Wisconsin-Stout repeats as Rube Goldberg winner

March 26, 2011

Andrew Behnke, captain of the University of Wisconsin-Stout team, explains the workings of the team's winning Rube Goldberg machine. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Defending champion University of Wisconsin-Stout won the 24th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Saturday (March 26) at Purdue University.

Immediately after Saturday's competition, a machine built by a Purdue team completed a flawless run of 244 steps, surpassing the world record held by Ferris State University. 

Purdue's Society of Professional Engineers/Society of Hispanic Engineers team will submit a video of the run to Guinness World Records for certification. 

Saturday's competition was only the second time Wisconsin-Stout has competed. Its machine told the story of a deserted Louisiana estate whose ghosts come to life with the full moon.  

The task for the Rube Goldberg machines this year was to water a plant. 

The Rube Goldberg competition, sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity.

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 Wisconsin-Stout machine had 135 steps. The team completed one perfect run with no interventions and one run with one intervention.

Captain Andrew Behnke of Loyal, Wis., said the team, composed mostly of education and business majors, developed a storyline that drove the steps for the handcrafted machine.

Pennsylvania State University took second place with a Penn State-themed machine that included a football stadium and legendary coach Joe Paterno. The University of Texas was third. Its machine traced the cycle of water.

Other teams competing were from St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minn.; Ferris State University of Big Rapids, Mich.; University of Illinois; Washington State Community College; Virginia Commonwealth University; Genesee Community College of Batavia, N.Y.; and Texas A&M University.

On display during the contest was the machine from New Auburn, Wis., which won the national Rube Goldberg High School Competition on March 19 at Ferris State University. New Auburn has just 350 students in grades K-12 but has won the national high school contest three times. Its machine had a Toy Story theme.

Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg's granddaughter, talks with members of Purdue's Society Professional Engineers and Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers team. The Purdue team is claiming a world record with a machine that has 244 steps.

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Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg's granddaughter and legacy director of Rube Goldberg Inc., attended Saturday's competition. "I'm thrilled to be here. It's incredibly exciting," she told the audience. "I know my grandfather is here in spirit." 

She announced that the task for next year's contest will be to blow up and then pop a balloon.

It also was announced that Rube Goldberg Inc. will begin a virtual online machine contest for middle school students next school year.

Details on that and other Rube Goldberg contests and activities can be found at http://www.rubegoldberg.com

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

Rube 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.

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, jbaustin@purdue.edu

Source: Alex Gaul, national contest chairman, rubemachine@gmail.com
Andrew Behnke, 715-897-4901, behnkea@my.uwstout.edu