Rube Goldberg teams to hammer a nail

February 14, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — College and high school teams will test their carpentry skills in this year's local Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Feb. 23 in Purdue University Armory.

The contest, sponsored by Purdue's Phi Chapter of Theta Tau engineering fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity to complete a given task. This year's challenge is to hammer a nail.

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

The local event will begin at 10:30 a.m. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. The event is free and open to the public and is part of Purdue's celebration of National Engineers Week.

The competition pits teams of students and their machines against each other with the goal of completing a simple task in the most complicated way possible. Teams will be judged on the complexity, creativity and ingenuity of their machines. The winning machine must complete two successful runs out of three attempts, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Twenty steps is the minimum number required to complete the task, but most teams will use many more.

"It's going to be a lively, noisy competition this year and a lot of fun," said Jun "Mike" Yao, Theta Tau contest chairman. "It's not an easy task. It's going to take some creative thinking."

Four Purdue teams will compete in this year's local competition: the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers; Association of Electrical Technologists; American Society of Mechanical Engineers; and the Society of Women Engineers, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, and Women in Technology.

The winner will move on to the national contest, which this year will be held March 30 at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio. The national contest now is under the direction of Rube Goldberg Inc.

Six Indiana high school teams also will compete. They are Clinton Prairie High School, Kouts High School, Spencer Owen Community Schools, Richmond High School, Anderson High School and Eastbrook High School.

The winner of that contest will go to the national competition March 16 at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis.

The high school event is coordinated by the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists.

Sponsors for this year's local event are Alcoa, Lockheed Martin, Bosch, Cooper Industrial, Eaton, Logikos, Nucor and Rockwell Collins.

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.

Writer: Judith BarraAustin,765-494-2432,

Sources: Amy Noah, associate vice president for advancement, 765 494-0519,

Jun "Mike" Yao, contest chairman for Phi Chapter of Theta Tau Engineering Fraternity,

Lucero Duran, Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists,

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