/skate stunt. He explained a stunt person was actually employed to strap on skates and a rocket. “(We) sent this guy on the road for the ride of his life,” he said.

He explained the students were responsible for three stunts, and “whatever was featured in the cartoon, that was what we tried to re-create.”

Thomas Guengerich, New Mexico Tech public information officer, said staff researchers engineered stunts.

“Some of the stunts turned out very spectacularly,” he said. “Some were very dramatic.”

He added while the work was not entirely practical, it showed the relationship between theory and practical application.

The project lasted three to four months at the university, which is located in Socorro.

Preston, who is currently working to get a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said he was working in the university’s Energetic Material Research Center when he was introduced to the TV staff. They invited him to audition for the show.

Preston said he jumped at the chance to be a part of the show because he had spent a good part of the last four years with his nose in a book or pressed against a computer screen. He decided it was a great opportunity to be out in front of the camera.

Plus, Wile E. Coyote is one of his favorite cartoon characters. Preston said the animal had some ingenious plans but for some reason, they never worked out.

Personally, Preston said, he believes Wile had bad karma. “Classical physics don’t apply to this guy,” he said.

While the show was fun, it was also a challenge. As a recent graduate, he said he had “a lot of pride on the line. It was a good time but definitely a challenge.”

“It’s something I will always remember,” Preston said.

He added he is eager to share his moment in the spotlight with his children.

Warner Bros. proposed the television show, Guengerich said, and pitched it to a production company. He added the university was selected to be the location of the show because of its expertise in the field of engineering. Plus, New Mexico Tech was featured in Popular Science magazine.

Van Romero, vice president of research and professor of physics, worked to have the university in the show.

“I think it’s a great experience for the student involved,” he said. “(They) get to have a lot fun solving engineering problems.”

Plus, it is good exposure to the university; viewers can see what faculty and students do at New Mexico Tech, Romero said.

Overall, he said the entire experience “did go smoothly ee it all seemed to work out.”