Purdue News

March 24. 2006

Students shred paper in novel ways in national inefficiency contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Confetti will fly as university students from around the nation find new and inefficient ways to shred paper at the 18th annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University.

2006 Regional Winners
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The competition rewards creative inefficiency, as students must come up with interesting and contorted ways to complete an assigned task. This year's challenge is to individually cut or shred five sheets of 20-pound, 8-by-11-inch paper.

The contest's namesake is the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks.

The contest, which is free and open to the public, begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday (April 1) in the Purdue Armory on the Purdue campus. Doors open at 10 a.m. Lunch will be available to purchase at the event.

"Each year a different task is devised. For example, students have had to make and pour a cup of coffee, and another time students had to hit a golf ball into a hole," said George W. George, who is the son of Rube Goldberg. "I am always amazed and entertained by the ingenious ways that students use to complete an assigned task. It's a testament to the ingenuity and humor of our society."

The Phi Chapter of the Theta Tau Fraternity at Purdue organizes the contest.

"We are expecting about 10 universities to bring their Rube Goldberg machines to the national competition," said Dan Kleinbaum, Theta Tau national contest chairman and a junior in the School of Mechanical Engineering from Ann Arbor, Mich. "Each year, the machines become more elaborate and resourceful."

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team advanced to the national competition after winning this year's preliminary contest held March 4 at Purdue. The team also received the People’s Choice Award, which is determined by a vote of the audience at the event.

While 20 steps is the minimum number required to complete the task, most teams will use many more.

For example, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers used 215 steps to complete the task in the recent regional competition. In just one module of their machine, 100 steps were used to play the Purdue fight song.

"The 'Hail, Purdue!' step is designed to be like a Rube Goldberg-style player piano," said Shawn Jordan, a graduate student from Fort Wayne, Ind., majoring in electrical and computer engineering at Purdue and the team captain. "We have put about 4,000 hours into creating this machine."

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers is defending its title, as the team won the national competition last year, too. Last year's task was to put batteries in a flashlight and turn it on. The team performed the task in 125 steps. Then, last fall the team's feat was officially recognized as the Guinness World Record for "Largest Rube Goldberg."

"We will qualify to beat our own Guinness record if we can successfully complete the 215 steps in the national competition," Jordan said. "The rules state you need to complete the task perfectly at least two times consecutively."

Besides Jordan, other team members of the Purdue Professional Society of Engineers are Jon Blair, a sophomore in nuclear engineering from Stuart. Fla.; John Borsdorf, a junior in mechanical engineering from Stockton, Ill.; Nathan Flatt, a junior in mechanical engineering from Martinsville, Ind.; Ryan Harold, a senior in mechanical engineering from Wheeling, Ill.; Arthur Janneck, a junior in aviation technology from Martinsville, Ind.; Robert Mann, a junior in religious studies from Fort Wayne, Ind.; Jeff Schindler, a sophomore in mechanical engineering from Evansville, Ind.; Matt Schwartz, a sophomore in mechanical engineering from Mooresville, N.C.; and Drew Wischer, a junior in aviation technology from Cedarburg, Wis.

Purdue teams have won the last three national contests. The lineup of teams for the competition has not been finalized, but frequent participants include the University of Texas at Austin, Ferris State University and the University of Toledo. Representatives are winners of preliminary contests at each university.

Winning machines must complete two successful runs, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Judges award points based on the creative use of materials and related themes. For example, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers used a "The Rube machine ate my homework" theme to shred paper at the preliminary competition.

In previous contests, students' machines have been required to select, clean and peel an apple; 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 nationally, 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 winner appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

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

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

Sources: Dan Kleinbaum, (734) 417-7254, dkleinba@purdue.edu

Shawn Jordan, (765) 532-3408, ssjordan@purdue.edu

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


Note to Journalists: Journalists are invited to cover the contest. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage of the event. Video of the competition will be distributed via satellite shortly after the contest. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. A news release, photos and audio clips will be available 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.

Related Web site:
Purdue University Rube Goldberg Home Page


Shawn Jordan, a graduate student in computer engineering from Fort Wayne, Ind., and Robert Mann, a sophomore in civil engineering from Fort Wayne, celebrate the winning run in the March 4 regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest of their machine, sponsored by the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers. Their machine will compete in the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on the Purdue campus Saturday (April 1). The competition pays homage to the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. While the competition required a minimum of 20 steps to individually shred five sheets of paper, most teams used many more than that to complete the task. This year's winning machine used a contest and Guinness World record 215 steps. (Purdue News Service file photo/David Umberger)


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