sealPurdue News

March 20, 1998

Goldberg contestants will hit the snooze bar in national contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Those of us who are jolted awake by the sound of an alarm clock will appreciate the efforts of the college students from around the country competing in the 10th annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 4 at Purdue University. This year's everyday task is to turn off the alarm -- while leaving the clock intact.

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Each year, teams of college students from all over the United States are challenged to build complicated and often humorous machines to accomplish a very simple task -- make a cup of coffee, put a stamp on an envelope, screw in a light bulb -- in 20 or more steps. This year, students from seven competing universities are building contraptions to turn off an alarm clock. The 1997 national contest drew teams from Texas, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The contest, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11:30 a.m. in Purdue's Elliott Hall of Music. Teams will be from Purdue; Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.; the University of Texas at Austin; Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.; the University of South Dakota at Vermillion; Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.; and Lawrence Institute of Technology, Southfield, Mich.

Students build their machines by combining the principles of physics and engineering with common objects, such as golf balls, mouse traps, bicycle gears, children's toys, rubber tubing and an abundance of duct tape.

Each machine must run, be reset and run again in nine minutes. Points are taken off if students have to assist the machine once it's started. The teams also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and use of related themes.

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

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

Purdue's entry was chosen in February at a local contest. Using materials that could have come from their childhood toy boxes and Dad's workshop, a team of seven members of the student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers earned top honors with a machine based on the theme "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It used 26 complex steps and all manner of toy vehicles to turn off an alarm clock with no human intervention and within a time limit.

Members of the Purdue team, all from Indiana, are Mickey Wilson, a senior from Greenwood ; Chris Tucker, a senior from Mentone ; Rick Tomich, a senior from Hebron ; Wes Kitchen, a junior from Martinsville ; Jack Lehner, a senior from Dyer ; Alan Morrison, a junior from North Vernon ; and John Fenter, a senior from Indianapolis .

Last year's national winner was the "Rube Goldberg Pit Crew" from the University of Texas at Austin. The team's machine took 35 steps and about a minute and a half to load a CD into a player and play it.

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.

Also, the winners of a Chicago high-school contest will demonstrate their machine at the Purdue contest. Up to 12 Chicago-area high-school teams were to compete Friday, March 20, at the Chicago Children's Museum. The Argonne Rube Goldberg Machine Contest for High Schools is sponsored annually by Argonne National Laboratory.

Source: Chad Goze, contest chairman, (765) 743-2461; e-mail,
Writer: Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. Satellite assistance is available. If you have questions, call Grady Jones, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2079; e-mail,

Senior Wes Kitchen of Martinsville, Ind., (left), congratulates senior Mickey Wilson of Greenwood, Ind., following the first successful run-through of their Rube Goldberg Machine during the local contest in February at Purdue. Teammate Alan Morrison, a junior from North Vernon, Ind., looks on. The team from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers won the 16th annual contest with a machine called "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It successfully turned off an alarm clock in 26 steps. The team now will vie for the national title against teams from across the country in the National Rube Goldberg Contest on April 4 at Purdue. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Rube98.reax
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