sealPurdue News

February 9, 2002

Mars machine lands professional engineers team on top

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The sky was the limit for the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers' "Mission to Mars" today (Saturday, 2/9) as they captured first place in the 20th annual Theta Tau Fraternity's Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University.

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Drawing inspiration collected from trips to science museums and watching the Learning Channel, the 10-member team hoisted the U.S. flag over a simulated mini-Martian landscape to the strains of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and Lenny Kravitz's "Fly Away."

"Rube is life," said mission "captain" Shawn S. Jordan, a senior majoring in computer engineering from Fort Wayne, Ind., as he described the estimated hundreds of man-hours it took to complete the project. Brainstorming began in September, the four-year Rube veteran said, and the team worked about 10 hours every weekend.

The group's "Mission to Mars" machine was among eight team contraptions entered in the local contest to complete this year's task to secure, raise and wave an American flag without human intervention. Machines had to complete the task using at least 20 steps and within a time limit. The Society of Professional Engineers' machine finished the job in 50 steps to win the first-place trophy, $250 and a chance to defend Purdue's national title in April. The national contest also will be in West Lafayette.

The contest honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical, complicated machines to perform very simple tasks. Student-built machines are judged on completion of the task, creativity, the number of steps involved and how well they embrace the Rube Goldberg spirit.

The "Mission to Mars" machine used items such as a rocket-activated pump, a bicycle-crank arm that launched an air rocket and a teeter-totter docking with an International Space Station. Steps incorporating a water-screw Martian aqueduct and a baking soda-and-vinegar volcano, a little Martian landrover and yodeling astronaut triggered a sequence of events that accomplished the mission to raise and wave the flag.

In addition to Jordan, the winning team members were: Corinne Catapano, of Roselle, Ill., and Christina Peterson of Cypress, Texas, both seniors in interdisciplinary engineering; civil engineering majors Mark Frossard, a junior from Anderson, Ind., and Devin Keeler, a sophomore from Randolph, N.J.; computer engineering majors James Wert Jr., a junior from Pepper Pike, Ohio, and Anthony Young, a senior from Roanoke, Ind.; electrical engineering majors Andrew Mehl, a sophomore from Goshen, Ind., and Benjamin Rinzel, a junior from Zionsville, Ind.; and Kevin Hollingsworth, a freshman in aeronautical engineering, also from Zionsville.

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The second-place trophy and $150 went to Theta Tau and Phi Sigma Rho, the engineering fraternity and sorority joint team, for a machine called "Rube Junior." Their entry also was selected the People's Choice Award winner by more than 300 people attending the competition at the Elliott Hall of Music. Third place and $50 went to the Society of Women Engineers for their space-themed "Made it to the Moon" machine.

The winning team dedicated more than 700 man-hours since September working on their entry.

"We collected ideas from trips to science museums, which were a wonderful source of inspiration, and even "Junkyard Wars" on the Learning Channel, which is the epitome of Rube Goldberg," Jordan said. "We came up with a theme and then did a storyboard to map out and link our steps."

For judges, the level of work and creativity that goes into building the machines makes picking a winner a difficult task.

"Every year it is amazing to see the talent these students show," said Jerry Dale, one of this year's judges from Louisville Ky., and a 1988 Purdue graduate representing contest-sponsor General Electric. "It's fascinating to see students' creative approaches to these tasks and to exercise their engineering skills, have fun and work as a team."

Judge Eric S. Furgason, Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering, called this year's competition "the hardest contest I've judged." Furgason also serves as an adviser to the local contest.

General Electric Corp., radio stations 93.5 WKHY and B102.9, and Kinko's helped sponsor the contest.

The Society of Professional Engineers' team will compete in the Theta Tau National Rube Goldberg Contest on April 6 at the Cumberland Exhibition Center in West Lafayette. The national contest is organized by student members of the Purdue chapter of Theta Tau, a professional engineering fraternity, with support from Rube Goldberg Inc.

Writer: Grant Flora, (765) 494-2073,

Source: Willie Karashin, contest chairman, (765) 743-0837,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web sites:
Purdue News Service Rube Goldberg page

Members of the Purdue Chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers team celebrate their victory in Saturday's (2/9) Theta Tau Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University. Their winning machine, titled "Mission to Mars," used 50 steps to secure, raise and wave a national flag. The team will represent Purdue in the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest in West Lafayette on April 6. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at and at Photo ID: rube02.winner.jpeg

Members of the Theta Tau-Phi Sigma Rho team react to a clean run of their People's Choice Award winning entry in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest Saturday (2/9) at Purdue. David Geswein, a senior from Plainfield, Ind.; Rebecca Castillo, a junior from Pittsboro, N.C.; and Brian McGowan, a senior from Orlando, Fla., cheer on their entry, titled "Rube Junior." The contraption also placed second in the overall competition. Machines in this year's event had to secure, raise and wave the national flag. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at and at Photo ID: rube02.choice.jpeg

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