sealPurdue News

November 1994

'Radio-active' students to compete in Rube Goldberg contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Students at Purdue University are getting turned on to creativity, engineering and inventiveness by turning on their radios -- Rube Goldberg style.

The task for Purdue's 13th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is to build the most complicated and ludicrous machine to successfully turn on a radio. The contest is free and open to the public and begins at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 18 in Elliott Hall of Music. The winner will vie for the national championship March 25 at the same location.

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

Armed with the principles of physics and engineering, from aerodynamics to thermodynamics, from gravity to magnetism, students compete to design a machine that uses the most complicated processes to accomplish a simple task -- put a stamp on an envelope, screw in a light bulb, fry an egg -- in 20 or more steps.

This year's challenge is to turn on an RCA radio in less than five minutes. A radio will be supplied to each team by the contest's industrial sponsor, Thomson Consumer Electronics, an Indianapolis -based company.

The competition is organized and sponsored by the Purdue campus chapter of Theta Tau, a professional engineering fraternity. Teams representing Theta Tau, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers are among those expected to compete. The first-ever entry from Purdue's regional campus in Indianapolis also is slated for the competition.

Students will use anything from mouse traps and marbles to water pumps and electric drills to make their machines "radio-active," says contest chairman Erik Burns, a junior in aeronautics and astronautics from Maineville, Ohio .

"The judging criteria has changed somewhat from past years," Burns says. "To encourage the teams to rely less on sophisticated electronics, and to capture the spirit of Rube Goldberg, judges will look particularly for the innovative use of nonpowered steps in the machines."

Judging criteria also include creative use of materials, extra steps and use of related themes. Points are taken off for human intervention after the machine starts or for exceeding a time limit.

In addition to Theta Tau and Thomson Consumer Electronics, other sponsors of the contest include Purdue's engineering alumni, the School of Technology and the Schools of Engineering.

Besides competing for the national championship, the winning team will win a cash prize of $300 and the traveling Rube Goldberg trophy. The second-place team receives $200 and a traveling trophy, and the third-place finishers win $100.

The contest at Purdue started in 1949 and ran until 1955. It was revived by Theta Tau in 1983 to celebrate National Engineers' Week, which in 1995 is Feb. 19-25. The first national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was held at Purdue in 1988.

Previous national contests have welcomed teams from Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, New York and Arkansas as well as exhibition machines from Indiana high schools.

Last year's task was to make a cup of coffee. The 1994 national contest marked the third consecutive year that Purdue's entry in the competition was defeated and the second year in a row that a team from Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., took first-place honors.

Tasks in other recent years have included toasting a slice of bread, opening a lock, and cracking an egg into a bowl without breaking the yolk.

Past contests have attracted nationwide attention, with coverage in publications from the Wall Street Journal and Discover to People and Seventeen magazines. They also have been featured on a number of television shows, including "Newton's Apple," "Late Night With David Letterman," "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee," "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "This Morning," CBS News and CNN.

The contest also has received international television coverage from Australian-produced "Beyond 2000" and a top-rated Japanese television show whose roughly translated name is "It's a Funny World."

Source: Erik Burns, student contest chairman, (765) 743-2461; Internet,

Writer: Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Video and photographs of previous contests and a Rube Goldberg cartoon are available. Video b-roll, photographs and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. For more information, call Amanda Siegfried, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-4709. To receive the text of this news release via e-mail, send an e-mail message with this text "send purduenews 9411ep5" to this address:

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