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February 2000

Goldberg contestants to immortalize 20th century

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University students will immortalize the 20th century's most significant inventions Feb. 12 during the 18th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.

The competition honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Each year, Purdue students are challenged to build actual working machines that Goldberg himself might have dreamed up.

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The task for this year is to place in a time capsule a minimum of seven items representing the best inventions, ideas and discoveries of the past 100 years. Previous contests have asked students to make a cup of coffee, put a stamp on an envelope and drop a penny into a piggy bank – all in 20 or more steps. The entire process must take nine minutes or less.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 11 a.m. in Purdue's Elliott Hall of Music. The winner of the competition will represent the university at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, to be held at the same location April 8.

Students will place their selected inventions into the time capsules by combining the principles of physics and engineering with common objects, such as rubber bands, marbles, mouse traps and bicycle gears, plus lots of ingenuity. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Teams also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and use of related themes.

The local contest is organized by members of the Purdue chapter of Theta Tau, with support from industrial sponsor General Electric Co. It was first held at Purdue in 1949 and ran until 1955. The fraternity revived it in 1983 to celebrate National Engineers' Week, and the national contest has been held at the university since 1988.

Last year's campus contest was won by eight School of Technology students representing the Purdue chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. That machine was based on the theme "Wide World of Sports" and included a miniature downhill skier crashing in a spectacular fashion reminiscent of the opening of that ABC program. The machine used 55 complex steps to tee up a regulation golf ball. The machine also was awarded the "People's Choice" trophy by the audience.

The Purdue team went on to win the national competition, defeating teams from the University of Texas at Austin; Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.; Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.; Vanderbilt University; and the University of Toledo.

Past national competitions have been featured on "Newton's Apple," "Late Night With David Letterman," NBC's "Today," CBS's "This Morning," CBS News, "Beyond 2000," CNN and "Good Morning America."

CONTACT: Chris Piano, contest chairman, (765) 743-5276,

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, contact Jesica Webb at the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2079,


Purdue 's 17th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest winners react in February 1999 after their machine performed a perfect run-through. Members of the winning team, representing the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the School of Technology, were, from left: John Spitzer, Stephen Schrock and Timothy Clauss. This year's contest will be Feb. 12. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Rube00.preview

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