sealPurdue News

March 5, 2002

National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest unfurls on April 6

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The countdown is on for the Purdue "Mission to Mars" team as it prepares for its new mission: defending the university's national title on Saturday, April 6, in the 14th annual Theta Tau Fraternity's Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.

Download Photo Here
Photo caption below

The national contest will take place at 11 a.m. in the Cumberland Place Exhibition Center, West Lafayette, near the Purdue campus. Teams from other universities who won regional competitions will compete to see which machine can secure, raise and wave the national flag in at least 20 steps.

The Purdue student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers won last year's national contest with a machine that paid tribute to New York City. In recent years the University of Texas at Austin, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Toledo University, University of Buffalo, Vanderbilt University and others have competed for the national title. A complete list of this year's participating universities is expected to be available later this month.

The contest honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical, complicated machines to perform very simple tasks. The student-built machines will be judged on completion of the task, creativity, the number of steps involved and how well they embrace the Rube Goldberg spirit. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Teams also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of their materials and related themes.

Shawn S. Jordan, a senior majoring in computer engineering from Fort Wayne, Ind., said he and his Purdue Society of Professional Engineers' teammates drew inspiration from trips to science museums and watching the Learning Channel to come up with their theme. Their "Mission to Mars" machine hoisted the U.S. flag over a simulated mini-Martian landscape to the strains of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and Lenny Kravitz's rocker "Fly Away" to win the local competition at Purdue on Saturday, Feb. 9.

The machine employed items such as a rocket-activated pump, a bicycle-crank arm that launched an air rocket and a teeter-totter, which docked 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. The winning team dedicated more than 700 man-hours since September working on their entry and story-boarding the theme and process, Jordan said.

In previous contests, students' machines have been required to select, clean and peel an apple; make a cup of coffee; toast a piece of bread; put a stamp on an envelope; and drop a penny into a piggy bank. Winners have appeared on "Late Night With David Letterman, CBS' "This Morning," ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "Today," "Newton's Apple" and CNN.

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

Source: Chris Piano, contest chairman,

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 the Theta Tau Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University Saturday, Feb. 9. Their winning machine, titled "Mission to Mars," used 50 steps to secure, raise and wave a national flag. The team will represent Purdue – and defend Purdue's title – in the national Rube Goldberg contest in West Lafayette on April 6. (Purdue News Service file photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page