sealPurdue Science & Health Briefs

January 1997

Making the simple difficult is object of Rube Goldberg Contest

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Video and photographs of past contests are available. Journalists will not be allowed on the stage with the machines during the competition, but they are welcome on stage before and after the contest. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage and direct audio and video feeds. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. Satellite assistance is available. A color photo from the 1996 contest is available from Purdue News Service or download here. If you have questions, call Amanda Siegfried, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-4709; e-mail,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- It's not always easy to get a computer to do what you want it to, but Purdue University students will make the task even more difficult at the 15th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Feb. 8.

Several teams of Purdue students are building the most complicated and often humorous machines to load a CD into a computer and run a program, or into a CD player and play music. The contest, free and open to the public, begins at 11:30 a.m. in Purdue's Elliott Hall of Music.

The winner of the Purdue contest goes on to represent the university at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, to be held at Purdue on March 29.

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

Teams expecting to compete include the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, a joint team of the Society of Women Engineers and Society of Physics Students, Purdue residence halls and contest sponsor Theta Tau, a professional engineering fraternity.

The contest is organized by student members of the Purdue chapter of Theta Tau, with support from industrial sponsor General Electric.

The competitors are challenged to build a contraption that uses at least 20 steps to load a CD into a CD player or computer and play it or run a program. Each machine must run, be reset and run again in nine minutes. Machines also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and use of related themes.

In addition to cash prizes for the top three teams, a "People's Choice" award will be given to the team whose machine gets the most votes from audience members.

Student organizers of the contest maintain a World Wide Web page at

CONTACT: Daniel Colpi, contest chairman, (765) 743-2461; e-mail,

Technology education center opens with $1.35 million grant

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- With a $1.35 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Purdue's School of Technology is creating an educational center to improve the opportunities of students preparing for careers in manufacturing.

The three-year grant will open the Midwest Center for Advanced Technology Education. Director Dennis R. Depew envisions a national center being built from the regional framework that also will focus on developing technology faculty and curriculum materials for high schools, community colleges, universities and technical societies.

"Our goal is to build a national repository of curriculum materials that serve the needs of industry and technology-based organizations," says Depew, also head of the Department of Industrial Technology. "Faculty members who come to the center will learn about current technology and teaching techniques, and they'll develop curriculum materials to disseminate nationally."

By better preparing today's teachers of technology, they, in turn, can better prepare tomorrow's generation of technology teachers and practitioners who enter industry, Depew says.

"It is imperative that we strengthen teachers' understanding and application of technology," he says. "If we can produce the most highly trained educators in technology education, that expertise will be passed on to produce the most highly trained graduates and industry professionals in the world."

The center will develop a Web site and printed publications, and will conduct 10 regional and national workshops each year for faculty education. The workshops, to begin in April, will focus heavily on such manufacturing topics as automation, robotics and computer-assisted design, but will be organized according to other timely topics in industry.

CONTACTS: Depew, (765) 494-1101

Don K. Gentry, dean of School of Technology, (765) 494-2552

To order the text of a full news release about the technology center, send an e-mail that says "send punews 9608f38" to this address:

Professor's research shows value of washing hands

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of a young boy washing his hands is available from Purdue News Service or download here. The photo is called Niffenegger/Hands.

HAMMOND, Ind. -- Mom knew what she was doing when she told us to wash our hands. A Purdue University Calumet study shows that handwashing does help keep youngsters healthier.

A 1994-95 study during the traditional cold and flu season months of January through March showed fewer colds in a test group of 3- to 5-year-olds using proper and frequent handwashing techniques than within a control group of similarly aged youngsters. Joann Niffenegger, assistant professor of early childhood development, conducted the study at Purdue Calumet's Riley Child Center.

At the child center, 18.9 percent of the children and teachers caught colds, compared to 27.8 percent in the control group. Each group comprised 30 children and 10 teachers. Both groups were from centers complying with state regulations. However, the handwashing curriculum that the Purdue Calumet center implemented went beyond state guidelines.

Components of Niffenegger's program included:

"From an educator's standpoint, I don't think caregivers know how to teach handwashing," Niffenegger says. "Just telling kids to do it isn't enough; it's an abstract notion.

"We learned that it takes a while to change behavior, but that eventually children understand the importance of handwashing and become very involved in doing it properly with the help of the adults around them."

She says the only drawback of handwashing is that you can get very dry hands, but that can be remedied by using moisturizing lotions.

Her project also involved teaching youngsters about germs, how they linger and how to get rid of them. "We did a pretend germ experiment, using petroleum jelly and nutmeg," Niffenegger says. "The nutmeg served as germs. We asked the children to wash away the 'germs' with cold water. When the 'germs' remained, the children were taught the effectiveness of washing."

CONTACT: Niffenegger, (219) 989-2219

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

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