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Rube Goldberg contestants to pump hand sanitizer inefficiently

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Millions of people pump hand sanitizer every day, so how complicated can it be? The 2010 Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University will have teams trying to make that task as complicated as humanly (and inhumanly) possible — each team must build a machine that will pump sanitizer into a hand in at least 20 separate steps.

2009 Rube Goldberg Winners St. Olaf Team

Dan Endean of St. Olaf pumps his fist in celebration after his team's machine successfully completed a run during the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University on Saturday, March 28, 2009. Endean and his team from St. Olaf took first place in the competition. (Purdue Marketing and Media photo/Andrew Hancock)

The contest, sponsored by Purdue University’s Phi Chapter of Theta Tau engineering fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity, and is named for the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks.

The contest began as a rivalry between two Purdue engineering fraternities and was popular at Purdue in the 1940s and 1950s. It was revived in 1983. Since then, winners have appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Newton’s Apple,” “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “Late Night With David Letterman,” NBC’s “Today,” CBS’s “This Morning,” CBS News, “Beyond 2000,” CNN and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Six teams will compete in this year’s local competition on February 20th at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. The winner will move on to the national contest, which will also be at Purdue on March 27th.

The 28th annual local event will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Purdue Armory. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. The event is free and open to the public and is part of Purdue’s celebration of National Engineers Week.

The competition pits teams of students and their machines against each other with the goal of completing a simple task in the most complicated way possible. Teams will be judged on the complexity, creativity and ingenuity they use to design the machines and perform the task. The winning machine must complete two successful runs, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Twenty steps is the minimum number required to complete the task, but most teams will use many more.

“This year’s task is especially timely given the H1N1 outbreak and the medical community’s urging to keep hands clean,” said Keegan Klauke, Theta Tau’s national contest chairman and an electrical and computer engineering major from Deerfield, Ill.

Purdue teams competing in this year’s local contest are the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists, Purdue Society of Professional Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, and Rubanex, an unaffiliated group.

Sponsors for this year’s event are BAE Systems, BP, Lockheed Martin, Ingersoll Rand, Omega Engineering, Priio and Rockwell Collins.

A regional high school Rube Goldberg Machine Contest will be held the same day. The high school event is coordinated by the Purdue Society of Women Engineers and will begin about 12:30 p.m. while the judges of the collegiate contest are deliberating. The winning team will advance to the national high school Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, which will be the day of the national collegiate event.

Teams participating represent Kouts High School, Kouts, Ind.; Eastbrook High School, Marion, Ind.; North Vigo High School, Terre Haute, Ind.; Southside High School, Muncie, Ind.; Reavis High School, Burbank, Ill.; Spring Valley High School, French Lick, Ind.; Clinton Prairie High School, Frankfort, Ind.; Blackford High School, Hartford City, Ind.; Highland Senior High School, Anderson, Ind.; Jac-Cen-Del Junior-Senior High School, Osgood, Ind.; Centerville High School, Centerville, Ind.; Owen Valley High School, Spencer, Ind.

Rube 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.

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