Joint team wins Purdue Rube Goldberg contest

February 26, 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 Saturday (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. – A team from the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers on Saturday (Feb. 26) won the 29th annual Purdue Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest with a machine that traced the history of the world.

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 water a plant.

The winning entry was based on a time machine that followed the history of the world from the big bang to the present. It took 212 steps to finally reach a symbol of hope for the future, a mystery box that, when opened by the machine, produced a plant and a watering can.

Captain Zach Umperovitch said the 17 team members spent 2,500 man hours building the machine.

This is the fifth time Umperovitch has competed in the contest. He said he's been a fan of each of the machines he has worked on. "This year's machine may be the most aesthetically pleasing and is probably the most reliable," he said.

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 winning machine had one flawless run completed in 1 minute 50 seconds. Of the other runs, one required one assist and the other two assists.

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

A machine by the National Society of Back Engineers and Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists took second place. The entry from the Society of Women Engineers took third. A team from the American Society of Professional Engineers also competed.

The PSPE/SHPE team will compete in the national Rube Goldberg contest, to be held at Purdue on March 26.

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

Six high schools also participated in a regional Rube Goldberg Machine contest at Purdue on Saturday (Feb. 26).

The winner was Kouts High School. That team will go to the national contest March 19 at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. Marion's Eastbrook High School took second and won the best theme award with pirates; Clinton Prairie High School, from rural Frankfort, was third and also took People's Choice honors; Owen Valley High School, Spencer, won the most steps award with 64.

The high school event was coordinated by the Purdue Society of Women Engineers and the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists.

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:  Alex Gaul, Theta Tau national contest chairman,

                   Jaime Ho, Society of Women Engineers high school chairman,

                   Zach Umperovitch,

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