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* Purdue Society of Professional Engineers claims its third national Rube Goldberg title in four years. (3 minutes 15seconds)
* Theta Tau Rube Goldberg Machine Contest
* Rube Goldberg Contest at Purdue

April 5, 2008

Purdue Society of Professional Engineers takes first place at Rube Goldberg


2008 national winner
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For the third time in the last four years, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers earned the top spot in the 21st annual national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Saturday (April 5) at the Purdue Armory.

Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, placed second, and the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, N.Y., was third.

This year's task was to assemble a hamburger consisting of no less than one precooked meat patty, two vegetables and two condiments, sandwiched between two bun halves. More than 1,500 people attended the event.

The 17-member Purdue team used 156 steps in its machine, which had a global travel theme. The machine's journey started at Purdue and continued around the world to England, France, Germany, China, Mexico and ended back at a tailgating party at Purdue, where the hamburger was made.

Drew Wischer, captain of the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team and a senior in aviation technology from Cedarburg, Wis., said after the team's victory in the February regional Rube contest, the members added steps and worked many additional hours to perfect the machine for the national competition.

"We put 4,000 to 5,000 man-hours into this machine since September, and all the hard work has been well worth it," he said. "It's an amazing feeling to have gone from a brand new team last year to winning the nationals this year."

Wischer has been in the Rube Goldberg competition for eight years, which includes time in high school and at Purdue. He will graduate in May and leave his Rube career behind.

"These guys are just excellent. It's such a great group to work with, and I couldn't think of a better way to go out," he said. "Even though I'm a pilot, I love to build things and am a 'backyard engineer.' It's been a great experience to work with engineers for so many years in this competition. I love it."

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers won the national contest in both 2005 and 2006, and Ferris State won the 2007 national competition.

The second-place Texas A&M team, which drove two days to get to the competition and barely missed tornadoes south of Little Rock, Ark., had a "burger construction crew" theme. The 98-step process started with a groundbreaking ceremony with a team member scooping gravel. The theme is carried through the steps with a "controlled demolition" that burst a balloon advertisement, a giant cable spool and a high-line worker falling into an outhouse. It was the team's third year at the competition.

University at Buffalo team
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"The task is a lot more complicated than last year," said team captain Sean Moya. "Last year, we weren't constrained as much in the steps. The cards played right this year, and everything came together."

The University at Buffalo captured third place in its first year at the national competition, even surprising team captain Tom Fernekes.

"We were a little nervous coming here because we saw the videos online and knew it would be tough competition," he said. "I'm really proud of our team. Everything worked as planned. It ran as well as it could have today."

Buffalo's 40-step machine, which featured a chemical-reaction volcano, took between 200 and 300 hours to build. Fernekes said the competition was a learning experience for his six-member team.

"If we had spent a little more time on developing a theme and built in a little more complexity, I think we could have done better," he said. "We're just happy to be here, but next year I can definitely see us being much more complex, and we hope to get a second or first place."

Other teams competing Saturday were Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich.; Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Mich.; Penn State University Brandywine, Media, Pa., and the University of Texas-Austin.

The competition, sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity. Machines must complete the assigned task in 20 or more steps.

Society of Professional
Engineers celebrate

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"This year's machines were very impressive and demonstrated a great deal of ingenuity, creativity and teamwork," said Mike Mierzwa, Theta Tau's national contest co-chairman and a junior in nuclear engineering from Morris Plains, N.J. "It's evident that all of the competitors have put a lot of work into this, and that results in a terrific contest for the teams and the audience."

The National High School Rube Goldberg Machine Contest followed the Purdue national competition awards ceremony at the Purdue Armory. The high school event was coordinated by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau.

Pekin (Ill.) Community High School  placed first, Bayfield (Wis.) High School placed second, and Thorp (Wis.) High School took third place.

Other teams competing in the high school contest were Alan B. Shepard High School, Palos Heights, Ill.; East Jordan (Mich.) High School; Kouts (Ind.) High School; Lanesville (Ind.) High School; Mackinaw City (Mich.) High School and Maumee (Ohio) High School.

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

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, team chemistry, flow of machine and the theme of a machine.

Sponsors for this year's event were BAE Systems, Bosch Group Inc., Bose Corp., Daimler-Chrysler Corp., Fluor Corp., General Electric Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Omega Engineering Inc. of Stamford, Conn., Priio and Rockwell Collins Inc. Purdue's College of Engineering and College of Technology also supported the event.

In previous contests, students' machines were required to squeeze the juice from an orange and then pour the juice into a glass; 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 or Not," the Fox News Network and CNN. Purdue's national competition winning teams from the past two years have been featured on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Writer: Kim Medaris, (765) 494-6998,

Sources: Mike Mierzwa, Theta Tau's national contest co-chairman, (201) 563-5071,

Nick Kissel, Theta Tau's national contest co-chairman, (812) 736-9175,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web sites:

Theta Tau Rube Goldberg Machine Contest,

Rube Goldberg Contest at Purdue,

Drew Wischer of the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers resets his team's machine between rounds of the 21st annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Saturday (April 5) at the Purdue University campus. The Purdue team reclaimed the national title after finishing second in the 2007 event. (Purdue University photo/Vince Walter)

A publication-quality photo is available at

Sharon Greenfield of the University at Buffalo watches her team's machine assemble a hamburger during the 21st Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The team finished third in Saturday's (April 5) national contest. (Purdue News Service photo/Mike Willis)

A publication-quality photo is available at

Members of Purdue's Society of Professional Engineers celebrate their third win in the past four years at the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. (Purdue University photo/Vince Walter)

A publication-quality photo is available at


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