Purdue News

February 13, 2006

Creativity takes center stage at Rube Goldberg Machine Contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University students will put their creativity to the test for an annual competition that rewards complexity, ingenuity and originality.

Rube Goldberg

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The 23rd annual regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest will take place at 10:30 a.m. March 4, and the national competition will be on April 1. Both contests will be held in the Armory on the Purdue campus with doors opening at 10 a.m. The contests are free and open to the public.

Sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, the contest pits teams of students and their machines against each other for the purpose of completing simple tasks in the most complicated ways possible.

The competition pays homage to the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Goldberg earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1904. He worked as an engineer for the city of San Francisco for less than a year before becoming a sports cartoonist for the "San Francisco Chronicle." He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his political cartoons published by the "New York Sun."

2005 Winners
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"The interesting, fun and unique machines that the students build for this competition are just amazing," said George W. George, who is the son of Rube Goldberg. "What I like about the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is that it engages students in creative learning, and it encourages pre-college youngsters to take an interest in engineering."

For this year's contest, the design challenge is to individually cut or shred five sheets of 20-pound, 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper. While 20 steps is the minimum number required to complete the task, most teams will use many more.

Last year's winning team, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers, took 125 steps to change the batteries in a flashlight and turn it on. The winning machines must complete two successful runs, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started, said Miles Davis, Theta Tau's Purdue regional contest chairman.

"The judges will award points based on the creative use of materials and related themes — it is amazing how the teams engineer and construct machines in so many different and imaginative ways to perform the same task," said Miles Davis, a sophomore in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Purdue's regional winner will move on to the national contest. In past years, teams in the national competition 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 18th national contest.

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. Last year's winners took their machine and put it through its paces on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Sponsors for this year's event include General Electric Co., Motorola Inc., Kimberly-Clark Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., BAE Systems and Fellowes Inc. Purdue's College of Engineering and College of Technology also support the event.

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-4192, csequin@purdue.edu

Source: Miles Davis, (614) 791-8740, mwdavis@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: Journalists can cover both regional and national contests. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage of the event. Competition video will be distributed via satellite shortly after each contest. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. A news release, photos and audio clips will be available on the Purdue home page the afternoon of the contest. If you have questions, contact Cynthia Sequin at the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-4192, csequin@purdue.edu. Questions about video or requests for video of previous years' contests should be directed to Jesica Webb at (765) 494-2079, jwebb@purdue.edu.


Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and trained engineer. He became most known for his whimsical drawings of "Rube Goldberg machines" — devices that are exceedingly complex and perform very simple tasks. College students from around the nation pay homage to Goldberg annually through the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. A regional event and the national competition are held annually at Purdue University. (Photo courtesy Rube Goldberg Inc.)

A publication-quality photograph is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/images/+2006/goldberg-rube.jpg

Kevin Hollingsworth, from left, of Zionsville, Ind., and teammate Shawn Jordan of Fort Wayne, Ind., celebrate their machine's successful run during the 18th national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, which took place in 2005 on Purdue University's West Lafayette, Ind., campus. This year's regional competition will take place on March 4 and the national competition will take place on April 1, both in the Armory on the Purdue campus. The competition pays homage to the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. This year's contest requires teams to individually cut or shred five sheets of 20-pound, 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper using 20 or more steps to complete the task. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)


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