SLAM Blasts STEM Education With Rapid-Fire Innovation
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
The first time Avery McMillan competed in the Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge, he tackled the energy crisis with a cell phone charger that used the warmth of a candle to generate electricity. Two years later, he’s back, and he’s bringing something he said is “a bit more on the toy side.”
True to his word, McMillan, the founder of SLAM and a mechanical engineering graduate of the Oregon Institute of Technology, has developed a pump-action attachment for the most delicious projectiles yet known to exist.
SLAM, which stands for semiautomatic launching attachment for marshmallows, attaches to the low-cost, do-it-yourself, open-source launchers that can fire marshmallows up to 20 feet or more.
Plans for the launcher are easy to find on the internet and about as easy to make, which has historically made them popular projects for parents and kids to explore science and their creativity. Since the pandemic sparked lockdowns and mandatory shelter-in-place restrictions, they’ve become an even more popular way to pass the time.
They just aren’t as fun McMillan thinks they could be.
In the heat of battle, the marshmallow launcher is perilously limited by its rate of fire. McMillan’s attachment will provide a critical advantage for those besieged during heavy marshmallow combat.
"It's the exact same thing except it's got this little box on it,” McMillan said, picking up his own marshmallow launcher. "You can load the top up with marshmallows. Instead of having to put one in the mouthpiece every time you want to shoot one, you just pull back, slide it forward, it loads another marshmallow, and you can shoot it."
Pump action for the most delicious matériel, McMillan’s invention saves precious moments in the heat of battle. Those who take advantage of his attachment will never again suffer the slings and arrows of squishy confection, no. Instead they will deal gelatinous justice at 10 times the rate of their nemeses.
McMillan demonstrated. “You can just—” McMillan pumped and puffed. “Blow through it—” Pump, puff. “As fast as you can do it. Versus the other guy's got to, like, shoot it.” He puffed. "And then he's got to load another marshmallow into the mouthpiece.” Puff. “And then load another marshmallow into the mouthpiece."
“I mean, you shoot like 10 times faster.”
Were it not for McMillan’s younger brother, SLAM may never have come into existence, and marshmallow launchers of today may have been relegated to the same limitations of yesterday that forestall battle with boredom.
An infamous tinkerer who also built a custom electric motorcycle and crutches with cupholders that gimbal to stay upright, McMillan was asked by his brother to build a marshmallow launcher. “I was in engineering school and I was like, all right, I think I could build you a pretty sweet one,” McMillan said. “But instead of just making it for him and, like, send it over, I was like, I'm going to try to improve upon the standard marshmallow design.”
“I tried a couple different things,” McMillan said. “I tried to make it shoot harder. I tried to put some aim on it, things like that. And what I ended up coming up with was a basically semiautomatic attachment.”
The nation is deeply divided on marshmallow-related launchers. During a 2012 science fair, President Barack Obama gleefully fired a pneumatic marshmallow launcher in the White House, nearly damaging a portrait in the State Dining Room. On the other hand, in 2014, volunteers asked that an annual marshmallow war in Ocean Beach, California be brought to an end after they picked up more than 2,000 pounds of marshmallow detritus.
Regardless, McMillan built SLAM because he thought the idea would entertain his brother. He did it for fun, and like fun things, it caught on. In McMillan’s experience, demand is strong. “Everyone I told about it asked to buy one,” McMillan said. “Anytime I've ever showed someone, they'd be like, oh, I know five people that I could buy this for.”
Moms asked to buy it for their children, nieces and nephews. McMillan’s coworkers asked to buy it for the office, invoking a dystopian future in which no one works, everyone just shoots one another with marshmallows—just what we need in 2020.
There are plenty of marshmallow shooters available for purchase, crossbows, bow and mallows and high-volume, Nerf-like marshmallow shooters. But in McMillan’s opinion, that defeats the purpose. It’s the satisfaction of making something that McMillan wants people to enjoy the most about SLAM.
“There's the satisfaction of making something with your hands, and there are a lot of kids out there that get to do that,” McMillan said. “But I've also met quite a few that have just never actually made something before."
Plus, families have an opportunity to teach their children about scientific principles in meaningful, fun ways. “You can make them 3D printed,” McMillan said. "There's a lot of physics and science that goes into how a marshmallow launcher actually works. So bringing something like this into a learning environment is huge—teaching kids how 3D print, teaching them how that kind of stuff works.”
"I kind of took something that wasn't as—you know, it was fun, they have a marshmallow gun,” McMillan said. “But this kind of made it cool. Now it's kind of exciting and a little bit easier."