National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest set for March 26

March 16, 2011

David Cannon (from left), Alex Weaver and Matt Miller react to a flawless run of their Purdue Society of Professional Engineers/Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers machine at the Purdue local Rube Goldberg competition Feb. 26. The team won the competition and will compete in the national contest March 26 at Purdue.  (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Four previous winners are among the teams that will compete in the 24th annual national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest March 26 at Purdue University.

This year, teams have designed machines that will water a plant.

The contest is sponsored by Purdue's Phi Chapter of Theta Tau engineering fraternity and rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity.

The contest's namesake is the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks.

So far, 10 college teams are scheduled to compete. They include previous winners Purdue, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minn., Ferris State University of Big Rapids, Mich., and last year's winner, University of Wisconsin-Stout. Other confirmed teams are from the University of Illinois, Washington State Community College, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Texas, Texas A&M and Pennsylvania State University.

"This year's contest will be special because Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg's granddaughter, will attend," said Alex Gaul, national Rube Goldberg Machine contest chairman. "She's legacy director of Rube Goldberg Inc., and she came up with this year's challenge."

While 20 steps is the minimum number required to complete the task, most teams will use many more. For instance, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers used 212 steps for the machine that won the Purdue regional contest in February.

The national contest, held in the Purdue Armory, is free and open to the public. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. The program will start at 10:30 a.m. Lunch will be available for purchase at the event.

The team that wins the national high school competition Saturday (March 19) at Ferris State is expected to show its machine at the Purdue event.

Sponsors for this year's competition are BAE Systems, Omega Engineering, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins, Alcoa, Priio and Ethicon Endo-Surgery.

Rube Goldberg 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.

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest dates back to 1949 when it began as a competition between two Purdue fraternities. It was held until 1955, then revived in 1983 and opened to all Purdue students. The first national contest was held in 1988.

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

Source:  Alex Gaul,