Purdue team smashes Rube Goldberg world record

April 6, 2012


The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team poses with its world record-setting Rube Goldberg machine. The team spent more than 5,000 total hours building the 300-step contraption that flawlessly inflated and popped a balloon. (Photo provided by Andy Jessop)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team smashed its own Guinness world record for largest Rube Goldberg machine with a 300-step behemoth that flawlessly accomplished the simple task of blowing up and popping a balloon.

The team spent more than 5,000 hours constructing the machine that accomplished every task ever assigned in the competition's 25-year history, including peeling an apple, juicing an orange, toasting bread, making a hamburger, changing a light bulb, loading a CD and sharpening a pencil.

In a nod to Purdue's Boilermaker mascot, the team powered portions of the machine with a homemade boiler system with an elaborate locomotive-like drive system that inflated the balloon. The team claimed a prize for the most "Rube-ish" step for an accordion arm that sprung free to pop the balloon.

The team accomplished the feat March 31 on the stage of Purdue University's Elliott Hall of Music where the machine also received the People's Choice Award. The machine can be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X7f2zdQ3hc

Packing so many steps into one machine required inventing a novel platform that consisted of two rotating paddlewheels that revealed new sets of modules to chronologically accomplish a quarter century worth of tasks. The final task was punctuated with a deafening blast from a genuine antique train whistle on loan from a museum.

While it violated no contest rules (which prevent fire and explosions) team president Zach Umperovitch said some found the crowd-pleasing machine a bit menacing.

"We did some bold things with this machine that have never even been attempted that probably startled judges, competitors and spectators," Umperovitch said. "But we were hungry, and we were going to go large or stay home."

In 2011 Purdue set the previous world record with a 244-step machine that traced the history of the world and destroyed it several times over before watering a flower.

Rube Goldberg machines pay homage to the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who amused millions with his whimsical cartoons of elaborate, inefficient machines that accomplished everyday tasks. The contest was launched as a challenge between two Purdue fraternities. It has been hosted and run annually by Purdue engineering fraternity Theta Tau over the last 25 years.

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu

Source: Zach Umperovitch, zumperov@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Broadcast-quality B-roll and sound bites are available for download and use at ftp://news69.uns.purdue.edu/Public/RubeGoldbergWorldRecord2012/. For additional details, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, at 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu