sealPurdue News

March 24, 2003

National Rube Goldberg crushes cans in recycling challenge

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The 15th annual Theta Tau Fraternity's National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 12 will test the can-do spirit of college engineers.

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The contest begins at 11 a.m. in the Cumberland Place Exhibition Center in West Lafayette, Ind., near the Purdue University campus. Teams from Purdue and four other universities will compete to select, crush and place a 12-ounce aluminum can into a recycling bin with a minimum of 20 steps.

The Purdue Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team won its regional competition on Feb. 15, and also received the People's Choice Award from the audience. They will vie for the 2003 national championship against four other university teams scheduled to compete. Those teams are:

• George Washington University Theta Tau Chapter Gamma Beta.

• Hofstra University Omega Beta Chapter of Theta Tau.

• University of Texas at Austin Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

• University of Toledo Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The contest honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical, complicated machines to perform 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 assist the machine once it has started. Teams also are judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and related themes.

The winning Purdue team's sports-themed machine incorporated pool, basketball, golf and football. The 34 steps included a bowling ball falling two feet to smash a can and a fake foot that kicked a football through goal posts.

"Our machine captured the true spirit of Rube Goldberg's whimsical creations," said Greg Franzer, captain of the Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team and a senior in chemical engineering from Coldwater, Ohio.

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: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Willie Karashin, National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest chairman, (765) 743-2461, ext. 865,

Greg Franzer, (765) 743-2461, ext. 843,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Highlights from the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest will be available April 12 via satellite. Satellite coordinates will be released to media when they become available. File photos of the Purdue University regional competition are available, and a news release and photos will be available the day of the national contest.


Related Web sites:
Purdue News Service Rube Goldberg page


Purdue University students Justin Wheeler and John H. Wright Jr. react as their National Society of Black Engineers machine accidentally starts in motion during the regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Feb. 15 in West Lafayette, Ind. The Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team won the competition and will advance to the national contest, which will be April 12 in West Lafayette. Representatives from Hofstra University, University of Toledo, George Washington University and University of Texas at Austin also will compete. This year, student teams built machines that could select, crush and pitch a 12-ounce aluminum can into a recycling bin in at least 20 steps. Wheeler, of South Bend, Ind., and Wright, of Louisville, Ky., are freshmen engineering students. (Purdue News Service file photo/Dave Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at

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