Society of Professional Engineers wins regional Rube Goldberg contest

February 20, 2010

Zach Umperovitch and Lucas Dull of the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers applaud the progress of their machine during the Rube Goldberg regional competition on Saturday (Feb. 20) at the Purdue Armory. The PSPE team took first place and will advance to the national competition at Purdue on March 27. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A team from the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers on Saturday (Feb. 20) won the 28th annual Purdue Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest by focusing on the contest's namesake.

The PSPE team, which came in third in last year's Purdue regional after winning it the previous four years, was anxious to prove itself.

"We needed to step it up this year," said team captain Zach Umperovitch, a fourth-year student in earth and atmospheric sciences from Lafayette, Ind. "What better inspiration than Rube Goldberg himself."

The Rube Goldberg competition, sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity. The task this year was to dispense an appropriate amount of sanitizer into a hand.

Lauren Russell of the Society of Women Engineers team jokes with a teammate as they set up their machine on Saturday (Feb. 20) for the Rube Goldberg regional competition. SWE was one of six teams competing in the regional. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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The PSPE machine's theme is Rube Goldberg's workshop. It includes Rube-like contraptions such as an automated shaver, a homemade stereo, and, of course, a hand sanitizer dispenser.

Umperovitch said the 16 team members spent a total of about 1,300 hours building the machine.

Machines must use at least 20 steps to complete the task in no more than two minutes. Teams have three tries to complete two runs. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started.

The PSPE machine has 132 steps. After having to void its first run, pressure was on PSPE. The team completed its second run in 46 seconds with one intervention. Its third run was 1 minute 7 seconds with no interventions.

The PSPE team also won the People's Choice Award, voted on by audience members.

Rubanex, a team not affiliated with any organization, took second place with a machine that recalled childhood memories, like carnival games, playground slides and catching butterflies. Third place went to a team from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers with a machine that took a tour of Willy Wonka's candy factory.

Also competing were teams from the Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, and the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists.

The PSPE team will compete in the national Rube Goldberg contest, to be held at Purdue on March 27. Keegan Klauke, chairman of the national competition, said as many as 13 teams from around the country may participate.

Nine high schools also participated in a regional Rube Goldberg Machine contest at Purdue on Saturday (Feb. 20).

The winner was Highland Senior High School, Anderson, Ind. That team will go to the national contest, also at Purdue on March 27. Kouts High School, Kouts, Ind., was second; Owen Valley High School, Spencer, Ind., was third; and Clinton Prairie High School, Frankfort, Ind., took People's Choice honors.

Sponsors for this year's event are BAE Systems, BP, Lockheed Martin, Ingersoll Rand, Omega Engineering, Priio and Rockwell Collins.

Goldberg specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. He earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1904. He worked as an engineer for the city of San Francisco for less than a year before becoming a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his political cartoons published by the New York Sun.

Writer: Judith Barra Austin, 765-494-2432, 

Sources:   Keegan Klauke, national contest chairman,

                    Blair Conner, regional contest chairman,

                    Karen Jatkowski, high school contest chairman,

Note to Journalists: Broadcast-quality b-roll and sound bites from the competition will be available at 4 p.m. at