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January 16, 2004

Students put science to a vote in Rube Goldberg machine contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – While new technology and reform laws attempt to make voting easier, a pair of competitions at Purdue University will feature students trying to make the process as complicated as possible.

2003 competition
Download photo - caption below

Purdue will host its Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at 11 a.m. on Feb. 28, and the national competition on April 3. Sponsored by Theta Tau national fraternity, this year's contest calls for teams to vote and cast a ballot using principles of engineering and physics.

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

The Purdue contest begins at 11 a.m. in Lambert Fieldhouse on the Purdue campus. The doors open at 10:30, and the contest is free and open to the public. General Electric is sponsoring the competition.

For the national contest, the Purdue winner will face those from other universities, which in past years have included the University of Texas at Austin, Hofstra University, Ohio State University, the University of Toledo and George Washington University. This year marks the 16th national contest.

The winning machines must complete two successful runs, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started, said Greg Wilson, Theta Tau's Purdue contest chairman and a sophomore in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics from Ft. Wayne, Ind. Judges will award teams points based on the creative use of materials and related themes.

"Whenever possible, we try to connect our theme to current events," Wilson said. "With so much focus on the presidential election this year, voting seemed like a natural task for the machines."

Last year's local winner, representing Purdue's chapters of Theta Tau and Phi Sigma Rho sorority, used a Purdue sports-themed machine to select, crush and pitch a 12-ounce aluminum can into a recycling bin. The group went on to win the national competition and later appeared with their winning machine on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

In previous contests, students' machines have been required to 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 television shows internationally, including CBS' "This Morning," ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "Today," Newton's Apple," "Ripley's Believe it of Not," the Fox News Network and CNN.

Writer: Matt Holsapple, (765) 494-2073,

Sources: Greg Wilson, local contest chairman, (765) 743-2461 ext. 895,

Josh Sandler, national contest chairman, (765) 743-2461, xt. 879,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Journalists can cover both contests. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage of the event. Video of the competition will be distributed via satellite shortly after each contest. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Video b-roll, photos, audio clips and a news release will be available the afternoon of the contest. If you have questions, contact Matt Holsapple at the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2073, Questions about video or requests for video of previous years' contests can be directed to Jesica Webb at (765) 494-2079,

Related Web sites:
Rube Goldberg at Purdue

Jen Watson reacts after Purdue University's Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho machine successfully crushed a can during the 2003 national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. Last 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. (Purdue News Service file photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

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