sealPurdue News

March 10, 2000

Goldberg contestants vie for national title at Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The 20th century may be over, but its legacy lives on as university students from across the nation preserve its most significant inventions at the 12th Annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 8.

The event honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who drew wacky contraptions with elaborate mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Each year, college students take on the challenge of building a functional machine that Goldberg might have drawn.

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This year, seven universities will compete. The student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers will represent Purdue with its machine called "Traveling Through Time." Other universities sending teams are the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Toledo, Northern Illinois University, Oakland University, Marquette University, and Northwestern University. Teams qualify by winning a local contest at their university.

The challenge for 2000 is to contrive a machine that will place seven of the 20th century's greatest inventions in a time capsule. The machine must use 20 or more steps and complete the operation in less than nine minutes. Students can use any means possible to accomplish the task, and ingenuity plays a large part in the contest.

The contest, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11 a.m. in the Elliott Hall of Music on Purdue University's West Lafayette campus.

Last year's national winner was the Purdue student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Second-place honors went to the University of Texas at Austin team.

Previous national competitions have been featured on "Late Night With David Letterman," CBS's "This Morning," ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "Today," Newton's Apple," and CNN.

Students build their machines with common objects such as paper clips, yardsticks, string, duct tape and a good sense of humor. Past competitions have asked participants to make a cup of coffee, put a coin in a piggy bank, put a stamp on an envelope and tee up a golf ball.

The student-built machines are judged on successful completion of the task, creativity, the number of steps involved and how well they epitomize the "Rube Goldberg spirit." The contraptions must complete the job without human intervention, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it's started.

The Purdue Phi Chapter of Theta Tau sponsors the contest. "I am surprised every year by the interesting things that teams do to complete the assigned task and how the machines are decorated," said contest chairman Chris Piano of Theta Tau. "In the end, the winner is decided by what the judges think about the machines, and that opinion can be influenced greatly by what creative things a team has done with their machine."

But it isn't all fun and games. A successful machine requires a keen knowledge of physics and engineering.

"By working on a machine, contestants learn to work together as a team toward a common goal, and that is one of the most important aspects of engineering," Piano said. "In addition, teams have a chance to apply their classroom knowledge to an actual application."

Source: Chris Piano, (765) 743-5276,

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-2073,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS:  Video and photographs of past contests also are available. Journalists will not be allowed on the stage with the machines during the competition, but they are welcome on stage before and after the contest. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage and direct audio and video feeds. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. A satellite uplink also will be available. For details, contact Jesica Webb at the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2079,

Adam Schrader of Newburgh, Ind., a Purdue junior, operates his machine at Purdue's local Rube Goldberg Machine Contest in February. Schrader was a member of the team representing the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which won the People's Choice Award. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Rubenat00.preview

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