sealPurdue News

April 12, 2003

Purdue crushes competition in Rube Goldberg nationals

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Purdue University Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team crushed a can and its competition at the 15th annual national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest today (Saturday, 4/12).

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Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho received $250 for first place and $50 for winning the People's Choice Award. The University of Toledo's American Society of Mechanical Engineers team was awarded $150 for second place, and University of Texas at Austin's Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers team received $50 for third place. Other teams competing were Theta Tau Chapter Gamma Beta from George Washington University and Theta Tau from University of Cincinnati. Exhibition teams from Westfield High School in Westfield, Ind., and Morgan Park Academy from Beverly, Ill., displayed their machines. The contest drew more than 500 people to the Cumberland Place Exhibition Center.

"This year was our best nationals because of the consistent strong themes from all of the universities' machines, plus the enthusiastic crowd," said Willie Karashin, national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest chairman and a Purdue senior in aeronautics and astronautics from Dallas. "Many of the teams had their own cheering sections, and we haven't seen that kind of support in previous years."

  • Stephanie King describes the machine steps (19 seconds)
  • Danny Rodriguez talks about adjusting the machine this week (17 seconds)
  • King talks about preparing for the contest (26 seconds)
  • The Purdue team also utilized its home court advantage by distributing signs and pompoms to its fans. The Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho sports-themed machine, which used no electrical devices, relied on different balls to trigger the 34 steps to crush a can and place it in a recycling bin. Team members also dressed in black and white officials' jerseys and decorated the machine in Purdue sports paraphernalia.

    "The advantage Purdue had is that it was the only college team to run twice without any human assistance as it successfully completed its task," said second-year judge Dave Baurac, director of public information of the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Ill. "However second place Toledo's 'can' theme was well thought-out, and this team certainly had the best artistic merit of the event."

    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.

    "The first time our machine worked was a month ago at the regional competition," said Stephanie King, a senior in civil engineering from Brownsburg, Ind. "We were just as shaky today because we didn't know what to expect. There is always a chance of damaging the machine when it is moved, and we had some difficulties during last night's run-through."

    Last year, the University of Texas at Austin's Theta Tau team won first place at nationals by raising and waving the American flag. The last time a Purdue team won nationals was in 2001, when the Society of Manufacturing Engineers team successfully built a machine to select and peel an apple.

    The contest honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical, complicated machines to perform simple tasks. The 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. 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.

    In previous contests, students' machines have been required to raise, secure and wave an American flag; 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.

    The national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was sponsored by the Purdue Engineering Student Council and the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau Fraternity.

    Rube Goldberg and the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest are the trademark and copyright of Rube Goldberg Inc.

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

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

    Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


    Related Web sites:
    Purdue News Service Rube Goldberg page



    Jen Watson, a senior in aeronautics from West Lafayette, reacts after Purdue University's Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho machine successfully crushes a can today (Saturday, 4/12) during the 15th annual national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Cumberland Place Exhibition Center. This year's contest task was to select, crush and pitch a 12-ounce aluminum can into a recycling bin in at least 20 steps. The Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team won first place and the People’s Choice Award with its sports-themed machine that crushed a can in 34 steps. The University of Toledo came in second place and University of Texas at Austin earned third place. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

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