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April 3, 2004

Purdue team wins Rube Goldberg national election

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Purdue University Society of Manufacturing Engineers took home the winning vote – and trophy – for their election-themed entry into today's (Saturday, 4/3) National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University's Lambert Fieldhouse.

Andrew Nymeyer watches
his team's machine

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Employing a theme that incorporated elections and hanging chads, the team used 71 steps – three-and-a-half times the required number – to complete the task of selecting, marking and casting a paper ballot.

The team received $300 for first place and $50 for winning the People's Choice Award. Ferris State University's Underdogs team was awarded $150 for second place, and University of Texas at Austin's Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers team received $50 for third place. Other teams competing were from University of Toledo and Michigan State University.

Jason Cook, Ferris State University
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Some of the winning machine's steps included a ball levitating on a stream of air from a vacuum cleaner, toy football players and gorillas batting at balls, and water turning a tiny waterwheel, before a conveyor belt finally delivered the ballot to its box.

The ballot also was moved through a "Florida voting booth," where it was marked and left with a hanging chad. The process ended with the raising an American flag, a step added since the team won the regional competition in February.

Curt McDowell and Bryan Wilson
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Team member Brian Enlow, Society of Manufacturing Engineers president from Fishers, Ind., said the team had worked hard since the regional competition to make the machine more appealing to the audience.

"We added some music and a big American flag at the end," Enlow said. "It must have helped. When I heard the crowd's reaction, I thought we were in pretty good shape."

Each machine had three chances to perform two clean runs. The winning machine did not work on its first run, and team co-captain Andrew Nymeyer, a senior from Bristol, Ind., said that misstep made him much more anxious during the second two tries.

"Once you have to take a redo, it makes you pretty nervous because that means everything else has to be perfect," he said. "We have six or seven mousetraps, and if a vibration sets one off early it's all over. It ran perfectly when we set it up this morning, but as it sets, the springs tighten up. I think they absorb some of our nervousness."

All 11 members of the winning team are students in Purdue's School of Technology. Besides Nymeyer and Enlow, team members are co-captain Curt McDowell, a senior from Goshen, Ind.; Kyle Rasler, a junior from Elkhart, Ind.; Brian Decker, a junior from Elkhart, Ind.; Bryan Wilson, a senior from New Harmony, Ind.; Mike Kalmuk, a junior from Crystal Lake, Ill.; David Sproull, a senior from Springville, Ind.; Russel Stroup, a senior from Bristol, Ind.; Steve Thomas, a senior from Wadsworth, Ohio; and Kreig Kaiser, a junior from Elwood, Ind.

"I was definitely pleased with the quality of the machines," said Joshua Sandler, national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest chairman and a Purdue senior in electrical engineering technology. "There was no clear-cut winner. Most years you see the teams bring in their machines and one stands out over the others. This year, all of the teams brought strong, impressive machines."

The national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was organized by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau Fraternity at Purdue. Representatives from contest sponsors Motorola, General Electric and BAE Systems judged the machines. Other sponsors were Fluor, Lockheed Martin, Parker Hannifin, and Purdue Schools of Engineering and School of Technology.

In addition to the five university teams, a high school exhibition team from Morgan Park Academy in Beverly, Ill. also displayed its machine. The team won a regional high school competition held at the Argonne National Laboratories near Chicago.

This is the second consecutive year a Purdue team has claimed the national title. Last year, Purdue's Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team won by incorporating a sports theme to crush an aluminum can. That team later appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

The contest honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical, complicated machines to perform simple tasks. The student-built machines are judged on completion of the task, creativity, the number of steps involved and how well they embrace the Rube Goldberg spirit. Points are deducted if students assist the machine once it has started. Teams also are judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and related themes.

In previous contests, students' machines have been required to raise, secure and wave an American flag; 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 CBS' "This Morning," ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "Today," "Newton's Apple" and CNN.

Rube Goldberg and the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest are the trademark and copyright of Rube Goldberg Inc.

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

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web site:
Rube Goldberg Contest at Purdue

Andrew Nymeyer, a Purdue senior in the School of Technology from of Bristol, Ind., watches as his team's machine finishes its perfect run Saturday, April 3, 2004, during the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University's West Lafayette, Ind., campus. Nymeyer is co-captain of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers' team that won the competition and the People's Choice Award. Teams in the contest had to build machines that used a minimum of 20 steps to select, mark and cast a ballot using principles of engineering and physics. Purdue's machine used 71 steps. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

Jason Cook, a member of Ferris State University's Rube Goldberg team the Underdogs, pauses from his work to give a high-five to Ferris State's mascot, Brutus the bulldog. The Underdogs, from Big Rapids, Mich., finished second today (Saturday, 4/3) in the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Lambert Fieldhouse. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

Purdue University seniors Curt McDowell, team co-captain from Goshen, Ind., and Bryan Wilson, from New Harmony, Ind., work on the Society of Manufacturing Engineers' machine today (Saturday, 4/3) during the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest in Lambert Fieldhouse. The team from Purdue claimed first place and the People's Choice Award over four other university teams from around the country. Teams designed and built machines that would select, mark and cast a paper ballot in at least 20 steps – the Purdue machine accomplished the task in 71 steps. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

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