Machine Design

Backtalk 4/21/11

Rube Goldberg winner

The story of a deserted Louisiana estate where ghosts come to life with the full moon led defending champion, the University of Wisconsin-Stout, to its second straight victory at the recent Rube Goldberg competition at Purdue Univ. The task for this year’s machines was to water a plant.

The Wisconsin-Stout machine had 135 steps. The team completed one perfect run with no intervention and one run with one intervention. Captain Andrew Behnke of Loyal, Wis., said the team developed a storyline that drove the steps for the handcrafted machine.

Sponsored by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, the competition rewards machines that effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity. The machines must use at least 20 steps to complete the task in no more than 2 min. Each team has three tries to complete two runs. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started.

Immediately after the competition, a machine built by a Purdue team completed a flawless run of 232 steps, surpassing the world record held by Ferris State Univ. The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers/Society of Hispanic Engineers team plans to submit a video of the run to Guinness World Records for certification.

In second place was Pennsylvania State Univ., whose Penn State-themed machine included a football stadium and legendary coach Joe Paterno. The University of Texas was third, with a machine that traced the cycle of water.

Sponsors for this year’s competition included BAE Systems, Omega Engineering, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins, Alcoa, Priio, and Ethicon Endo-Surgery.

Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter and legacy director of Rube Goldberg Inc., announced the task for next year’s contest will be to inflate and then pop a balloon. Rube Goldberg will also begin a virtual online machine contest for middle-school students next school year.

For more details on Rube Goldberg contests and activities, go to

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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