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Purdue Society of Professional Engineers wins Rube for fourth year in a row

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers scored its fourth consecutive first-place finish Saturday (Feb. 23) in the 26th annual regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest by making a hamburger in the most inefficient way possible.

Photo - see caption

Drew Wischer, left, a senior in aviation technology from Cedarburg, Wis., and Zach Umperovitch, a sophomore in engineering from Lafayette, Ind., celebrate a successful run of their team’s machine in Saturday’s (Feb. 23) Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. Their team, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers, won the contest for the fourth year in a row. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

The team accomplished the task in 101 steps. For the third year in a row, they also won the People’s Choice Award, voted on by the approximately 1,500 audience members.

The competition, sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity.

“We’ve been building our machine since September or October and have spent about 4,000 hours working on it since then,” said captain of the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team Drew Wischer, a Cedarburg, Wis., native who will graduate this year with a degree in aviation technology. “I’ve been with this team for four years, and this is a wonderful way to leave the competition. We’ve had a great group of guys to work with, and I’ll miss working with them next year.”

The 17-member team used a global travel theme in their machine’s construction. The machine included a journey that started at Purdue, activated by a ticket punch for the Boilermaker Express, and continued around the world to Big Ben in England; the Eiffel Tower in France; through Germany, Venice and Egypt; to the Great Wall of China and Mexico; and then back to a tailgating party at Purdue where the hamburger was made. After the Mexico stop, a conveyer belt was triggered that released the cheese, condiments and bun halves.

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers now advances to the national competition, which will take place at 10:30 a.m. April 5 on the Purdue campus.

“I was really pleased about the quality of this year’s machines,” said regional contest chairman Ben Parsons, a junior in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering from Saint Charles, Mo. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work and creativity and, along with the generosity of our sponsors, have made this year’s contest a great success.”

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers team took second place. Its machine, titled “Across America,” featured replicas of a cactus, Texas meat-packing plant, the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Seattle Space Needle.

Adam Eller, a junior in mechanical engineering from Greenville, Ill., and team co-captain, said the team wanted the machine to assemble the hamburger throughout the steps and not just at the end. He said he hoped that idea would allow viewers to follow their machine more closely and help them better understand the competition.

Jim Mumford, also a co-captain, said his team got a late start on building the machine, but was happy with the results. The team built the machine, which used 108 steps, in about two weeks that included two all-night efforts this week.

“This feels amazing,” said Mumford, a senior in mechanical engineering from South Bend, Ind. “For us to have started as late as we did and still get second place, it’s great. Some of us seniors are leaving, but I hope most of this team will stay and build on this for next year.”

The Society of Women Engineers placed third. Their machine, which had 63 steps, was called “Rube’s Diner” and was based on a 1950s diner. It was activated from team co-captain Rachel Hollowell’s voice giving her order into a microphone. The vibration from her voice activated a series of steps that included ramps, a mousetrap and a fan. The motion activated a spatula that flipped a hamburger patty that traveled on a roller skate through the remaining assembly process. At the end, team member Holly Mundt, a senior in industrial engineering from Fort Wayne, Ind., took a bite out of the burger for a taste test.

“We gave this machine a lot of thought and added a lot of little touches along the way,” said Hollowell, a junior in mechanical engineering from Georgetown, S.C. “We had some timing issues with our machine, and a lot of what had worked in our tests didn’t work in the competition the way we had hoped. We think our machine had stage fright, but I’m excited that I’ll be a part of the team next year.”

Machines in the competition had three attempts to complete two successful runs. Teams lost points if they had to manually assist their machines. In addition to successfully completing the task, teams received points based on creativity and complexity.

The National Society of Black Engineers, made up of all freshmen, also competed. A Society of Manufacturing Engineers team from the Purdue College of Technology at New Albany was scheduled to compete, but was unable to make the contest due to weather conditions.

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

The Indiana High School Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was held in the afternoon at Purdue. The high school event was coordinated by the Purdue Society of Women Engineers.

Indiana high school teams participating included Waldron Junior/Senior High School, Waldron, Ind.; Brandywide High School, Niles, Mich.; Newburgh Christian School, Newburgh, Ind.; Rochester Community High School, Rochester, Ind.; Kouts High School, Kouts, Ind.; Roncalli High School, Indianapolis; South Putnam High School, Greencastle, Ind.; Saint Theodore Guerin High School, Noblesville, Ind.; Eastbrook High School, Marion, Ind.; Richmond High School, Richmond, Ind.; Anderson High School, Anderson, Ind.; and Park Tudor High School, Indianapolis.

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.

Winners of the regional competitions held around the nation will come to Purdue for the April 5 national competition. In past years, teams in the national competition have included Purdue, Ferris State, the University of Texas at Austin, Hofstra University, Ohio State University, the University of Toledo and George Washington University. This year marks the 20th national contest.

In previous contests, students’ machines have been 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.”

Video from 2007 Competition

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