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2011 Rube Goldberg machines will water a plant

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -– Watering a plant is a fairly simple task – until it’s done by a Rube Goldberg machine and requires at least 20 steps.

This year’s challenge for the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is to water a plant. 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.


Purdue Society of Professional Engineers Rube Goldberg Team

Zach Umperovitch and Lucas Dull of the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers applaud the progress of their machine during the 2010 Rube Goldberg local competition. The PSPE team took first place and advanced to the national competition. (Purdue University file photo/Andrew Hancock)

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


Four teams will compete Feb. 26 in this year’s local competition at Purdue. The winner will move on to the national contest, which will be at Purdue on March 26.

The 29th 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.

“We’re particularly pleased that this year’s task was suggested by Jennifer George, a descendent of Rube Goldberg’s,” said Alex Gaul, Theta Tau’s national contest chairman and an electrical and computer engineering major.

Purdue teams competing in this year’s local contest are the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; Society of Women Engineers; National Society of Black Engineers and Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists; and Purdue Society of Professional Engineers and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

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

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 the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists. It will begin after the college competition at about 11:30 a.m.

The winning team will advance to the national high school Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on March 19 at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich.

Teams participating, all from Indiana, are from Clinton Prairie High School, Frankfort; Owen Valley High School, Spencer; Kouts High School, Kouts; Eastbrook High School, Marion; Centerville High School, Centerville; Anderson High School, Anderson; Terre Haute North High School, Terre Haute; and Rochester High School, Rochester.

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.

More information on the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest can be found at

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